The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: JuJu Smith-Schuster will record double-digit touchdowns this season for the first time in his career.
Explanation: While JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown in the past that he is capable of putting up big numbers, scoring will always be paramount, and he has never had more than seven receiving touchdowns in a season.
Considering the fact that he already has three touchdowns through three games, there figures to be a good chance that he can manage seven more over the course of the next three weeks. When he scored seven as a rookie in 2017, he still wasn’t a focal point in the game plan. In 2018, taking over a full-time starting role, Antonio Brown had a career year with a league-high and team-record 15 receiving touchdowns.
Brown isn’t here any more to hog all of the targets, in the end zone or otherwise. And Ben Roethlisberger has been clearly looking Smith-Schuster’s way in the red zone, or when they get close. His first two scores were from within 10 yards. He added a 28-yard touchdown when he was wide open in the last game.
While the Steelers no long have that one single focal point of the receiving game the way Brown was, the alternative is having a disparate group of targets entitled to attention. Roethlisberger has thrown seven touchdown passes and already five different players have been on the receiving end of them.
The Steelers have primarily worked Smith-Schuster as a possession receiver this year. His average depth of target is just 5.3 yards, and he has averaged just 3.3 yards before the catch. He averaged more than nine yards down the field per target in his first two years, and over seven yards per reception.
Then consider the fact that Diontae Johnson has actually become Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target, and he is real keen on working more and building a rapport with Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron. As each week passes, he will get more and more comfortable with them and look for them in the red zone. Ebron’s touchdown against Houston was a big relationship booster.