Between the two of them, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster nearly combined for 3000 yards from scrimmage in 2018 in 29 combined games. Conner had roughly 1000 rushing yards with another 500 receiving in 13 games, while Smith-Schuster caught 111 passes for over 1400 yards.
Last season, put up less than half of his total yardage, finishing the season with just 715 yards from scrimmage. He had under 500 rushing yards and just 251 receiving yards in 10 games. Granted, that’s a lot of the season to miss, and he also missed time within those games.
Likewise, Smith-Schuster went from a 16-game season to a 12-game season due to injuries. That partially accounts for the fact that he nearly finished with just a third of his receiving yardage from the year before, recording only 552 receiving yards. He gained slightly more yards per touch, actually, but with far fewer touches.
According to NFL research, Conner and Smith-Schuster combined to produce 85.5 fewer yards per game in 2019 than they did in 2019. That is, obviously, a substantial drop-off from your two most significant skill position players, and those are per-game totals, so that accounts for most of the injury time lost.
Of course there were other extenuating circumstances in that loss of production, the biggest domino to fall being the season-ending injury for Ben Roethlisberger. With his elbow went the passing game, and with teams not respecting the passing game, they didn’t worry about the run. Conner didn’t even look particularly effective until the game in which he injured his shoulder, which derailed any chance of finding consistent success on the ground.
With Roethlisberger back, and Conner and Smith-Schuster fully healthy, can this trio take the offense to the level it needs to be—even to the level it was in 2018? That alone should be enough to make them strong Super Bowl contenders given the strides that the defense has made since then.
As a bonus for the Steelers, both of these young players are now in the final year of their rookie deals. Neither is likely to be offered an extension later this offseason. They will be playing for a new contract, auditioning for all 32 teams. That never hurts one’s production.