For the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, the entire team will be devoid of perhaps one of the greatest leaders in the team’s history, as two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hung up his cleats for good following the team’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card game this past January. However, the team would also be losing another emotional leader in the form of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who returned from an IR stint due to shoulder surgery earlier in the season to play in the team’s playoff loss.
Smith-Schuster, a 2019 Pro Bowler who flirted with free agency last offseason before taking less money to return, decided to exit the team along with Roethlisberger, signing on to play with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on a one-year deal. Despite his antics, which included an array of TikTok videos and dancing on opponents’ logos, he was a veteran leader to young receivers like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, and Claypool said as much today on the Varsity House Podcast. According to Claypool, Smith-Schuster was the voice of the receiver room, the unquestioned leader.
“JuJu was really like one of the best leaders I’ve been around because he would say what everyone else is thinking,” Claypool said today on The Varsity House Podcast. “Like he would talk to an offensive coordinator or receiver coach or even Coach T and be like, ‘Yo, we’re doing this, but like this isn’t working’. So he would say things that we’re not really in a position to say that, but he would do that for us.”
Claypool elaborated a bit more, labeling Smith-Schuster as one of the most unselfish people he’s ever known, one that would do anything for anyone. With him now gone, Johnson and Claypool are now vaulted to the head of the pecking order in the receiving room, one that contains two rookie draft picks in George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. Hopefully Claypool has learned some of the leadership qualities from JuJu and will be taking the youngsters under their wing the same way that he did.
After a sensational rookie season in which he posted 873 yards and 11 total touchdowns, Claypool took a bit of a step back last season, only scoring twice, while drawing the ire of many with his on-field antics. Recently, he proclaimed himself a top-three NFL wide receiver, and he obviously possesses an enticing blend of size and speed. However, he’s yet to put it all together so perhaps year three we will finally see it come to fruition. Before that though, he needs to learn from some of the lessons that Smith-Schuster taught him, and set an example for the rookies, alongside DJ.
“Like I was a rookie and I’m like, ‘yo homie, do you have garbage bags or something?’. He’d be like, ‘no I don’t, but I’ll go get ’em for you’. Like crazy stuff like that. So he’ll be missed. I think we’re trying to replace that the best we can.”