The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers’ number one receiver in 2021.
Explanation: This is, in essence, a two-part response. Not only must Smith-Schuster retain his position as the top receiver amid James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and likely a high draft choice, it also requires that he be re-signed, or at least given the franchise tag, next offseason, as he is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
It really is quite amazing how quickly a fanbase can turn on a player based on whatever he has done most recently. Especially in the post-Antonio Brown world, Steelers fans have become hyper-vigilant and on the lookout for anything that could suggest ‘trouble’ down the road. They looked hard enough to find fault in Smith-Schuster last year during his injury, while he was still active on social media.
Too much has also been made of his numbers last year, even before the injury. While he made a handful of excellent plays, as he typically does, he and the rest of the offense was severely bogged down by the poor quarterback play of the backups. And lest we forget, Smith-Schuster was dealing with a foot injury since something like week two, so he was never fully healthy, all the while making the adjustment to number one receiver.
On top of that, neither Washington nor Johnson is typical number one receiver material. Smith-Schuster will be revitalized for 2020 and remind people why he was one of the most popular players in the NFL.
It’s entirely possible that Smith-Schuster does show himself to be who we thought he was in 2019, and still not be the Steelers’ number one receiver in 2021. It has often been the case that they have had to choose between one receiver or the other. Not long ago it was Brown and Mike Wallace. Before that it was Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress.
While Johnson won’t be heading into a contract year in 2021, he already showed star potential as a rookie, so they could eye a long-term contract in his future if he has a great 2020 season. After all, Brown wasn’t seen as typical number one receiver material, and he defied those expectations.
The 2020 class is also so deep that if they end up taking a receiver with their top pick, there is all the possibility in the world that he could be the top receiver by next year. At the very least, another body in the rotation would make it less likely they retain Smith-Schuster after this year.