Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is the seasoned veteran in that position group, now in his fourth season and with by far the most accomplished resume. In spite of that, he is the youngest of the six wide receivers in the organization right now, sans the rookie second-round pick, Chase Claypool.
Today was Smith-Schuster’s birthday, turning just 24 years young late in his fourth season in the NFL. It was the first time in his professional career that he had an opportunity to play a game on his birthday. While it could have personally gone much better, though, he made it clear that his wish was granted: a W.
Got the only present I wanted today: 10-0 😇🎂
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) November 22, 2020
Statistically, he had a game to forget, for the most part. He was only targeted five times on the afternoon, and though he caught four of those passes, continuing his very high catch percentage, he only put up 19 yards, with a long of nine. It was one of two successful plays on the day, the other a five-yard grab on 1st and 10 that also drew a 15-yard roughing penalty for illegal use of the helmet.
To make matters worse, at some point during the course of the game, he not only appeared to tweak his ankle, but late in the game, he would slip on a flag thrown by an official, tweaking the injury. However, on the broadcast, the announcers said that the team conveyed he would have been available to return if it were not a blowout. Nevertheless, he was clearly limping on video while they were talking about that.
The low numbers do break up a four-game streak of statistical successes. During that run, Smith-Schuster caught 31 passes on 42 targets for 322 yards and two touchdowns, averaging almost eight catches per game for 80.5 yards during that span.
On the season, he now has 58 receptions for 535 yards and five touchdowns, with six games to play. To prorate those numbers over the length of the remainder of the season, he is on pace to finish with 93 receptions for 856 yards and eight touchdowns.
Those are not eye-popping numbers as he heads into unrestricted free agency in 2021—assuming that he is not re-signed or slapped with the franchise tag—but as he has said a couple of times in recent weeks, third downs get you paid, and he is among the league leaders in third-down conversions.
Most importantly, he is the eminent team player, consistently showing genuine excitement over the success of his teammates, and they likewise have responded. After Claypool hauled in a 31-yard touchdown, for example, he celebrated by presenting Smith-Schuster with a ‘birthday cake’ football.
This team-first mentality at the wide receiver position may not be the most efficient and eye-popping in the league in terms of yardage output, but they are really sharing the wealth. They have four different players with four or more receiving touchdowns, and three players with over 500 receiving yards. Claypool is one reception shy of giving them three players with 40-plus catches.