Fourth-year veteran wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been getting more attention in recent weeks. More attention from the fans. More attention from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in delivering him the ball. Even some more unwanted, or at least, unintended attention from the blowback of him saying that he wanted to mimic Terrell Owens’ Cowboys celebration.
But it’s mostly because he has been putting up more numbers over the course of the past few weeks, which has been fueled plain and simply by the fact that he has been proffered more opportunities to ply his trade.
Increasingly, that trade has involved a lot of the dirty work. Smith-Schuster has been getting fed a lot of underneath, shallow routes, on which he is asked to use his size and physicality to produce yards after the catch through contact. By and large, he has been able to do that, which is why they keep turning to him, particularly in crucial moments.
“JuJu does look naturally built, thick and strong and tough”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters on Wednesday, via transcript. “You have to love how JuJu plays. I think we’re always pushing the envelope to try and figure out where he best fits weekly—insides and outsides and motions and stacks, bunches things like that”.
“JuJu is a very intelligent young receiver”, he went on. “I still say young even though he’s been here a while. He’s still young in all regards. I think he’s done an unbelievable of playing physically, giving us that presence of physicality. I know that when we play AFC North opponents, you have to have that. You have to bring it. He’s as vital this week as he is every week, even more so when you talk about when it’s AFC North”.
Playing out the final year of his contract, Smith-Schuster hasn’t really been afforded the opportunities to make major splash impacts, but as he said two weeks ago, third downs get you paid, and that is one of the areas in which he has been making a difference.
According to Stathead, he is tied for the fourth-most first-down receptions on third-down targets so far this season, with 14 first downs on 17 receptions for 155 yards off of 22 targets. That also includes two of his four touchdowns on the season. His 17 third-down receptions are tied for the fifth-most, yet he has only the ninth-most targets.