It took him longer than he anticipated to get there, but with today’s game, JuJu Smith-Schuster crossed the 3000-yard receiving mark for his NFL career. The fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver entered the game needing 36 yards after picking up 69 yards on six receptions with two touchdowns in the opener.
Smith-Schuster hit the 3000-yard mark 10 minutes into the second half on a six-yard gain on second and eight. It wasn’t the most auspicious milestone marker in history, to be sure—made worse by the fact that he was held to no gain on third and two—but nevertheless, that’s where we stand.
In doing so, he became the fourth-youngest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 3000 receiving yards for his career, with only Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, and Randy Moss having managed to do so at a younger age. Odell Beckham Jr. and Hakeem Nicks are the other two players to have managed it before turning 24 years old.
#Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster in 43 career games, the fourth-year receiver has 2,964 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster, who will be 23 years and 303 days old on Sunday vs. Denver (10:00 AM MT, CBS) pic.twitter.com/JmUX31DGrc
— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) September 20, 2020
Of course, Smith-Schuster could have easily accomplished this much sooner and become the youngest player to ever reach 3000 receiving yards in his career, had the 2019 season gone much differently. But Ben Roethlisberger’s injury in Week Two, and the wide receiver dealing with his own injuries, saw him experience a major down year.
He entered his third season, beginning at the age of 22, with 2343 receiving yards, needing just 667 receiving yards to hit 3000 for his career, which should have been a cakewalk for him. He had 917 yards in just 14 games as a rookie, after all.
Yesterday wasn’t a big day for him, by any means, but Smith-Schuster did add another seven receptions on eight targets, now 13-for-14 on the season in that department, but those seven receptions only netted him 48 yards.
As you might guess, Ben Roethlisberger consistently targeted him short, and his seven receptions did feature multiple receptions short of the sticks that he was able to compete through contact and tackles to produce first downs.
Through two games now in 2020, Smith-Schuster has caught 13 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Over the course of a full season, that would translate to for 104 receptions for 936 yards and 14 touchdowns—but of course we’re dealing with too small of a sample size about which to speak coherently.
I’m sure as time goes on, Roethlisberger will open up with Smith-Schuster more and give him more downfield targets. Last week, his average depth of target was just six yards, and two of his three longest targets were his two touchdowns. But five went for first downs or a touchdown, and the other was a nine-yard catch on first and 10.
Needless to say, Sunday’s game wasn’t quite as productive, and he had a couple of third-down receptions on which he was stopped, but that’s the consequence of trying to throw short of the sticks to convert. Sometimes it works, but it’s a gamble.