Will Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster play more on the outside in 2021 with Matt Canada now serving as the team’s offensive coordinator? It certainly sounds like that might just be the case, especially based on what Smith-Schuster said Wednesday during his media session following the team’s afternoon OTAs.
Smith-Schuster was asked on Thursday what his biggest goal for 2021 is that he’s focused on in particular and the fifth-year wide receiver did not beat around the bush when it came to his answer.
“Playing more outside,” Smith-Schuster said. “It’s as simple as that.”
So, why does Smith-Schuster want to play outside more moving forward and especially since he’s already established himself as one of the best slot receivers in the NFL?
“Being able to play outside, too, you know, adding more to your craft,” Smith-Schuster said. “You look at a year two, you know, probably the best year I’ve had as a Pittsburgh Steeler, I was playing more outside than inside and having another threat player on the other side. And with Ben [Roethlisberger], at the end of the day, I think we have to have players all the way around in our offense. You have so many weapons that you don’t know where Ben’s going to go and that’s just how it is.”
In Smith-Schuster’s second season with the Steelers in 2018 he caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a Pro Bowl season for him and his best to date. Even so, he played predominantly in the slot in 2018 and to the tune of 564 total offensive snaps.
So, does Smith-Schuster know for sure right now that he’ll play more outside in 2021 as part of Canada’s new offensive scheme?
“I mean, honestly, I haven’t even had a conversation with Matt [Canada] about me playing outside, but in practice, or through OTAs, there’s been plays where he’s put me outside, where he’s put me in the best situation of getting the ball outside and stuff like that,” Smith-Schuster said. “And that’s not just me, that’s all of us. That’s Chase [Claypool]. That’s Diontae [Johnson]. That’s James [Washington]. That’s Ray-Ray [McCloud]. Everyone’s getting a little bit of touch of like moving around and knowing this offense. I think this offense is going to help us out a lot being able to open up holes for Najee [Harris]. Being able to open up plays and balls down the field and splash plays. So, I really believe in this offense.”
This will certainly be interesting to watch play out moving into the season. While Smith-Schuster might play as little more on the outside in 2021 than he has the last few seasons, it’s hard to imagine most of his offensive snaps not coming with him lined up in the slot. The Steelers might indeed move all their wide receivers around more in 2021, something that wouldn’t hurt.
We’ll make sure to chart where Smith-Schuster lines up on offense throughout the season, just as we always do, and see if he ultimately does wind up on the outside more in 2021. It certainly sounds like that is what he wants to do.