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Making the case: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Is JuJu worth drafting this fantasy season?

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Every year there are a few players who are going too high, or too low. In this series, I’ll make my case for or against a few of those players that stand out to me. Agree, disagree? Tell me why in the comments or on Twitter @NFLClark!

I have to start this article by calling out that I love Smith-Schuster as a real-life football player, and I have the utmost faith that he is going to have a long, productive career. Smith-Schuster has already posted a 1,400+ yards, 7 touchdown season, and he will not play his first game as a 23-year-old until the Steelers travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in Week 12. Week 12! Three wide receivers drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft are 21, none were 20.

Smith-Schuster boosters will point to his outstanding early success and the 169 targets vacated when Antonio Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders as reasons for optimism. Despite the recent rise in popularity of arguing against facts, I have to concede that is a fair point.

We must remember, though, that Ben Roethlisberger led the league with 675 pass attempts in 2018. Not since Matthew Stafford’s 727 pass attempts in 2012 has any QB attempted so many passes. For Ben, his 675 attempts were 67 more than his previous high-water mark set in 2014, and this was 114 more attempts than he threw in 2017. It is reasonable to expect a sizeable shrinking of the passing pie in Pittsburgh.

The biggest reason I cannot get excited for Juju at this price, this year, is that defenses will no longer have to focus on covering one of the best receivers in the league (in Brown). And while we only have one game from 2018 where we can see what life might look like with Juju as the number one receiver, Week 17 when the Steelers hosted the Bengals, Juju struggled to get open all day against a Bengals defense which gave up the most passing yards in the league.

In early drafts, Juju is already being drafted as the wide receiver six, at an average draft position just under 16 over-all. He is going ahead of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, and T.Y. Hilton to name a few. I have no doubt Smith-Schuster will figure out how to play the leading receiver role, eventually. For 2019, though, I have to pass.