JuJu Smith-Schuster has accomplished a hell of a lot by the age of 23, including having completed three seasons in the NFL. During that time, he has caught 211 passes for 2895 yards and 17 touchdowns, catching 67 percent of the passes that have come his way and averaging 9.2 yards per target in the process.
In 2018, he recorded 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns, finding himself in the Pro Bowl. But his production took a nosedive last season with the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. He caught just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns, though he missed four games—and his quarterback.
It’s for this reason that longtime analyst Gil Brandt sees Smith-Schuster as the biggest lock to play better in 2020. There is no reason to assume, after all, that he is going to suffer another lingering toe injury in the season opener, have to adjust to being the number one target a second time, and also field passes from three different starters, two of whom he hardly ever worked with before. Brandt writes:
Smith-Schuster might never hit the same heights as the guy he replaced as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 receiver in 2019. Then again, Antonio Brown set the bar extremely high in his prime, so it’s probably not fair to hold that against Smith-Schuster. And there are still reasons to believe Smith-Schuster will look more like the player who caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns playing opposite Brown in 2018 than the player who finished last season with the meager numbers you see above. First and foremost is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s return under center. That might seem obvious, but for a true understanding of just how dramatically Pittsburgh missed the quarterback last season, consider that the Steelers recorded 1,960 fewer passing yards in 2019 with Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges trying to fill Big Ben’s shoes. Secondly, the rest of the supporting cast around Smith-Schuster should be better, with fellow receiver Diontae Johnson set to make strides in his second pro season and Eric Ebron coming aboard at tight end. Finally, there’s the incentive for Smith-Schuster of playing the final season of his rookie contract; he’ll have every reason to put himself in the best possible position with the potential to enter free agency at the young age of 24.
His list included seven players, and the other six were, in order, Baker Mayfield of the Browns, Tom Brady for the Buccaneers, Sony Michel of the Patriots, Miles Sanders of the Eagles, Khalil Mack in his third year with the Bears, and Chris Harris, now with the Chargers.