Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is now in his fifth season since being drafted in the second round out of USC back in 2017. A lot has happened since then, both the positive and the negative, both on and off the field, and certainly opinions have been formulated about him. But at the end of the day, he’s still the same guy, and still produces on the field.
While he did not put up big numbers for the team on Sunday (nobody did) Smith-Schuster did contribute four receptions for 52 yards, leading the team, and had a couple of rather impressive catches in the process. One of them was a key third-down conversion. He made a particularly strong play to field a 2nd-and-7 pass in the fourth quarter for 24 yards, which put the Steelers ahead 10 late.
These are the sorts of things he contributes on the field, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sees his contributions in all aspects of the team, even if much of it does come out in what he does between the white lines on Sundays.
“He’s growing into a leader, more and more”, he told reporters yesterday. “He’s always kind of been a leader in terms of on the football field, in terms of how he plays the game. He’s very physical. He’s where he supposed to be. He gets those tough yards, those tough catches. He’s dependable. And he’s obviously been the older one in that room for a while now, which is crazy because he’s still so young. But he just puts in the work and it pays off”.
Despite being drafted before everybody else, Smith-Schuster is still actually the second-youngest wide receiver in the room, behind only Chase Claypool, drafted in the second round last year. He is younger than James Washington, a 2018 second-round pick, and Diontae Johnson, a third-round selection in 2019, as well as Ray-Ray McCloud, who was added as a free agent last year.
After testing free agency back in March, he ultimately decided to return to the Steelers on a one-year, $8 million contract, hoping to get a better shot at the market next year. Part of that is a natural economic recovery from the pandemic, but it’s also down to how he produces, and how he’s used, on the field.
Smith-Schuster still played predominantly in the slot on Sunday, but as expected, everybody did move around more, putting players in less predictable spots. It’s still very early in this new offense, though, so it remains to be seen how everything plays out, not just individually, but collectively.