Where would you rank JuJu Smith-Schuster among the league’s wide receivers entering the 2020 season? Entering his fourth year, the 23-year-old has accumulated 211 career receptions for 2895 yards and 17 touchdowns, but his numbers during the 2019 season suffered significantly, in large part due to his own injuries, but also at quarterback.
If you’re Pro Football Focus, though, you rank him 24th in the league. That’s where he finished in an article from the site that recently ranked the top 25 receivers in the NFL. Among those ahead of him are D.J. Moore, T.Y. Hilton, Robert Woods, Courtland Sutton, and Terry McLaurin. Anthony Treash writes:
After cementing himself as one of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL in his first two years in the league (2.10 yards per route was 12th among 70 wide receivers in span), Smith-Schuster took a huge dip in 2019, in large part due to the Steelers’ poor quarterback play. Just 31% of Smith-Schuster’s targets 10-plus yards downfield were deemed accurate last year, the 64th-lowest rate of 71 qualifying wide receivers. That, coupled with the fact that he played through injury for a large part of the year, certainly played a part in his yards per route run average dipping to 1.50, which ranked 54th. With a clean bill of health and Ben Roethlisberger returning to lead the offense, Smith-Schuster is primed for a bounce-back in what will be an important year for the fourth-year wideout.
Smith-Schuster may have dropped a few balls last season, but the fact that only 31 percent of his downfield targets last year were accurate seems to be pretty telling. It’s hard to produce when you cannot get accurate balls.
And of course we cannot also forget that his season totals also reflect the fact that he miss more than a quarter of the season due to injury. He only played 573 snaps in 2019, 58 percent of the team’s total. In 2018, he played 960 snaps, or 86 percent of the total number of snaps. Playing nearly 400 fewer snaps will chop down any statistical output.
With that said, the young wide receiver knows that the pressure is on him to perform this year. He moved into the number one receiver role in 2019 with Antonio Brown gone, and his first crack at it was a failure, many of the causes of which were outside of his control.
With Ben Roethlisberger back and a stronger complement of wide receivers around him to draw some attention, and himself back at full strength as well, the table is set for him to prove to the league what sort of player he is. And whether or not the Steelers could afford him beyond this year.