Pittsburgh Steelers: Smith-Schuster is the right kind of JuJu

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a living in recent years by finding young, talented receivers outside of the first round. In 2017, that find was a future icon and potential face of the Steel City, JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s meteoric rise to fame has been fascinating to watch during his first two years. His story continues to get more exciting and grows bigger by the day. Below I have taken a deeper dive into what has made Smith-Schuster so tremendous and why his story is only just beginning.

The Legacy On & Off the Field

Since becoming a second-round pick out of the University of Southern California in 2017, JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a spark plug on and off the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has a Hines Ward-type of infectious attitude that has endeared himself to fans not only in Pittsburgh but all over the NFL landscape. He has fans across the globe and has become somewhat of a pop culture icon in just two seasons.

From organizing recent water balloon fights within the community to his “Back to School” prank at his former college in Southern California. These are just small examples of how his fun-loving tactics have caught the league and fans by storm. You can check out many of his fun-loving and charismatic videos by subscribing online to his YouTube channel.

His play on the field is indicative of how big a star JuJu can genuinely be in this league. He is a target monster in the Steelers’ potent passing attack and consistently provides Big Ben a safety blanket over the middle and on intermediate routes. As shown by his 97-yard touchdown in Denver last season, JuJu is also capable of huge plays downfield. He is electric with the ball in his hands and makes tacklers look silly in the open field.

The Ups

The Steelers drafted JuJu in 2017 as a depth piece in a loaded offense. An offense that already featured star receiver Antonio Brown, a troubled and talented Martavis Bryant, an up-and-coming Sammie Coates and Le’Veon Bell as another great receiving option out of the backfield. Bryant looked like a young superstar in the making during his first two seasons, as he scored 16 total touchdowns. However, suspension derailed his career in Pittsburgh and forced the Steelers to look elsewhere for help at wide receiver.

At Bryant’s expense, JuJu received a big opportunity right away during his rookie season in 2017. And he did not disappoint, starting seven games and scoring eight total touchdowns. He followed up his spectacular rookie season with a Pro-Bowl berth in his sophomore campaign. JuJu broke out in a big way during year two as he amassed a receiving line of 111-1,426-7. His play during these first two seasons have fans extremely excited for his future with the year. The third-year standout appears to be one of the brightest young stars in the league.

The Downs

JuJu has also experienced his share of disappointment and hardship during his brief, young career. Amid a breakout season, the young star suffered a major blunder that cost his team big-time. During a week 16 high-scoring battle against the New Orleans Saints, and the team fighting for their playoff lives, it was JuJu that ultimately cost the Steelers the win. With Ben Roethlisberger leading the team down the field and closing in on field goal range, Smith-Schuster coughed up the football while fighting for extra yards on a short pass from the quarterback.

The Steelers went on to miss the playoffs following a Ravens’ Week 17 win over the rival Cleveland Browns. And JuJu’s fumble still haunts him well into the offseason. The young receiver claims: “I think about it night and day,” JuJu recently told USA Today. “We probably would have gotten a spot in the playoffs (had he not fumbled).” And a moment like that can truly make or break a young star. However, it seems to have motivated Smith-Schuster. He is a tireless worker and embraces the chance to make things right moving forward.

Replacing an icon in the Steel City

Following the aforementioned loss to the Saints, then-number-one receiver Antonio Brown was highly critical of his fellow teammate. Brown’s scathing comments continued even after being traded to the Oakland Raiders. Brown took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with JuJu being named the Team MVP following the 2018 season.

After a little back-and-forth, JuJu finally broke down and responded candidly. He went on to explain that he was confused by the attack and showed nothing but respect for Brown. And with all this in the past, JuJu seems ready to take on a more significant leadership role for this team. And Pittsburgh sorely needs its young star to step up in that capacity. While Antonio Brown may have lacked a certain leadership quality in recent years, his play on the field always commanded attention and respect.

Smith-Schuster is ready to prove he can succeed without Antonio Brown by his side. Brown was a prolific pass-catcher for nine seasons with the Steelers. His loss will be significant no matter who steps up. The team has other young receivers such as James Washington, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer. They also added Donte Moncrief from the Colts and Dionte Johnson via the NFL Draft. However, JuJu is the one being counted on the most to fill the void left by Brown’s departure. Through two NFL seasons, the stats actually favor JuJu by comparison. Brown managed only 85 receptions for 1,275 yards and two touchdowns, while JuJu has exploded for 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns on 169 receptions. Smith-Schuster has a serious chance to not only prove that he can be a premier player in Pittsburgh but a serious weapon in the entire league.

JuJu is a true alpha-dog that will look to take the reins in his third season and make this offense his. He has been a leader at USC and has shown signs of early leadership qualities in Pittsburgh.

A new day is coming in Pittsburgh and Smith-Schuster will there to guide Pittsburgh back to the top of the AFC. And hopefully, capture a Lombardi trophy as well one day soon. In the departure of Antonio Brown, JuJu offered only two words to Steeler fans as solace:

“I’m Ready.”

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