To the surprise of many JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a 1 year deal worth $8 million. I, of course, celebrated with my own “Corvette Corvette” TikTok dance accordingly. However, if you were to ask most people going into free agency whether or not JuJu would be a Steeler in 2021 I think the majority would have said no.
It seemed more and more like JuJu was going to find a multi-year deal elsewhere that the Steelers would not be able to match. He did receive offers from the Ravens, Chiefs, and Eagles. Despite those offers he ends up back in Pittsburgh. Taking less money and less years to stay loyal to the team that gave him his chance. For people in this city to insist JuJu never received offers and came back because no one wanted him instead of actually wanting to be in Pittsburgh is laughable.
JuJu loves Pittsburgh. And in return Pittsburgh loves JuJu…well, at least most of us. If you choose to dislike JuJu for dancing on TikTok, making YouTube videos, or playing video games then whatever. Heck, even if you dislike him for his blue hair…fine. I don’t agree with any of you that feel this way but you’re entitled to your own opinions. The biggest issue I have with some of these JuJu haters is that a lot of them legitimately believe the Steelers are a better team without him. That is the most ridiculous claim I’ve ever heard about JuJu.
Big Ben Trusts JuJu
I said this all throughout last season, Big Roethlisberger trusts JuJu Smith-Schuster the most out of his receivers. You can get a sense of this just watching the games. It’s not that Ben can’t rely on the other receivers but he makes it very clear who his guy is. Just watch the Steelers in the fourth quarter. When the Steelers need to make first downs and drive down the field Ben is looking JuJu’s way. He knows JuJu is the guy that is going to make the catches, fight for the extra yards, and do everything he possibly can do to extend the drive and win the game.
During the 2020 season in the 4th quarter JuJu lead all Steelers receivers in targets, receptions, Catch%, receiving yards, first downs, and touchdowns. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. A comparison that has been thrown around quite a bit for JuJu is Hines Ward. And looking into it they do play a very similar type of game. Both very physical, good blockers, but more importantly are reliable for their team. Ben was able to trust Hines to make catches and get first downs the same way he trusts JuJu. Neither of those guys necessarily the most skilled receiver on their teams but definitely the most reliable.
Stats Don’t Tell Everything
The easy way for someone to tell if any receiver had a good season is to look at stats. And that would be good if raw stats were the only factor when judging a receiver’s season. There is more to it. When comparing JuJu Smith-Schuster to the rest of the Steelers receiving core you cannot overlook the way the offense was run under Randy Fichtner. The offense was boring, predictable, and way too easy to defend. Just compare route charts for games from last year versus his first couple years. His early early years JuJu was on go routes, out routes, post routes, pretty much sent to any part of the field. Last year was nothing like that. Almost every route it seemed was short of the line of scrimmage. Quick outs, shallow slants, and hitch routes did nothing to help JuJu attain the numbers fans expect from him.
This isn’t to say that the other receivers weren’t effected by this vanilla offense. However, it seemed JuJu got the worst of it. He had the lowest average depth of target among Steelers receivers in 2020 at 5.5 yards. That should be pretty obvious considering he was almost never sent downfield. I believe this factors into why JuJu also had the lowest yards after catch per reception with 4.2 yards. Not easy to get yards after the catch when you’re met almost right away every single time on shallow routes. Despite this JuJu was able to lead the team in total yards after catch and first downs. This goes back to earlier when I mentioned the way Ben has the trust in JuJu at the end of games. Ben knows he will fight for that first down even if he has to drag a few guys with him.
A big issue with the Steelers receivers last season was dropped passes. In particular Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron. I feel like its hard to really know what the criteria for a dropped pass is. Especially with some of the throws Ben had throughout the season. Various websites will have different numbers but one thing is a constant among all of them, Diontae Johnson lead the league in drops. I love DJ, but last year was rough to watch in that category. According to Pro-Football-Reference DJ dropped 13 passes. That is ten more than JuJu. I’m not saying JuJu is perfect in this category but he is definitely the player I worry the least about catching the ball. Again, I think this is a big factor into the trust with Ben. He knows that in crunch time JuJu is going to come down with the football.
A Potential Franchise Cornerstone
JuJu Smith-Schuster is not perfect, nor will he ever be. But their is no denying the talent this kid possesses. The Steelers brought him back for a reason. I will be hoping for an even longer extension after this upcoming season. You don’t have to like him. No one is forcing you to do so. JuJu is going to continue being the influencer that he is on social media, and he should. He has done nothing wrong and until that effects football it shouldn’t matter. Hopefully one day the people in this city that hate him for it will change their ways and at least give him some respect. Despite all the various opinions people have on him a few things are certain. JuJu is the Steelers’ most reliable receiver. The Steelers are a better team with him than without him. Anyone who doesn’t think so is a moron.