Gil Brandt believes JuJu Smith-Schuster’s career arc will go in one or two ways. Either really good. Or really underwhelming. Smith-Schuster was part of Brandt’s ten free agent “boom or bust” players.
Here’s what he wrote for each scenario:
“The boom scenario: Smith-Schuster — who is still just 24 — makes everyone forget about his underwhelming last two seasons with the Steelers, looking more like the player who became the youngest in NFL history to hit the 2,500-yard receiving mark early in ’19.”
Calling Smith-Schuster underwhelming in the 2019 season was fair. His injuries coupled with the loss of Ben Roethlisberger tanked his season. And Smith-Schuster had his own problems, fumbling the ball away in an OT loss against the Baltimore Ravens.
Though his numbers last year don’t look impressive, that was a product of how the Steelers used him. He ran a tight end route tree but did it well, making clutch and tough catches over the middle of the field. He tied Keenan Allen for the league’s most third/fourth down catches, 33 of them, and only trailed Allen and Davante Adams in third/fourth down conversions.
But overall, Brandt’s point is taken. Smith-Schuster put up mega numbers in 2018 and hasn’t hit those marks since. And if he returns to that level, he’s well-worth whatever money he gets.
Here’s Brandt’s bust scenario.
“The bust scenario: He signs somewhere with the expectation of producing like a No. 1 receiver but plays like a No. 2, re-enacting what happened when he was asked to step up after Antonio Brown‘s exit from Pittsburgh two seasons ago.”
That’s always been the question about JuJu since Antonio Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh. It’s a bit of a vague question but can he be a #1 receiver for an offense? And if teams don’t believe he is, or if they mistakenly believe so, someone will be disappointed a few years from now.
Brandt concluded by saying Smith-Schuster’s best home is with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
“Who should take the risk? New England Patriots. Some might wonder if a player who made a habit out of posting TikTok videos of himself dancing on opponents’ logos would be a good culture fit with Bill Belichick’s Patriots, but this team desperately needs the kind of help at receiver that Smith-Schuster could immediately provide.”
He’s right to opine the fit doesn’t seem perfect in New England. But Belichick isn’t as cookie-cutter as some make him out to be. He just wants to maximize talent and the Pats desperately need help at receiver. They’re reportedly even floating former first round pick N’Keal Harry on the trade market, an admission he was a mistake. Few teams have as much cap space as New England does so money shouldn’t be an object if they want to sign him.