JuJu Smith-Schuster’s NFL career can be summed up in three parts thus far – a promising start, an absurd sophomore year and then a disappointing third year. The young wide receiver’s career has been playing out like a character in a novel – there was a promising introduction, a climb to the top and then a deep fall from grace during year three. If this was a story arc designed by a screenwriter, the next step would be redemption and Smith-Schuster will have a chance to find redemption during year four which also happens to be his contract year.
With that all being said, Smith-Schuster’s numbers after three years in the NFL look arguably well when compared to past Pittsburgh Steelers’ receivers. His 211 receptions are the most by a Steelers’ receiver through their first three seasons and his 2895 receiving yards after three seasons ranks second, only behind Mike Wallace’s 3206 receiving yards.
While these are great figures, the NFL is a ‘what have you done for me recently’ league and Smith-Schuster’s disappointing 2019 year is at the front of everyone’s mind. Blame the receiver, blame the offense, blame the quarterback situation, no matter which side one currently resides on, it should be unanimously agreed that a great 2020 season would silence any doubt left over from 2019.
How about becoming the most successful Steelers’ receiver after four seasons? Even after a down-year in 2019 it is still within reach for Smith-Schuster.
Above are the most receiving yards by a Steelers’ receivers after their first four seasons in the NFL. Despite only playing three seasons thus far, Smith-Schuster still cracks the top five and he is within reach of taking the top spot if he can put together a strong showing in year four.
The former second round draft pick will need 1148 receiving yards to overtake Wallace for the top spot. If Smith-Schuster can put together a year that looks a lot more like 2018 rather than 2019, he surely could leapfrog his way from five to one and there are a few reasons to believe this is possible.
No point expanding on the first point any further as it is clear to the naked eye – Ben Roethlisberger is back and he is a major upgrade over Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. And while Smith-Schuster will not have the benefit of having a generational talent like Antonio Brown by his side like he did in 2018, he will have a combination of intriguing teammates who could open up the field for him.
James Washington took a big step forward last year and he is going to be counted on to progress further in 2020. Diontae Johnson had an excellent rookie season and the sky may be the limit for him moving forward. Eric Ebron will open up the middle of the field and hopefully give the Steelers a consistent contributor from the tight end position.
Now, these are a lot of mouths to feed but it was only two years ago that Roethlisberger threw the football 675 times. While it is reasonable to suggest that the 675 attempts that Roethlisberger threw in 2018 may be a high starting point for a quarterback coming off elbow surgery, there should be room for at least one receiver to exceed 1000 yards should everything meaning health and production go as planned.
If everything goes planned, Smith-Schuster has as good a chance as any receiver on the roster to be that guy the offense relies on. He needs just 51 receptions to surpass Brown for most receptions by a Steelers’ receiver through their first four seasons and 1148 receiving yards to surpass Wallace. If he can hit these figures, not only would he put himself in position for a big payday next offseason but he would also complete the redemption chapter in his story arc.