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 record his second-career 1,000-yard receiving season in 2021.
Explanation: Rewind a couple years ago, and you get back to the point at which it looked like JuJu Smith-Schuster was going to be the next great wide receiver in Pittsburgh. The past two years haven’t entirely gone as planned, but changes over the course of the offseason have created the conditions that could reasonably produce at least a 1,000-yard season.
First of all, having an extra game helps, but for the sake of fairness, let’s say 1,063 yards, because that’s the equivalent of the per-game average it would take to get to 1,000 in a 16-game season—62.5 yards per game. So just add on an extra game’s worth of production to even the playing field, to say that the circumstances of this year, rather than the length of the season, led to his being able to return to the 1,000-yard sort of player he was before.
For one, he’s going to play outside more, and thus he’s going to see deeper targets, with greater opportunity for yards after the catch. He’s healthier after dealing with toe and knee injuries over the course of the past two years. He’s going to be more explosive than he has been.
And when all is said and done, he’s still Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target. Diontae Johnson’s going to drop the ball. Chase Claypool has plenty of talent. But he’s not your possession receiver, the guy who you look for when a play needs to be made. Claypool already said as much.
I fully believe Smith-Schuster will have a much more efficient season this year than he did a year ago. But with an offense focusing on re-establishing the run, and with numerous receiving options, it’s a genuine question whether or not he will receive enough targets to hit the mark.
The Steelers are only one of three teams in the league last year who had three players receive at least 100 targets. In the other two instances, five of the six players involved had 110 targets or fewer. The Steelers had two above that number, with Claypool at 109 and primed for a bigger role.
That’s not even factoring in Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris, and even Anthony McFarland, with the tight end and running back positions seemingly primed for a bigger role in the passing game in Matt Canada’s offense. The combined talent and Pittsburgh’s new offensive strategy makes it hard for any one player to crack 1,000 yards.