JuJu Smith-Schuster Has Enticing Talent But Is Part of a Crowded Steelers Offense
If you are a fantasy football enthusiast who values age-adjusted production, then you are already very familiar with JuJu Smith-Schuster, a player whom the Pittsburgh Steelers recently selected near the very end of the second round in the 2017 NFL Draft.
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Smith-Schuster was the youngest player at the NFL Scouting Combine. He doesn't turn 21 years old until late November. For reference, Cooper Kupp -- taken by Los Angeles Rams seven picks later -- turns 24 years old in June.
After exceeding 700 receiving yards as a true freshman at Southern Cal, Smith-Schuster caught nearly 90 passes for over 1,400 yards the following year. As a junior -- playing with a new quarterback while also slowed by a back injury -- he caught 70 passes for over 900 yards. In his final two seasons, Smith-Schuster caught 10 touchdowns apiece, giving him a total of 25 touchdowns in 40 career games at the collegiate level.
At the combine, Smith-Schuster’s height and 40-yard dash time were both average. On the negative side of the ledger, the vertical jump was poor, ranking in the 16th percentile, according to MockDraftable. Smith-Schuster waited until the USC pro day to perform the agility drills. In addition to improving his vertical by a full inch, Smith-Schuster ran above average times in both the 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill.
While the overall measurables on Smith-Schuster aren't very flashy, they shouldn’t stop him from being at least an average possession receiver who can do a lot of after the catch. He also checked in with very large hands (measured in the 97th percentile), and he doesn't shy away from a physical style of play.
Here are his 10 closest comparisons based on his workout numbers, according to our algorithms, focusing only only past wide receivers also taken in the first two rounds.
|2012||Brian Quick||Round 2, Pick 1||65.51%|
|2012||Rueben Randle||Round 2, Pick 31||64.67%|
|2014||Sammy Watkins||Round 1, Pick 4||64.15%|
|2013||Deandre Hopkins||Round 1, Pick 27||63.35%|
|2014||Davante Adams||Round 2, Pick 21||62.89%|
|2011||A.J. Green||Round 1, Pick 4||62.52%|
|2013||Robert Woods||Round 2, Pick 9||62.01%|
|2010||Arrelious Benn||Round 2, Pick 7||61.60%|
|2014||Jordan Matthews||Round 2, Pick 10||61.03%|
|2008||James Hardy||Round 2, Pick 10||60.98%|
All in all, it's a pretty enticing list. DeAndre Hopkins is notable because he's very similar to Smith-Schuster in height, weight, and speed. But unlike Hopkins, Smith-Schuster doesn’t have any legitimate chance lead his team in targets anytime in the near future. Certainly not with Antonio Brown averaging more than 170 targets per season over the last four years. There’s also Le'Veon Bell; who was targeted 94 times in only 12 regular season games a year ago. Between the two they accounted for 48.7 percent of Ben Roethlisberger's pass attempts.
According to the tweets of Martavis Bryant, Smith-Schuster is replacing Sammie Coates. However, Bryant has been suspended twice under the league's substance abuse policy. First, he missed the first four games of the 2015 season. The second bust cost Bryant the entire 2016 season. That lost year does not count toward free agency and keeps Bryant under contract through the 2018 season.
Coates was averaging more than 80 yards a game through five games last year, but a hand injury caused him to struggle mightily throughout the remainder of his third professional season.
Pittsburgh is clearly looking to build depth at wide receiver while keeping an open mind and looking for options to compete with Bryant, Coates, and veteran deep threat Darrius Heyward-Bey at outside receiver opposite Brown. Prior to drafting Smith-Schuster, Justin Hunter, a combine workout warrior of four years ago, was signed during the offseason. He spent year with Buffalo, catching 4 touchdowns on only 10 receptions.
If the receiver stable was not so crowded, this could be an offense to invest in beyond the primary headliners. Adjusted for opponent, Roethlisberger was last year's seventh-best quarterback according to numberFire’s expected points model -- Net Expected Points (NEP). While committing to play in 2017 seemed inevitable, prior quotes to the media suggest that Roethlisberger could be taking things year to year despite being signed through 2019, when he'll be 37 years old.
So Smith-Schuster is facing a future that may not include Roethlisberger and an immediate outlook that comes with a very low ceiling while playing with Brown, Bell and (for now) Bryant. Redraft players are going to find it difficult to project enough opportunity for Smith-Schuster to make any kind of splash in 2017. Dynasty owners will enjoy the date of birth in the player bio, but his landing spot (coupled with an underwhelming final season at USC) may push him into the second round of rookie drafts.