I was wrong and I readily admit it. I couldn't understand why the Pittsburgh Steelers used a second round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on a wide receiver from USC that I honestly had never heard of till the NFL Combine commenced. Mainly I was shocked because I didn't consider the wide receiver position to be high on the Steelers list of pressing needs.
Martavis Bryant was expected back from his year long suspension and appeared to have made strides in his personal life and even managed to add muscle mass to his freakishly athletic frame. He had much to prove and should have been plenty motivated to have a monster season. Obviously the Steelers were wish to hedge their bet by selecting JuJu and resisting the urge to gamble on Bryant's return to form. I believe his reaction to Smith Schuster's selection and resulting tweet was our first glimpse of things to come.
I had been lulled into a false sense of security because the Steelers had proven capable of finding quality wideouts in the later rounds of the draft, or even undrafted free agents, seemingly at will. So why were the Steelers selecting a receiver that early in the draft when they had so many other positions of need? Especially a guy that, judging by his combine numbers and collegiate statistics, wasn't going to have teams running up to the podium to select him.
JuJu on paper had three main attributes working in his favor. His frame, his hands, and his age. Even though he was one of the youngest players in the draft, he already possessed a NFL ready physique and a strong set of hands. Nothing else necessarily jumped off the screen watching his workouts and highlights, or off the page going over his numbers. He wasn't particularly fast, tall, or explosive. He appeared to be merely a solid selection, mainly due to his age and potential for continued growth and development, whose ceiling was probably a WR2 at best. The hardest attributes to measure for any prospects is their intangibles. Thankfully the Steelers had a man on the inside at USC that knew JuJu's intangibles very well.
Steelers legend Lynn Swann just so happens to be the Athletic Director at his alma mater USC and was able to advise the Steelers concerning JuJu's character and potential. I'm certain this insight proved vital in JuJu's selection.
This week JuJu has been enjoying the Pro Bowl festivities in Orlando Florida, an invitation that he received interestingly enough, only after Antonio Brown had to withdraw due to injury.
His youthful enthusiasm has been on full display and has been breath of fresh air to those in attendance. His relaxed demeanor and easy charm allows him to make new fans wherever he goes, even with individuals who are definitely not Steelers fans normally. You simply can't fake sincerity, and JuJu has it in abundance. He has proven to be quite the ambassador for the Steelers. You could see his love for competition during his outstanding performance in the best hands challenge. It was refreshing to witness his joy, not burdened by expectation or concern for his brand. That is JuJu's business, to make people smile. Partly because he is present, engaging, and relatable.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Antonio Brown's availability next season, JuJu realizes that he may be forced to take over the WR1 position sooner rather than later. That scenario is definitely not what JuJu wants, but he has no say in that decision. There is no doubt that he has benefited immensely from AB's greatness on the other side of the field, and he doesn't want that to change. He has also learned by example from a skilled craftsman and one of the hardest working players in the league, and he remains appreciative.
Whatever happens, JuJu understands he can never replace the greatness of Antonio Brown, he can only be the best JuJu Smith Schuster he can be.
He will continue doing his best Hines Ward impersonation, and being his carefree, happy go lucky, no drama self.
Somehow I get the feeling that was the Steelers plan all along.