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The Steelers ABCs: How JuJu Smith-Schuster captivated a fan base

This week, I make a plea to the city of Pittsburgh and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and we discuss why the soon-to-be sophomore is among the most exciting names on the roster.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

JuJu Smith-Schuster

I’d like to begin with a personal vignette. Sometime last Thursday evening, I “lost” my bicycle. I say it this way because I placed my bike in the bicycle rack in my apartment’s parking garage—which is only accessible via keycard or remote—on Thursday evening after work; when I returned Friday morning for my commute, my bike was nowhere to be found. I proceeded to walk around the grounds of my complex, searching the nooks and crannies of the garage itself before moving on to the bike rack directly outside the main entryway and then the ancillary garage across the street. No luck. Thinking that maybe I’d been experiencing temporary blindness, I re-entered the main garage and double-checked the rack where I’d parked the evening prior. What remained, still, was empty space. My morning goose chase concluded shortly thereafter, with me sheepishly admitting to my security guard hi, my bike is missing; please help me. I was assured that the security footage from the night before would be reviewed thoroughly, but I’ve yet to hear any promising leads.

I’m at peace with the fact that my bike is probably gone forever. Its sudden disappearance is explainable only by absentmindedness or theft—and since losing a bike isn’t the same as losing, say, your keys or wallet or some other handheld ware, I’m tentatively leaning toward the latter. And, you know, this is fine. I can’t imagine that a fellow resident stole it, because there is literally no upside to stealing an unwieldy, difficult-to-hide item from a location where you pay to live. What I’m assuming happened is that some ne’er-do-well capitalized on the benevolence of one of my fellow residents and ducked into the garage when someone held a door for them, or they sneaked in under the garage door after a car entered. If this is the case, whatever, enjoy the bike, you jerk. I hope the chain snaps while you’re riding it.

But I’m still holding on to hope that I can be reunited with my bike. It was my primary mode of transportation to and from work, and I quite enjoyed riding it around on weekends. It wasn’t an astonishingly expensive bike, but it’d be nice to not have to pay for another one. So, on the off chance that JuJu Smith-Schuster is reading this article, plz help. I don’t think we’ve been victimized by the same bike thief (I can’t pretend to understand the logistics and nuances of petty theft, but operating in the South Side and the Strip District concurrently seems impractical), but—as victims of bike theft—we ought to stick together! To sweeten the pot, I’m about to write a bunch of nice things about you:

My favorite moment of the 2017 season—and there were many—was when JuJu Smith-Schuster leveraged his infamous and fabled hit on Vontaze Burfict to develop a touchdown celebration.

It isn’t for me to decide if making light of a tackle that yielded a one-game suspension, concussed the recipient of the hit, caused Jon Gruden to almost start crying during a national telecast, and earned a stern talking-to from Mike Tomlin was...let’s say in poor taste. Probably at the very least it was ill-timed, especially since he did it not even halfway into his first game following the initial suspension. However, it was an on-brand move for a player who spent the entire season taking full advantage of the NFL’s refreshingly lax celebration rules. I don’t wanna imply that anyone who took umbrage with this celebration is a grouchy curmudgeon, but I will say that the Venn diagram of folks who hated this particular celebration and folks who believe Phil Mickelson “disgraced the sport of golf” by touching a moving ball is just a singular, perfect circle.

This is an indirect manner of saying that celebrations are great. Even if you are staunchly against a player doing anything but handing the ball off to the official and moping back to the sideline, a celebration indicates that something very good and oftentimes very fortuitous has just happened. The Steelers, Eagles, and Vikings—who all made the playoffs last season—celebrated quite often in 2017, whereas the Jets, Bears, and Browns—who all did very unconvincing impressions of professional football teams last year—did not celebrate nearly as often. Clearly, there is an inextricable link between team success and celebration frequency. Please do not poke holes in this theory with such trivial things as “empirical evidence” and “logic.”

In all seriousness, JuJu, whose unrelenting juvenescence (juju-venescence?) often provided a much-needed break from the perpetual and bleak drama imbuing the Steelers locker room, routinely jugulated opposing secondaries in 2017. His noteworthy 58/917/7 rookie campaign is made all the more impressive by the fact that JuJu only played in 14 games and was not featured prominently in the passing attack for the first quarter of the 2017 season. (In fact, if you take JuJu’s per-snap statistics and extrapolate them to ~800 snaps, he would’ve gained over 1,000 yards). With Martavis Bryant gone and Smith-Schuster the clear No. 2 receiver on the roster, he should play easily 800 snaps this season, which—given the frequency with which the Steelers pass the ball, Ben Roethlisberger’s reliance on Smith-Schuster, and Smith-Schuster’s own multifarious skillset—gives him a shot at cracking the 1,000-yard/10-touchdown threshold for real. I’ve written almost the same exact thing about Bryant for, I don’t know, the past three seasons, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that JuJu is a better wide receiver than Bryant is or was.

Scouts and analysts seemed to agree almost unanimously that Smith-Schuster was going to be a fine secondary receiver in the NFL. His size, craftiness, and ability to make difficult, contested catches in high-traffic areas earned him favorable comparisons to former All-Pro receiver Anquan Boldin during the run-up to the 2017 draft, but his sub-par 40 time left questions about his ability to Gain Separation or Get To The Second Level or whatever other kinds of questions habitual Film Watchers like to toss about, which relegated him to the second-round. The Steelers didn’t protest. Instead, they scooped him up in the second round and—much like they often do with relatively unheralded receivers—turned him into a game-wrecker. So, while Smith-Schuster maybe lacks some of the explosive dynamism that made Martavis Bryant such an enticing outside receiver, he is certainly more well-rounded and demonstrably more capable.

I don’t want to make any firm predictions about what Smith-Schuster might do this season—it isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario in which Smith-Schuster amasses the 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns I mentioned earlier, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he experiences some kind of regression. But I do think he’ll be an integral component of the Steelers’ offense and someone who, if nothing else, should take a considerable amount of pressure off of Antonio Brown (which, to be fair, is something that Bryant was able to do).