Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster missed 13 consecutive games with a shoulder injury in 2021. He last played in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos, although he saw limited snaps in that game. Pittsburgh activated him off of the injured reserve (IR), but is Smith-Schuster playing against the Kansas City Chiefs on Wild Card Weekend, and if he does, what can fantasy football managers expect?
01/16/22: JuJu Smith-Schuster is officially active for the Steelers game against the Chiefs. For the rest of the Steelers inactives, make sure to check out our Wild Card Round Inactives.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2021 production
Smith-Schuster only played in five games this season, but just four full contests. In limited action, he posted 15 receptions for 129 yards on 28 targets. He added 9 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground as well.
Smith-Schuster didn’t look great prior to his injury. He recorded 52 yards against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, but his production tailed off each week that followed. His receiving yard totals were 41, 25, and 11 after Week 1.
Against the Denver Broncos in Week 5, Smith-Schuster saw just 1 target before exiting the bout. He hasn’t played a snap since, but he’s finally eligible to return from IR.
How would his return affect the Steelers’ offense?
Smith-Schuster has been out since Week 5, and there’s no guarantee that he will be locked into big snaps this weekend if active. The Steelers could opt to play it safe with him. Nonetheless, the young receiver seems to be pushing for playing time.
Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are locked into their roles. Johnson could potentially take on a deeper aDOT (average depth of target) role with Smith-Schuster running on shorter routes.
Still, the players most affected by his return will be Ray-Ray McCloud and James Washington. McCloud has somewhat taken over for Washington in recent games, but Smith-Schuster will likely return to a starting position in this game. He could also take away a few targets from RB Najee Harris, as he’s generally a low-aDOT option in Pittsburgh’s offense.
Ultimately, Smith-Schuster’s return adds another mouth to feed, and he hamstrings McCloud (who saw plenty of targets in recent weeks) the most.
Will JuJu Smith-Schuster play vs. the Chiefs this week?
Smith-Schuster’s Week 5 shoulder injury cost him the rest of the regular season, as he ended up on the IR.
The 25-year-old wideout returned to practice on Thursday, although that does not guarantee that he returns on Sunday. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said they needed to see more of Smith-Schuster before they made the decision — the 21-day window to activate him just opened up.
Smith-Schuster’s practices went well, and he didn’t suffer any setbacks. Thus, Pittsburgh activated him on Saturday, and he’s expected to play against Kansas City this weekend. Smith-Schuster also tweeted that he would suit up this weekend, suggesting he could be without limitations in an elimination match.
Are fantasy points available vs. Kansas City?
There are plenty of fantasy points available for Smith-Schuster and Co. against the Chiefs. Kansas City currently ranks 15th in the NFL, allowing 22.7 fantasy points per game to wide receivers.
The big question will be Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to throw the ball. His lack of arm strength at this point in his career limits the receiving potential for each of his receivers. Oddly enough, Smith-Schuster could take on a low-aDOT role, and he’ll come with plenty of upside.
It’s important to note that the young receiver will still be behind Johnson in the pecking order, and he comes with plenty of risk due to an unknown position. Smith-Schuster is best suited as a flex option on this slate.