3 reasons Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is quickly becoming expendable
JuJu Smith-Schuster is seldom used
While many thought that JuJu would be Pittsburgh’s clear-cut number one wide receiver this year and lead this team in targets, he has done anything but. Through four games, Smith-Schuster has managed just 24 targets (6 per contest), and there are 5 receivers on the team with at least 19 so far this year.
Even with his good health so far in 2020, JuJu has still been outpaced in targets by Diontae Johnson – who exited each of the previous two games early the first quarter with injuries (a concussion in Week 3 and a back injury in Week 5).
When Smith-Schuster is used on offense, it’s essentially in the ‘Ryan Switzer’ role – catching the ball across the face of a linebacker on a quick slant or drag route. As a result, the former Pro Bowl wide receiver is averaging a career-low 9.0 yards per reception through the first quarter of the 2020 season.
Even worse is where he is being targeted. According to Pro Football References advanced analytics, JuJu’s average catch point is just 3.2 yards past the line of scrimmage. Likewise, his average depth of target is just 5.0 yards down the field. This isn’t the production that deserves top money in the NFL.
The Steelers found some new toys
If the Steelers were razor-thin on options at wide receiver, I would say that it would be essential to try to retain Smith-Schuster beyond the 2020 season. However, the depth in Pittsburgh’s young group of wide receivers makes JuJu even more expendable than we ever thought he would be.
A year ago at this time, the thought of losing your team’s top wideout would leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, but Pittsburgh’s young receivers have given us a bill of confidence early this year.
Diontae Johnson is as slippery as they come for an outside receiver. Though he’s been sidelined with injuries each of the past two weeks, he’s already highly favored by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game and he has special traits with the ball in his hands.
Most recently, Chase Claypool exploded onto the scene with a 4-touchdown performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. At 6’4” and 238 pounds, Claypool is a much better athlete than JuJu with a significantly higher ceiling. These two young receivers have looked so good that some are wondering if they could be the second coming of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.
While this is unlikely, there is no doubt Pittsburgh has some promising young players at the position, and they could replace most of what JuJu has been doing with players they already have.