Do the Steelers view JuJu Smith-Schuster as a ‘number two’ wide receiver?

JuJu Smith-Schuster Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

JuJu Smith-Schuster is coming off his work season, and Pittsburgh just drafted a receiver in the second round. Do the Steelers view him as a ‘number two’ receiver?

There has been a lot of debate this offseason surrounding the uncertainty of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s future in Pittsburgh. Though nothing is set in stone, there have been rumors that the Steelers could allow him to hit the market after the 2020 season.

This is obviously something that fans don’t want to hear. JuJu is arguably the most popular player on the team, and he is a player that younger fans have an easy time relating to. Smith-Schuster has been an incredibly productive player for the Steelers through his first three seasons in the league and didn’t take him long to become one of the NFL’s most popular receivers.

But despite all that he currently has going for him, is it possible that the Steelers don’t view JuJu as a true ‘number one’ receiver in the NFL?

Antonio Brown was a true number one receiver in Pittsburgh – to that, there is no debate. He could win on both the outside and the slot, could dominate at the ‘X’ receiver position, could beat press coverage, and create separation with ease, and he was the go-to guy in nearly every situation.

JuJu possesses several of the same qualities. He’s a competitor who can go up and get the ball and he’s a threat in the red zone. However, he’s clearly not on the same level Brown was for the Steelers. At least not yet.

Unlike many of the players who are considered ‘number one’ receivers in the NFL, JuJu doesn’t necessarily possess all of the same traits. He does most of his damage from the slot where it’s easier to win, he doesn’t create a lot of separation, and he’s made some costly errors in the clutch with big drops and fumbles. In JuJu’s defense, he’s still just 23.5 years old, but these are some of the things he still needs to work on.

JuJu is coming off what is unquestionably the worst season of his three-year career, and he was arguably outplayed by both Diontae Johnson and James Washington in 2019 – each dealing with equally bad quarterback play.

The Steelers elected to spend a second-round draft choice on Chase Claypool this offseason, and he wins in many of the same ways that JuJu does. Historically, the Steelers haven’t handed out a lot of second contracts to receivers, with Brown being an exception.

Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, and Emmanuel Sanders all never made it to a second contract with the Steelers – and these were some pretty good players. Though character could have come into effect with a few of them, it shows that the Steelers have a trend of doing things.

Don’t let fantasy production fool you. JuJu is closer as a football player to players like Wallace, Sanders, and Holmes than he is to Antonio Brown, and it’s entirely possible that the Steelers view him in the same light as these talented players to walk through here.

There’s no doubt Pittsburgh would like to be able to get a deal done with JuJu, but there are other players who will need contracts soon (T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro) at more important positions.

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If JuJu is willing to come back to the team for reasonable money, then he could end up sticking around. But if the Steelers view him as a ‘number two’ receiver, they aren’t going to be willing to pay top dollar to keep him around for the long haul.