Can every single thing that went wrong for JuJu Smith-Schuster during the 2019 season be chalked up to either Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, his own injuries, or the absence of Antonio Brown as the primary receiving threat and focus of opposing defenses?
No. Of course not. But it can explain quite a bit of it, and there remains plenty of reason to believe that the fourth-year wide receiver can have another great season for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. He’s fully healthy. Roethlisberger is, presumably, locked and loaded, ready to go. The receiving options around him are more potent than last year.
Smith-Schuster enters this season surrounded by questions. A lot of people are doubting him. A lot of people have also made excuses for him. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, but the bottom line is we’ve seen him catch 100 passes before, so we know he can do it. You’re not going to catch 100 passes without serious talent, regardless of who you have across from you, especially when you pick up over 1400 yards doing it.
Jerome Bettis was among those who are in Smith-Schuster’s camp, believing that he is ready for a big year and that last season is anything but representative of his abilities. He explained why on CBS Sports Radio yesterday.
“I will say this about JuJu Smith-Schuster. People say, ‘well, he didn’t really step up’. How can you when you don’t have a quarterback throwing you the football?”, he said “It’s unfortunate that, I mean, how can you take the next step when you don’t get balls consistently? That’s the hard part. So it looks as though he took a step back, but in actuality, he really didn’t have the opportunities that he will have with Ben at the helm”.
While he also talked at length about how he thought the defense would be great, great enough that they wouldn’t even need a Roethlisberger at 100 percent, he’s also a believer in the offense. “This offense is going to be a whole lot better than it was last year”, he said. “So you put a good offense with that defense, now you got something”.
The Steelers could really have something. This is a talented roster. Even conservative analyses have them in the top 10 in terms of roster talent up and down the line. And that is skewed in favor of a resurgent defense, but this is an offense that has a lot of players ready to emerge at the skill positions as well.
Or re-emerge, as in Smith-Schuster’s case. He can easily be a top-10 wide receiver in the NFL, like he was in 2018, despite the fact that he was also playing with another top-10 wide receiver. Expect him to look a lot more like the 2018 player than the 2019 edition.