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Will Juju Smith-Schuster be on the Steelers’ roster in 2021?

Entering the last year of his rookie contract, will 2020 Smith-Schuster’s last in the Steel City?

NFL: DEC 22 Steelers at Jets Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

JuJu Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene as a second-round pick in 2017 with an unforgettable rookie season. From his bike being stolen, to his 97-yard touchdown reception, to his kickoff return, JuJu became an instant rock star in Pittsburgh. He followed his rookie campaign with an even more impressive 2018 season, eclipsing 100 catches and 1,000 yards receiving along with a second 97-yard touchdown. He was voted team MVP in 2018, something which could be argued began the downward spiral for former teammate Antonio Brown which landed him out of town and the NFL altogether.

However, 2019 was a season to forget for Smith-Schuster. He battled injuries throughout the year, including a concussion coupled with a knee injury which caused him to miss multiple games. He had career lows in catches, yards and touchdowns. Not all of his 2019 woes were his fault as the Steelers were playing with a quarterback carousel after Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2. Now, he is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and potentially his last season as a member of the Steelers.

Local Pittsburgh media seem to be torn on the future of No. 19 with the Steelers. On the outside, it seems as if there are more reporters who believe JuJu will not be with the Steelers after the 2020 season.

Throughout his career, JuJu has developed a large following which is not solely based on his on-field performance. Smith-Schuster is sponsored by companies like Pizza Hut, Adidas, Hyper X gaming headphones to name a few. His YouTube channel has nearly one million subscribers. A lot has been made about his social media presence and a percieved lack of focus for his actual job of playing football. The reality is we are in a different era when it comes to professional athletes and self-branding. Many seem to understandably be concerned with the optics of his activity, but a lot of the criticism of JuJu is unnecessary.

Smith-Schuster is still only 23 years old heading into his fourth NFL season and won’t turn 24 until November. Many question whether he can be a true number one receiver. With 2019 being the first season JuJu played without Antonio Brown coupled with injuries and spotty quarterback play, it is unfair to judge him based on 2019 alone. The Steelers fully expect Ben Roethlisberger to return for Week 1 and possibly be an even better version of himself post-elbow surgery. This will surely help No. 19 regain his 2107-2018 form along with some of the offensive pieces added in the offseason.

To me, the answer to Smith-Schuster’s future in Pittsburgh is a no-brainer. JuJu should be back in 2021 and for many years to come. I can see the Steelers wanting to play this season out before making a decision, but I am a big believer he is much closer to the player we saw his first two seasons rather than last year. I fully expect the former second-round pick to have a major bounce-back season. It is very hard to believe the Steelers would let a player who is entering his fourth season and has yet to fully hit his prime simply walk away. Time will tell whether or not Smith-Schuster will be with the Steelers long term. If I were a betting man, I would say JuJu will be back in the black and gold in 2021 and beyond.