The Steelers relied on JuJu Smith-Schuster to be the next man up in Pittsburgh this year. Here’s why the wide receiver deserves some blame for this season.
The Steelers have had a plethora of problems on the offensive side of the ball this season. Their running game has been non-existent, the offensive line has taken a big step backward, and after losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season, their quarterback play has been the worst in the league.
With all of these shortcomings on offense, does wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster still deserve a solid portion of the blame?
Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have been phenomenal at drafting the wide receiver position. Mike Wallace eventually took the place of Santonio Holmes, and Antonio Brown became one of the league’s best receivers after Wallace left for Miami.
While we knew that JuJu had impossible shoes to fill after Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh, we didn’t expect a regression quite like this.
Obviously, the 23-year old wide receiver played with backup quarterbacks most of the year and has been banged up for a quarter of the season. While injuries will clearly hinder his production, James Washington and Diontae Johnson managed to have more success on a per-game basis than JuJu in 2019.
Smith-Schuster’s stats have been pathetic this season. Despite managing 6 targets per game, JuJu has tuned that into just 49.6 yards per contest with a 62.5 catch percentage on balls thrown his direction. This is an awful number considering his average depth of target is just 8.5 yards down the field.
But JuJu’s struggles go beyond mere statistics. If you turn on the film, he has had trouble separating and winning down the field – not to mention the shakiest pair of hands on the team outside of Johnny Holton this season.
JuJu is currently the 78th rated wide receiver this season, according to Pro Football Focus. This puts him behind both James Washington and Diontae Johnson on the Steelers. Washinton (47th overall WR) also has a substantially higher season grade (72.0) than JuJu this year (65.2).
However, it’s been JuJu’s play in big moments (or lack thereof) that lead me to believe that he deserves a sizable portion of the blame for how things are shaping up this season. Against the Ravens in Week 5, the Steelers had the victory in their grasp before JuJu fumbled in overtime.
His inability to show up in big moments last week against the Jets was equally concerning. While Diontae Johnson and James Washington combined for 13 catches on 17 targets for 122 yards, and a touchdown, JuJu caught 50 percent of his balls for 22 yards. With pressure barreling down on Hodges on Pittsburgh’s final drive, the undrafted rookie made a pretty nice pass and JuJu had a chance to save the game. However, the ball managed to right through his hands.
Clearly, there is blame to pass around just about everywhere on the offensive side of the ball, and JuJu hardly owns all of it. However, the Steelers clearly had high hopes for JuJu – hopes that he, unfortunately, may never be able to live up to. Let’s hope he bounces back in 2020.