Rookies aren’t supposed to make a big difference. Typically, they have to get acclimated to life in the NFL, and this can take some time—even years—to fully develop. But this certainly isn’t the case with Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Smith-Schuster, who missed the Week-12 game vs. the Packers with a hamstring injury, has been a very reliable player for Ben Roethlisberger and the Todd Haley offense. How reliable? If you didn’t notice his absence in the team’s Sunday night win, I’m not sure which game you were watching.
Ben Roethlisberger finished the game 33-of-45. Of those 12 incompletions, at least six were blatant drops by receivers. Everyone got in on the act of dropping footballs. Eli Rogers led the charge; Martavis Bryant put his hand in the pile; Jesse James contributed; and even Justin Hunter did his part in the effort.
This isn’t suggesting Smith-Schuster hasn’t ever dropped the football in his first professional campaign. He has, but throughout his time with the Steelers, he’s become an extremely reliable target for Roethlisberger.
Think back to the Week-11 win against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, and the huge third-down reception Smith-Schuster caught in traffic. There’s no one on the Steelers’ roster, other than Antonio Brown, who would have come down with that catch. Not Martavis Bryant, not Eli Rogers and certainly not Hunter. Smith-Schuster has the size, hands and toughness to work the middle of the field like no other.
Another facet of Smith-Schuster’s game which is certainly worth noting is his blocking skills in the run game. Although the Steelers threw the ball 45 times, and ran the ball just 24, vs. the Packers on Sunday night, the team was missing Smith-Schuster’s blocking from the receiver position.
Most, including myself, never thought they would be saying, “Boy, the Steelers really missed JuJu Smith-Schuster last game.” but here I am saying just that. Smith-Schuster has become an integral part of the Steelers’ offense, and if Sunday night was any indication, the rookie from USC can’t get back into the lineup soon enough to help round out Pittsburgh’s offensive fire-power.