The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: JuJu Smith-Schuster will play on the outside a lot more than he has in recent seasons.
Explanation: After re-signing with the Steelers this offseason, Smith-Schuster has mentioned playing on the outside more this year on multiple occasions across numerous interviews. He has been primarily a slot player for most of his career, but especially recently, logging nearly 80 percent of his snaps inside last season.
There isn’t a single season in Smith-Schuster’s career in which he played on the outside more than in the slot. I don’t know that that will happen this year, but it’s reasonable to assume that the Steelers will have more flexibility to give him matchups on the outside in 2021.
One thing to consider is the possibility, as has been alleged, that his lingering injuries over the past two years have been a factor in the amount of time he’s seen inside. He even alluded to it once. And with the maturation of the other young receivers, they should be equipped to spend more time working inside.
Put those things together with Matt Canada and his motion and emphasis on putting players in positions to succeed, and I think it translates into more snaps outside the hash marks for Smith-Schuster this year, which he’ll obviously be on board with heading into free agency next year.
The most popular argument is that this is who Smith-Schuster is without a superstar in Antonio Brown. Chase Claypool might develop into that guy, but if it happens this year, it will take time. Chances are he’s going to be outside. Only about 22 percent of his snaps came inside last year.
Smith-Schuster operates best working from the inside, and Claypool and Johnson have their strengths on the outside. The answer to this question might be based on how literally you want to apply season-to-season change. He’s probably not going to see nearly 80 percent of his snaps in the slot this year, but is 65-70 percent a significant enough drop that gets at the spirit of the topic? That’s really up to you. If that’s where you feel the percentage would be. Or you might think he plays 60 percent of his snaps outside.