Every fan base of every team in every sport has its favorite GOATs and scapegoats. But there are always players in the gray area, too. Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor was one of them. While there was a time that he was among the top cover corners in the league, he also…well, he had terrible hands. In his own words, he couldn’t catch a cold in Alaska.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, however, can catch quite a bit. He is by far the most reliable player on the Steelers’ roster right now in terms of his catch security. He had a slight lapse in this area during his injury- and quarterback-plagued 2019 season, but he ranks pretty favorably league-wide in the drop rate metric.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Taylor likened him to another former Steeler, Hines Ward, when he was on the Pat McAfee show and asked to comment on the team’s decision to re-sign the fifth-year wide receiver.
“The personality of JuJu—he’s a Steeler”, Taylor said. “He’s very, very, very physical. He’s an upgraded version of Hines Ward. He’s a very physical receiver. He doesn’t mind getting hit. He can block. He can go over the middle”.
Ward remains to this day one of the most beloved player in the Steelers’ modern history, and rightfully so. He did help them win a couple of Super Bowls, after all, and when you consider that his numbers were put up during a running era for the team, it’s even more impressive.
Even McAfee, who is from Allegheny County, raised an eyebrow when Taylor said that Smith-Schuster was an upgraded Ward, however, so he was asked to clarify. It’s “as far as athleticism. As far as speed”, he said. “JuJu done did a 70-yard, he done did a 80-yard. JuJu done did a 65-yard. Like, JuJu got some long-ass touchdowns”.
Actually, Smith-Schuster has a couple of 97-yard touchdowns. He’s the only player in NFL history with multiple receiving touchdowns of 97-plus yards. But he didn’t have many opportunities to take advantage of his speed with the way the team used him last year. Both sides are hoping for different in 2020 after they agreed to a one-year pact at $8 million, which was less than he had been offered by other teams.
“He’s like, ‘I’m not gonna leave if Pittsburgh’s gonna offer me $8 million. Y’all gonna offer me $9 million, but you need me to get these incentives to get more. I got a Hall of Fame quarterback, I know the offense. Nah, I’d rather stay in Pittsburgh and try my luck and get more money next year’”, Taylor said in explicating the young wide receiver’s mindset.
There are some other things that connect the two. In addition to Antonio Brown, they are the only Steelers in team history with a 100-catch season, for example. They’re the only ones who smile the same way both after they dish out a big hit and after they take one.
But Smith-Schuster still has a long way to go before he comes close to matching Ward’s legacy, who still owns many team records, including career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.