Losing WR JuJu Smith-Schuster won’t break the Steelers 2021 season
By Tommy Jaggi
The Steelers lost one of their most reliable players for the season, but here’s why losing JuJu Smith-Schuster won’t break Pittsburgh’s season.
In a season where your team starts out with a 1-3 record, losing a reliable player like JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the last things you would like to see happen. After receiving offers from both the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs in free agency, JuJu elected to return to the Steelers and give it one last go with Ben Roethlisberger.
There’s plenty of reason to speculate that Smith-Schuster might be regretting his decision to return to Pittsburgh at the moment. Obviously, injuries — especially to a mostly healthy, young player — can be impossible to predict. However, the collision with Broncos safety, Kareem Jackson, ultimately cost the 24-year old receiver his season.
Fortunately, the Steelers were able to go into cruise control for most of the game and held on to defeat the Broncos in Week 5. However, fans have legitimate cause for concern about the Steelers chances without one of their most consistent performers.
Steelers season isn’t over just because JuJu is out
Though it doesn’t like there’s any chance of JuJu Smith-Schuster returning to the field in 2021, that doesn’t mean that Steelers fans should lose all hope for this season. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that this team might not skip a beat without their former Pro Bowl receiver.
What Smith-Schuster does from the slot is something that can be replaced. While he is terrific with the ball in his hands fighting for extra yardage after the catch, the Steelers showed us in Week 5 that they may already have an answer in the slot.
Chase Claypool was unbelievable against the Broncos working primarily from JuJu’s old role. He took a 6-yard slant for 59 yards thanks to his elite movement skills and he was able to stretch the seam with a touchdown over the middle.
If the Steelers do indeed tend to use Claypool in this capacity, we should take comfort in knowing that James Washington will assume the role as the team’s ‘Z’ recevier. Though Washington’s opportunities have been limited, he finds a way to impress whenever he’s on the field.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that the trio of Diontae Johnson (X), James Washington (Z), and Chase Claypool (slot) may be an even better combination in ’11’ personnel for the Steelers. This is not a slight against JuJu at all, but I do think that Claypool is better suited to play the ‘big slot’ role.
In addition, the Steelers already added former second-round wide receiver Anthony Miller to their practice squad from free agency, and they could seek additional depth options as well.
At the end of the day, I truly don’t believe that the loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season is going to break this team. While we would love to see JuJu healthy, we can take comfort in knowing that Pittsburgh still has some very talented young receivers who Ben Roethlisberger can look to get involved in the offense.