JuJu Smith-Schuster was on the cusp of stardom after breaking out in 2018, finishing the year with 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns, ultimately landing in the Pro Bowl. At the time, he was just 22, having played most of the year at the age of 21, in his second season, and he did this lining up across from Antonio Brown, a perennial Pro Bowler.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver’s prestige took a major hit through his struggles last season, however, which were driven by Brown’s departure, Ben Roethlisberger’s early injury that knocked him out for the year, and his own injuries, though there is some room for his own shortcomings to be accounted for in there.
In 12 games, missing four due to injury, Smith-Schuster caught just 42 passes, producing a mere 552 yards of offense, and scoring three touchdowns. These numbers pale even to those he put up during his rookie season, which consisted of only 13 games in which he was targeted, catching 58 passes for 917 yards and seven scores.
Things should be different this year. He should be healthy. Roethlisberger should be healthy. The talent around him should be better, and more respected by defenders. And he should be pissed and hungry to prove his doubters wrong. Adam Schein believes this will lead to him dominating again in 2020.
Smith-Schuster was dreadful last season, totaling just 552 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, injuries were a major factor for both him and Ben Roethlisberger. But JuJu fizzled in the spotlight of replacing Antonio Brown as the Steelers’ WR1. I think he learned from it. And I am enamored with his amazing talent and work ethic. Not to mention, he’s still just 23 years old.
Plus, Big Ben is back! And while I am quite skeptical about the prospect of a 38-year-old coming off elbow surgery staying healthy for 16 games — and inherently, I wish Pittsburgh had improved its brutal backup quarterback situation — there is no denying the chemistry the first-ballot Hall of Famer has with JuJu.
Oh, did I mention Smith-Schuster’s in a contract year?
Smith-Schuster suffered a lingering toe injury all the way back in Week Two, and suffered other ailments along the way until a midseason game against the Browns in which he suffered a concussion and a knee injury on the same play, which caused him to miss four games, and he was not a significant contributor in the games that followed at the end of the year.
He should be fueled by the events of the past year, and the fact that he is on the cusp of free agency shouldn’t hurt, either. As long as he has a quarterback to throw to him, I see no reason that he shouldn’t put up excellent numbers again.
As a reminder, Brown’s numbers in year three: 13 games, 66 catches, 787 yards, five touchdowns. A year later? 16 games, 110 catches 1499 yards, eight touchdowns. He would never catch fewer than 100 passes for 1200 yards or 10 touchdowns for the remainder of his Steelers career.