Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has spent the bulk of his career in the slot, despite consistently being one of the bigger players at his position on the team at 6’1”. The team keeps drafting players whose skill set is better suited to staying on the outside, however, and he has performed well in the slot, so there has been no reason to alter that.
This year, he has been playing out of the slot more than ever, with more than 70 percent of his snaps coming inside through the first three games. This reality is also reflected in his numbers, with a high volume of targets near the line of scrimmage, resulting in a relatively low yards-per-catch figure.
But he’s not complaining. He is just doing what is asked of him while surrounded by the likes of Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and rookie Chase Claypool, who are better-served spending the majority of their time playing on the outside, and leaving Smith-Schuster on the inside, where he has been accustomed to performing well.
“It doesn’t matter to me, playing inside, outside. Wherever the Steelers want to play me at, or need help at”, he told reporters yesterday. “Just making plays when plays need to be made at crucial times, like third down, fourth down, two-point conversion, blocking inside. If it fits what they’re looking for, then I’m just here to do my job. I don’t have a preference, whether it’s outside or inside. As long as we’re winning, right?”.
That is one thing the Steelers are doing, of course. They are 3-0, the first time that they have won each of their first three games to start a season since 2010, the year during which, coincidentally enough, they did not have Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the season due to suspension.
They have a pretty good chance to make it 4-0 on Sunday against a Philadelphia Eagles team that, let’s face it, is not all that good. So far their only victory has come in a come game against a backup quarterback. They also played the Cincinnati Bengals and rookie Joe Burrow to a tie.
It’s a lot easier to keep people content with whatever you have asked them to do or whatever role you expect them to play—including a reduced role—when those decisions that you make are producing victories on the field, which is the ultimate team goal.
Of course, Smith-Schuster has never had an issue with playing out of the slot. He has taken the majority of his snaps even before this season over the course of his career playing out of the slot, so it’s far from unfamiliar territory. As long as he is able to contribute positively to wins, which he has been doing, he’s going to keep it lit.