Advanced analytics show how efficient Steelers wide receivers were in 2019. Here’s why JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t near the top of the list.
There has been plenty of time to look back and reflect on what went wrong with the Steelers in the 2019 season. Clearly, the dismal quarterback play was their biggest issue on offense, and a terrific defensive performance seemed to be wasted in a year where they never stood a real shot.
But what about JuJu Smith-Schuster?
We knew he had a down season in 2019 as his production was cut by two-thirds, and he missed four games with injuries. However, I don’t think most fans realize just how inefficient he was.
Here’s a look at the Steelers top three wide receivers from the 2019 season and their efficiency numbers, according to Playerprofiler.com:
Washington and Johnson were pleasant surprises for Pittsburgh last season, as they both proved to be very efficient players with their looks in 2019. Washington finished 21st in the NFL in yards per target and 11th in target distance, while Johnson ended up being 1st in the entire league among wide receivers in separation per target (3.6 yards).
Both Washington and Johnson ranked well above the league average in many of these efficiency areas. Unfortunately, Smith-Schuster did not.
Statistically, JuJu wasn’t the top receiver on his own team in any of the 11 efficiency categories listed above. His best mark came in his dominator rating (49th in the league), which is a receivers percentage of the total team receiving yards and receiving touchdowns he earned.
While the quality of quarterbacks JuJu was dealing with in 2019 comes into play, Washington and Johnson were dealing with the same players throwing them the football. In fact, Washington was just 99th in the league in catchable target rate (65.8 percent). While JuJu also dealt with a lot of poor passes, 72.2 percent of them were deemed catchable last year.
JuJu has proven to be a very good wide receiver in the NFL, but his step back in play in 2019 was a little concerning. The former second-round draft choice is entering his final sesaon under contract, but his numbers don’t exactly scream that he’s the type of player deserving of being one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers.
It will be interesting to see how Ben Roethlisberger distributes targets to his receivers in 2020 – especially with the acquisitions of Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron this offseason. If Smith-Schuster doesn’t take a significant step forward this year, it’s going to be really hard for a team with no money to justify keeping him around on a massive new deal.