With each passing day, it feels increasingly unlikely that JuJu Smith-Schuster’s next football game featured him in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform, even if he continues to claim that he wants to build his long-term legacy here with the team that drafted him.
Whenever he comes up in the national media at this point, the conversation is instead where else he will be. The most popular destination across numerous outlets has been in reuniting him with his former college quarterback Sam Darnold with the New York Jets. Pate Schrager of ESPN doesn’t waver from that, but he does offer an argument for it.
“This guy’s just 24 years old. He is just scratching the surface”, he said. “You might think last year was a lost season in Pittsburgh and JuJu didn’t fulfill expectations. He had 97 catches last year. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a reliable NFL receiver, and he already has experience he can bring into a young locker room”.
Nine touchdowns also came with those 97 receptions, but for just 831 yards. However, with an average depth of target of just 5.5 yards, Smith-Schuster only had so much to work with last season in the role expected of him. Schrager acknowledged the argument of whether or not he can be a top guy, but argued that it’s necessary for a team like the Jets.
“JuJu Smith-Schuster may not be a slam-dunk, number one wide receiver, but he certainly has a lot of give, and can give an immediate upgrade to one of the worst, least effective wide receiver rooms the past few years in the NFL”, he said, adding that he clearly has his best football ahead of him still.
Where is the BEST landing spot for JuJu? 🤔@PSchrags makes his case in the AFC East…
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 27, 2021
Another major selling point, is his rapport with the Jets’ starting quarterback, with whom he played in college while they were both members of the USC Trojans. Or, “he’s got a lot of great memories with Sam Darnold”, as Schrager put it.
“How about you give Sam Darnold some weapons? How about you give Sam Darnold a JuJu Smith-Schuster on the outside?”, he said of the team that holds the second-overall pick in the draft and has been connected with numerous quarterbacks. “How about you give Sam Darnold someone that he knows, and then you build around him, and you give him a shot”.
When it concerns New York, of course, you also must consider the market. No, the Jets don’t technically play in New York City—or even New York State—but that is the city’s market, and it takes a certain personality to survive that limelight, let alone thrive in it.
“He would be a shot in the arm for this fanbase and this franchise. I’m the first person on this show to roll my eyes about TikToking before a game on another team’s logo, but that is shortsighting the whole thing with JuJu”, he noted. “This is a great kid, and he’s wonderful in the community. He’s got a smile that could light up a million lights. This young man has superstar potential”.
Truth be told, there is good reason that so many people are connecting JuJu and the Jets, and not just because of the convergence of consonants. It does make a good pairing on paper, and should return a good compensatory pick for the Steelers in 2022, so short of keeping the band together, it would certainly be a fair alternative.