As is par for the course, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has done plenty of talking this offseason. I would imagine we’ll probably hear from him soon during OTAs as well. And when he wasn’t talking about his sponsorship of the BRB bot, which provides streamers a virtual AI avatar to take their place while they’re ‘AFK’ (i.e., in the bathroom — it’s a Charmin product, after all), he did occasionally talk football.
Whenever he was asked about his plans for the 2021 season with respect to demonstrating again that he’s a number one receiver, the topic he kept bringing up was his expectation that he would see more time playing on the outside this year, after having increasingly seen more and more of his snaps in the slot year by year. is that feasible? In Matt Canada’s offense, James Washington thinks so.
Asked who he thought could play that slot role if Smith-Schuster is playing out said, Washington said, “really anyone, and that’s one of the things that I like about this team, is that receivers can play at any position. You’re not just a Z, or not just an inside or outside guy”, he added. “You may play that primarily, but you’re never just that receiver. You can always move around. I think we’re pretty fluid with moving around and keeping guys out there”.
For Washington, he spent about 20 percent of his snaps last season aligned inside out of a little over 500 total snaps. Diontae Johnson, on the other hand, only played 100 slot snaps out of 811 in total, according to Pro Football Focus. Chase Claypool had around the same percentage of work in the slot as Washington did, but all three could see their time inside expand this year.
In contrast to those above, Smith-Schuster only played a little over 200 snaps on the outside in 2020, while logging about 800 snaps in the slot, so roughly the inverse of Washington. If the Steelers are to play him on the outside more this year, then it’s definitely going to require some adjustments in order to accommodate that.
But there are ways to manufacture that in a more flexible offense that employs pre-snap motion to create desired matchups. In such a scenario, it matters a lot less where somebody lines up, as opposed to against whom he is aligned.
The fact that the Steelers have a proper offseason this year, replete with OTAs and a preseason, should make it a lot easier to help the less experienced wide receivers get more comfortable moving around the field. Claypool, for example, was just a rookie who didn’t have a proper offseason at all. He could certainly be a candidate to see more time inside this year as an ideal mismatch creator.