When JuJu Smith-Schuster exploded onto the scene during the 2018 season, many Pittsburgh Steelers fans thought that the organization had found its top wide receiver for the next decade. The 22-year-old made the Pro Bowl and set himself up well to be a longterm fixture for the franchise.
However, Smith-Schuster hasn’t quite lived up to expectations the past two seasons. After making just 42 catches in 12 games during the 2019 campaign, he followed it up with an underwhelming performance this past fall that was marred by controversy over his postgame TikToks.
Although he might’ve commanded a higher price elsewhere, Smith-Schuster seemed determined to return to the Steelers in 2021. He did so by signing a one-year deal worth up to $8 million. He’ll now get one more opportunity to prove that he’s worthy of being a franchise-leading receiver.
But, not everyone thinks that Smith-Schuster’s production fizzled out as much as many think it did. ESPN analyst Mina Kimes actually came to the receiver’s defense recently, claiming that his 2020 season wasn’t as bad as many thought.
“Positive Steelers take: JuJu Smith-Schuster was much better last year than people gave him credit for,” Kimes tweeted on Sunday.
positive Steelers take: JuJu Smith-Schuster was much better last year than people gave him credit for
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) June 27, 2021
Smith-Schuster did manage to haul in 97 catches and a career-high nine touchdowns in 2020. He racked up only 831 receiving yards on 8.6 yards per reception but much of that can be attributed to the Steelers gameplan and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh will need Smith-Schuster to come back in a big way in 2021 to help make up for last year’s disappointing finish. After starting the 2020 season 11-0, the Steelers went 1-4 down the stretch before unraveling in Wild Card playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. The promising year came to an abrupt close and led to changes on Mike Tomlin’s staff this offseason.
The Steelers also overhauled their veteran offensive line, leading many to question if the offense will be ready to compete come Week 1. If Smith-Schuster can return to his 2018 form, he should be able to take some stress off of his quarterback and the team’s offensive front right away.