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2021 Offseason Questions: Will Steelers Alter How They Use JuJu Smith-Schuster From Last Season?

Roethlisberger to Smith-Schuster

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the Steelers alter the way JuJu Smith-Schuster was used in the offense last season?

While it took some time and some doing, the Steelers did manage to find a way to bring back JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was one of their big-name players hitting unrestricted free agency this year. But in bringing them back, it would also be of benefit if they can get back to utilizing him in ways that produced his breakout season in 2018.

The 24-year-old’s detractors prefer to point out the loss of Antonio Brown opposite him as the turning point of his career in terms of productivity, even though he was able to put up numbers without Brown during his first two seasons as well. Suffice it to say that I think it involves a lot more than just no Brown, and that there are things they can do to make him more efficient.

Smith-Schuster had among the lowest yards-per-catch figures of any wide receiver in the NFL last season. But he also had among the shallowest average depths per target as well—and also had among the highest yards after the catch per reception figures as well, which really illustrates just how prominent was the effect of the depth of his targets.

But they can’t pay him $8 million to catch five-yard passes all day this year. Well, they can, but they shouldn’t, regardless of what they’re paying him. He is without a doubt one of their top weapons and has the most reliable hands on the roster, so it would behoove them to give him more high-quality opportunities in the intermediate range in particular.

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