Hey, Chase Claypool, I’d get ready if I were you. Ready for what? Ready for the folks that will be trying to tear you down in a few years.
Just ask JuJu Smith-Schuster.
That’s right, it wasn’t long ago, just three seasons ago, in fact, that Smith-Schuster was the toast of Pittsburgh. He was Pittsburgh. People loved him. People wanted more of him. Of course, it helped that, in addition to his social media presence that included a bunch of fun and funny activities with teammates and Pittsburghers, Smith-Schuster caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns during his rookie year.
He was the breath of fresh air nobody knew they needed before Pittsburgh selected him out of USC in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. “I wish everyone had a little JuJu in their life,” said left tackle, and Smith-Schuster driving teacher, Alejandro Villanueva. That’s right, Smith-Schuster didn’t know how to drive when he first turned pro. Villanueva showed him. Before that, Smith-Schuster rode a bicycle around the streets of Pittsburgh. It was stolen. The fans desperately wanted his bike to be returned. It was.
Steelers fans also desperately wanted someone to do something about that no-good Vontaze Burfict. Smith-Schuster did just that when he blocked Burfict into the following week during a game against the Bengals on Monday Night Football.
It was all fun and games with Smith-Schuster until it wasn’t anymore. Soon, love for Smith-Schuster’s infectious personality turned into resentment by not only teammate Antonio Brown, who seemed to be jealous of the youngster’s 111-catch and team MVP sophomore campaign in 2018, but the fans and even some in the media, who just didn’t like his social media shenanigans any longer. That resentment was heightened after a couple of critical fumbles—one at the end of 2018 and one at the beginning of 2019—that proved to be costly in two Steelers’ losses.
That’s enough backstory, right? You know the rest. Brown departed, Smith-Schuster became the number one receiver, and everyone has spent the past year or so waiting for him to turn into the next Antonio Brown.
In a bad way.
Even though Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers in both targets (28) and catches (23) through the first five games of the 2020 campaign, Claypool has been THE MAN. He is far and away the leader in receiving yards with 335. He’s also scored six touchdowns—including four through the air and two on the ground.
Claypool is suddenly the apple of everyone’s eye—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the fans, the media, everyone.
Is Smith-Schuster jealous of the rookie’s success? After all, he’s only caught a combined six passes for 34 yards over the past two games—including just two for six during Pittsburgh’s 38-7 rout of the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Did you see how Smith-Schuster picked up fellow receiver James Washington and threw him over his shoulders after Washington scored a touchdown in the first half? Admit it, you were half-expecting Smith-Schuster to snap and go all WWE and slam Washington on his back out of pure jealousy.
I’ll bet you’re expecting Smith-Schuster to soon start pouting in the locker room because he’s not getting the targets he wants.
Because he is expected to act like a diva, it must be pointed out repeatedly how Smith-Schuster is always the first one to greet a teammate after he scores a touchdown. In fact, a reporter even asked head coach Mike Tomlin to speak on Smith-Schuster’s remarkable selflessness during his virtual press conference on Tuesday. Tomlin found that sentiment “funny.” In other words, the coach was amused that people think it’s remarkable that Smith-Schuster hasn’t thrown a Gatorade bucket out of frustration by now.
It’s almost like people are waiting for Smith-Schuster to become visibly or verbally frustrated over his lack of production just so they can call him selfish for not being a team player amid the Steelers 5-0 start.
I’ll bet Smith-Schuster is a bit frustrated, and I wouldn’t blame him one bit. I mean, he is a receiver, and receivers catch passes—it’s kind of their thing.
It’s great to be a team player and all, but it’s also nice to be noticed for what you do the best. Take me, for example. I want this here article to be one of the leaders in traffic on the day that it’s published. If it isn’t, if it ranks near the bottom of the list, I’ll be pretty darn disappointed.
I almost always am. “But, Tony, look at how much traffic we generated as a team,” someone might say to me if I expressed my frustration. “Who cares?” would likely be my retort.
All receivers want to catch the football. Even notorious nice guy John Stallworth expressed his frustration during the Steelers 1979 season that ultimately ended with them hoisting the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in six years. Don’t believe me? Go watch the America’s Game episode that chronicles that season.
Stallworth recalls legendary head coach Chuck Noll greeting him with a question in the locker room the day after a win:
“How’d you like the game yesterday, John?”
“To tell you the truth, Chuck, I’m pretty pissed off.”
“I only caught one pass.”
“What would you rather have? A bunch of catches or a win?”
“I’d like to think we could do both.”
It’s easy to sit back and say, “Be a team player!” when a player must sacrifice what he loves to do the most.
Having said that, Smith-Schuster has yet to appear even a little frustrated. He’s been nothing but a great professional since he joined the Steelers. He’s also been nothing but a great citizen since he moved to the city of Pittsburgh three years ago.
I realize the fans and media have had some lukewarm relationships with Steelers receivers over the years, but Smith-Schuster hasn’t shown even an inkling of proof that his behavior will devolve to the depths of Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant or even Emmanuel Sanders.
Let’s not go looking for any.
One last piece of advice for you, young Claypool: You’re big, fast and strong. You might need all those physical attributes to fight off the haters in another year or two.