NFL Betting: Is There Value in JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Touchdown Prop?
The team wound up playing three different quarterbacks throughout the season, and star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was never able to gain much traction in the 12 games he did play in. The campaign for him was a disappointing one, with career-low marks in receptions (42), targets (70), yards (552), and touchdowns (3).
But there's good news for Smith-Schuster -- Roethlisberger should be back in 2020, and the last time the two played a full season together, Smith-Schuster recorded a team-high 111 receptions for 1,426 yards, and 7 touchdowns. With Pittsburgh getting its franchise quarterback coming back, expect sparks to fly for this offense once again.
As such, is there value to be found in Smith-Schuster's receiving touchdown prop bet? It's currently set at 6.5 (-126) on FanDuel Sportsbook. Let's dig in.
Juju's History With Big Ben
Entering his fourth season in the league, Smith-Schuster has been a big-play magnet for the Steelers' offense since joining the team.
In 42 career games, he's registered 26 outings with a play of at least 20 yards. In 2018, as a Pro Bowler, he totaled 18 plays of 20 or more yards, but that fell to a career-low seven in 2019. He had a play of 20 yards or more in six games in 2019, 12 in 2018, and eight as a rookie in 2017. His big-play ability was limited last season due to the lack of stable play at quarterback, but this year the offense could return to form.
Last season, JuJu missed one game due to a concussion and three games for a knee sprain that resulted in him returning for Weeks 16 and 17 in an attempt at the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Steelers did not win either game, and he totaled four receptions (on 10 targets) for 28 yards, as he clearly didn't look 100%. He should be healthy and ready for 2020, and the same can be said for Roethlisberger.
Prior to 2019, JuJu had played 30 games with Big Ben, and Smith-Schuster averaged a 70.15% catch rate in them. In their two games together in 2019, Smith-Schuster hauled in 68.75% of his looks. Without Roethlisberger, it was a different story. In only two of the 10 games he played with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges did Smith-Schuster have a catch rate above 60%.
In 2018, he posted a catch rate of 60% or higher in 13 of his 16 games played, and he did so in 11 of 13 games as a rookie in 2017 -- all with Roethlisberger. Smith-Schuster recorded a 79% snap share last year, 59.3% of that coming from the slot, and those numbers were at 88.4% and 56.5%, respectively, in 2018. JuJu was the fourth-most targeted receiver in the NFL in 2018, getting thrown to 166 times, and he had a red zone target share of 31.2% (29 targets), which ranked sixth. He also led the league in yards after catch in 2018 (587), was second in red zone receptions (16), and ranked fifth in both receptions (111) and yards (1,426).
With Ben in 2018, JuJu was a beast. We could see that happen again in 2020.
JuJu's Redemption as a No. 1 Option
With last season going south sans Big Ben, Smith-Schuster hasn't had much of a chance to prove his No. 1 status without Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has tossed 20 or more touchdowns in eight of his last 10 seasons and 25 or more in six of his last seven -- not including his 2019 shortened season.
The Steelers have Diontae Johnson and James Washington behind JuJu on the depth chart, and both players had more receptions, targets, and yards than Smith-Schuster did in 2019. In all, three Steelers totaled more receptions than Smith-Schuster, and four other players had has many -- or more -- touchdowns than he did (three).
But once we remove the wasted 2019 season from the equation, this prop looks better for JuJu. He scored seven receiving touchdowns in each of his first two years, and he's much more likely to produce numbers similar to those seasons than his 2019 output.
It'll also help that Pittsburgh is a pass-heavy team with Big Ben under center. They threw it on 66% of their plays in 2018, and they have checked in with a pass rate of at least 57.5% in every year since 2012 (not counting 2019).
Roethlisberger averaged 564.4 pass attempts over his last five healthy seasons, and Smith-Schuster had an 18% target share in 2017 (50th) and a 24% target share in 2018. He should see a boost in volume compared to what he got a year ago, when he finished 2019 with a 17% target share and 71 targets.
Take the Over
Smith-Schuster has some volatility to him heading into 2020. We haven't seen him get to play for an extended period with Big Ben and without Brown. That feels scary, especially with JuJu coming off a clunker of a season.
But we know what JuJu and Roethlisberger did together in 2017 and 2018, and operating under the assumption that JuJu will be the Steelers' top wideout (and Big Ben will be back to full health), it's easy to like his chances of scoring at least seven touchdowns, something he did in each of his first two seasons. JuJu is Roethlisberger's most prized possession at this point, and you can expect Smith-Schuster to regain his rightful place in the offense as Big Ben's No. 1.
Our JJ Zachariason projects Smith-Schuster for a big year -- 132 targets, 82 catches, 1,125 yards and 6.66 touchdowns.
While you can win more betting on the under -- which is -102, compared to -126 on over 6.5 touchdowns -- and JJ's projection matches up almost evenly with the listed line, I like the over here and expect this Steelers offense to rebound in a big way in 2020.