There has been quite a bit of talk about Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster this past week following him stating that he would like to be used and targeted more on the outside in 2021 after primarily being used in the slot in 2020. On the heels of Smith-Schuster saying what he said last week, it’s a perfect time to look at his 2020 target and reception stats broken down by alignment and route type. This data below comes courtesy of Sports Info Solutions and does not include the Steelers’ lone playoff game.
As you can see below, SIS has Smith-Schuster down for 127 total targets in 2020 with 108 (85%) of them coming with him initially lined up in the slot. Smith-Schuster was most targeted via a curl route out of the slot with screen and drag route targets being tied for the second-most. He was targets 10 times in the flat out of the slot in 2020. Of those four rout types (curl, screen, drag, flat), Smith-Schuster caught 40 passes, which was 41.2% of his total amount of regular season receptions. Smith-Schuster had an average intended depth of target stat of 2.3 yards on those 51 total targets. His average completed yard distance on those 40 receptions was a minuscule 1.4 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Smith-Schuster average intended air yards for all 108 of his regular season targets was just 5.7 yards and his average completed air yard distance on 85 slot receptions was just 4.8 yards. Of the 738 total receiving yards that Smith-Schuster registered out of the slop in 2020, 330 (44.7%) came after the catch.
Even when Smith-Schuster was targeted in 2020 after not being lined up in the slot, he still wasn’t targeted down the field very much at all. In fact, Smith-Schuster’s 19 total non-slot targets resulted in an average intended air yards stat of just 6.1 yards, just .4 yards further down the field than his 2020 slot average. Smith-Schuster’s average completed air yards distance in 2020 when not lined up in the slot was an embarrassing 1.3 yards.
So, Smith-Schuster hoping to line up more on the outside wasn’t nearly the definitive goal that it should’ve been. Instead, Smith-Schuster should have said that his goal in 2021 is that he is targeted down the field more and regardless of whether he’s lined up in the slot or not.
While there is a good chance that we see Smith-Schuster play outside of the slot a little more than he did in 2020, inside is still likely where he’ll see the biggest amount of his targets from. The biggest onus on Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2021 is making sure that Smith-Schuster is targeted down the field more.
In 2018, the year that Smith-Schuster went to the Pro Bowl after catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, his average intended air yard distance was 9.9 and his average catch distance was 6.7 yards. 69 of his receptions that season came with him lined up in the slot, with the other 41 coming with him lined out somewhere else.
|JuJu Smith-Schuster 2020 Target Breakdown By Alignment/Route|
|TARGETS LINED UP IN SLOT|
|Double Move Deep||1||1||1||0||31||23||23.0||23||23.0||8||1||1||0|
|Fade – Back Shoulder||1||1||1||0||8||8||8.0||8||8.0||0||1||1||0|
|TARGETS NOT LINED UP IN SLOT|