Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Closing out distractions, fourth-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster continues, more often than not, to produce when called upon, as he did Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, catching nine passes for 96 yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown.
If the worst thing—in some people’s minds—that JuJu Smith-Schuster ever does in his life is ‘disrespecting’ his rivals by dancing on their logo, which happens to be in the middle of the field on which he is about to play a football game, then the young man is probably a pretty damn good person.
Given the assignments that have been asked of him this year, he has also proven to be, or rather to continue to be, a damn good football player. A lot of people choose to define him by his relatively low total of fumbles over the course of his career—a whopping three on more than 300 career receptions—and the fact that he enjoys participating in social media, arguing that these factors show that he doesn’t truly value winning, and that he doesn’t put in the necessary work to win.
The actual game tape repeatedly disputes this. While he is not a perfect player, he is a team player who has never resisted doing what is asked of him, even if it hurts his stats, as his short-yardage role in 2020 has.
While he has 91 catches on the season and can possibly hit 100 in the finale, those 91 catches have only produced 766 yards, and he is averaging just 8.4 yards per reception—very low even for a possession receiver, and more in line with what you would expect to see from an average receiving back.
But often enough this year, that’s how he’s been used, literally asked to catch short and fight for yards after contact, even on third downs. And he’s done that. And he’s also taken advantage of his few deep opportunities, catching the only four of his just 10 deep targets this year without any drops, picking up 101 yards and two touchdowns. That includes his 25-yard game-winner on Sunday against the Colts.