Don’t Pass on JuJu Smith-Schuster in Fantasy Football Drafts
One year ago, JuJu Smith-Schuster was being discussed as one of the best wide receivers in the game and being drafted in the late first and early second round in fantasy drafts. He was being talked about in the same tier as Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Davante Adams, and Odell Beckham.
One season filled in injuries and bottom of the barrel quarterback play and now he is being drafted in late third-round according to BestBall10s average draft position. He is being drafted behind D.J. Moore, Amari Cooper, and Allen Robinson.
None of those players are bad fantasy options by any means, but a year ago you would have been crazy to take any of them ahead of JuJu. So now I am here to convince you why Juju should not be going behind 12 other wide receivers in fantasy drafts.
Ben Roethlisberger is Not Done
Ben Roethlisberger only played one full game in 2019 before suffering an elbow injury in Week 2 that would keep him out for the rest of the season. In Roethlisberger's one full game, he passed for 276 yards zero touchdowns and one interception.
That was against the New England Patriots whose defense went on to allow the fewest yards per game, second-fewest pass yards per game, and the fewest pass touchdowns in the league last year. It is safe to say we shouldn't put too much stock into Roethlisberger's performance in his only full game of the 2019 season.
Here are Big Ben's stats from the previous two seasons where he played full seasons.
There has been little to no sign of a dropoff in Ben's play the last time we saw him play a significant amount of games. Part of the worry in the Steeler's passing offense falling off was the loss of Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger's 2018 season was the last time we saw the two together, but the emergence of Diontae Johnson should alleviate some of those worries.
We don't have to worry about the Steelers shying away from passing the ball with multiple talented receivers at their disposal. Not to mention the running back position relies on an injury-prone James Conner.
The Steelers may not want to pound the rock with Conner and the much less talented running backs behind him when they have weapons like Juju and Johnson. Speaking of Johnson.
The Emergence of Diontae Johnson is Not a Bad Thing
Heading into the 2019 season for JuJu, one of the biggest question marks about him was could he succeed without opposing defenses worrying about stopping Antonio Brown. Now the Steelers have another legitimate wide receiver and the public is worried if there is enough passing work to go around. So which is it?
Below are the receiving stats for both Smith-Schuster and Brown in 2018
There have been 18 occurrences of a team having two 1000 yard players in the same season since 2011. I'm not saying both JuJu and Johnson are going to be 1000-yard receivers in 2020, but the 2018 season for the Steelers was not an anomaly. Teams can support two fantasy-relevant wide receivers.
In that 2018 season, both Brown and JuJu saw over 35% of the Steeler's wide receiver targets. Besides that, there have been three other times when a team had two wide receivers take up 70% of the wide receiver targets for their team since 2017.
It may not be super common but Johnson also is not expected to receive Antonio's level of target demand leaving more opportunities for Smith-Schuster.
The presence of another talented wide receiver also allows JuJu to continue to dominate in the slot. He ran 59.3% of his snaps from the slot in 2019 and 56.6% in 2018 per PlayerProfiler. Many of the best cornerbacks in the league don't travel with receivers into the slot giving JuJu plus matchups that he can dominate.
2019 Was an Outlier Year for JuJu
Last year was the perfect storm for Smith-Schuster to have a disappointing fantasy season. Injuries and the bad quarterback play weren't the only reasons either.
In 2019 the Steelers targeted the wide receiver position 62% of the time for a total of 284 targets. The Steelers had 461 targets total across all three skill positions.
In 2018 the Steelers targeted the wide receiver position alone 433 times for 67% of their total team share. It's a safe bet that there are going to be significantly more targets to the wide receiver position with Roethlisberger back under center.
JuJu saw 5.7 targets per game last year. In his breakout season during 2018, he was seeing 10 targets per game and that was with Brown still on the team. There is no reason to believe JuJu shouldn't be able to get close to that level again with the offense staying on the field longer and the quarterback not checking it down to the running backs.
The team should also drastically improve in the touchdown department. The Steelers threw for 18 touchdowns passes last year. They haven't thrown for that few of touchdowns passes since 2001 before Roethlisberger was even drafted.
numberFire currently has JuJu projected for 87 receptions on 131 targets, 1120 yards, and 6.3 touchdowns ranking 15th among wide receivers. Clearly, those numbers aren't at the 2018 levels for JuJu but they are significantly better than what we saw a season ago.
If Big Ben plays anything close to the last time we saw him when he was healthy for a full season JuJu could be a top 10 wide receiver for fantasy. You could grab two stud running backs in the first two rounds and still draft a wide receiver in the third-round -- who many thought was worthy of a first-round pick two years ago.
JuJu's situation has only gotten better heading into this season. He will have the same quarterback that has fueled his production previously and a secondary threat on the field to take the defensive pressure off of him.
I would much rather draft him over Cooper, Moore, or Robinson who each are going just ahead of him in drafts. Cooper has been inconsistent for years, while both Moore and Robinson are playing with new quarterbacks on potentially low scoring offenses. Smith-Schuster doesn't have any of those concerns and should be an easy pick late in the third round if not even a little earlier. He has one of the highest upsides in the league and is cheaper than he should be in 2020.