Even if the target share for each member is reduced slightly as a result, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers are happy to remain together as a unit, rather than losing one of their members to free agency this offseason.
That receiver is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Despite offers from Baltimore, Kansas City, and Philadelphia, Smith-Schuster chose to come back to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal. That keeps the team’s receiver group intact: Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington, with Ray-Ray McCloud as a depth piece and return man.
Smith-Schuster led the team in receptions last season with 97, despite so many players splitting targets. The breakout rookie on the roster, Chase Claypool, already voice his happiness at bringing JuJu back. During a Thursday minicamp session with the media, the team’s yardage leader, Johnson, echoed the same.
“Just by him coming back, I mean, it just brings back that chemistry that the whole group has as a whole. We’re a really tight group and we all get along with one another, we’re close friends and whatnot. Just being able to have him back is fine,” Johnson said.
Smith-Schuster’s return gives Pittsburgh one of the youngest and most talented receiving rooms in the NFL. None will be older than 25 when the 2021 season ends.
It also gives the team an incredible amount of versatility to work with in new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme. Johnson and Claypool have been downfield threats in their young careers. In limited work there, both also showed the skill to be a slot weapon. Conversely, Smith-Schuster has been the team’s primary slot receiver in recent seasons, but has the skill (and has expressed his desire) to play out wide more in 2021.
On Tuesday, Canada addressed the ability to use so many talented receivers in a variety of alignments during his own minicamp session with the media. “Our job is to put players in a position to make plays. It’s not to run a certain play or a certain scheme or a certain anything. And if we believe putting anybody in any spot on the field gives us the best advantage to do that, and to continue to have defenses have to wonder what’s coming next, that is our challenge,” he said.