The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 NFL Draft class looked like a fantastic one a year ago. The rosy sheen was worn off some in the wake of a 2019 season that was marred significantly due to injuries. While first-round pick T.J. Watt made a run at the Defensive Player of the Year Award, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner both stalled because they couldn’t stay on the field, and the offense suffered significantly without their Pro Bowl skill position players performing at their best.
Despite the down year for Smith-Schuster, however, which was also very much a result of Ben Roethlisberger’s absence, Pro Football Focus still believes he is one of the young offensive players in the league who is most deserving of receiving an early payday before he hits the open market, which would not be until next year.
Timo Riske published an article late last week detailing some of the most prominent offensive players who are still on their rookie contract who could, or should, be in for a payday from the 2017 NFL Draft class. The site included Smith-Schuster among a group of second- and third-round receivers.
The 2017 draft featured three prominent wide receivers going off the board within the first 10 picks, but it was a quartet of wide receivers selected in the second and third round that made it one of the best wideout classes of the decade. JuJu Smith-Schuster (62nd overall, Pittsburgh Steelers), Cooper Kupp (69th overall, Los Angeles Rams), Chris Godwin (84th overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Kenny Golladay (96th overall, Detroit Lions) have all contributed to their respective offenses in a major way, and their teams should consider locking them up instead of taking the risk of letting them walk. Godwin has separated from the pack through his strong 2019 season, and his 90.5 receiving grade since 2017 ranks sixth among all wide receivers. Golladay and Kupp rank tied 16th in the same timeframe with a grade of 82.8, and Smith-Schuster ranks 27th (79.9 receiving grade) after an underwhelming 2019 campaign.
You can click through to the link to see some projection charts the site put up, adding that they also tried to account for quarterback play, and found Smith-Schuster to have “a similar forecast” to that of Kenny Golladay. They did argue that his “upside seems to be gone”, though 111 catches for 1426 yards is a pretty high upside, so if that’s the best he can do, you take it.
Now, the question is whether or not the Steelers enter negotiations with him this offseason. It would be difficult to swing a significant bump in his salary this year for obvious salary cap limitations, but would they want to compete for his services on the open market if he has a great bounceback year with Roethlisberger? Then again, that could be a big reason why they draft yet another wide receiver high this year.