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JuJu Smith-Schuster is a bona fide number one wide receiver

Already earning the trust of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster is the “go-to” man on the Steelers

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Being a number one wide receiver in the NFL means different things to different people. To me, he is your lead or go to receiver who often times is the first read on most passing plays. He’s a dominant force in the passing game who multi-tasks as he is usually double-teamed and therefor opens up the field for others in the passing game. The number one wide receiver usually requires special attention in the opposing team’s defensive game plan and, while taking on noted double-teams, is still able to produce strong receiving numbers in terms of receptions, yards per catch average and touchdowns. The team’ quarterback has great trust in his “number one” and looks for him consistently when it counts—especially on third downs, in the red zone, and in the two-minute offense.

There has been much discussion on whether JuJu Smith-Schuster is a legitimate, official, number one wide receiver. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this debate. JuJu came into the game virtually on fire as a rookie in 2017 with 58 receptions for 917 and 7 touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger consistently looked for JuJu in the red-zone as a first read. His longest touchdown reception went for a whopping 97 yards. In his rookie season, Smith-Schuster scored on the longest pass play in Steelers history. Some may have felt his rookie campaign was a fluke or that his success was a result of Antonio Brown drawing so much attention from the secondary. I beg to differ.

Fast forward to the 2018 for JuJu’s second season. Doubters may have predicted a sophomore jinx for Smith-Schuster, but it was not to be. JuJu had a whopping 111 receptions for 1,426 with 7 touchdowns. Again, he had a long touchdown reception of 97 yards, which tied his Steelers record. This catch was made against coverage by solid defenders, Denver’s Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby. Per ESPN Stats & info, the score made Smith-Schuster only “the 4th player in NFL history with multiple TD receptions of 95-plus yards,” joining former Steeler Mike Wallace, John Taylor and Gaynell Tinsley.

Obviously Smith-Schuster was not the beneficiary of a dink-and-dunk west coast style of offense while compiling his team leading 111 receptions as he averaged 13 yards per catch in his second season. His output eclipsed that of Keenan Allen’s (97 receptions for 1196 yards and 6 TDs), Stephon Diggs’ (102 receptions for 1,021 yards and 9 TDs) and even Antonio Brown (104 receptions for 1,297 yards and an impressive 15 TDs), all of which were considered number one wide receivers. Smith-Schuster tied Green Bay’s number one wide receiver Devante Adams with 111 receptions which was a quantum leap for JuJu as he undoubtedly established himself in the number one wide receiver category.

Smith-Schuster may have surprised teams during his rookie year, but going into year two it can be assumed defensive coordinators were game-planning for him. Based on the numbers, they had few answers. Keep in mind this was also accomplished without Le’Veon Bell who was holding out for the entire season. This was also the beginning of the unraveling of Antonio Brown. Brown failed to realize JuJu was a number one receiver at this point, and it appears jealousy made its way into their relationship.

Are we going to pretend during his third year in the league in 201) that Smith-Schuster was now catching passes from the 2019 season’s third and fourth string quarterbacks entering training camp? Both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges were behind Joshua Dobbs when the Steelers opened camp in Latrobe. These were quarterbacks with no starting NFL experience, neither of which had even been in uniform for an NFL regular -season game prior to 2019. Adding injury to insult, JuJu suffered a concussion and a sprained knee last year, which caused him to miss 4 games and parts of a fifth game. The combination of the aforementioned contributed to his career lows of 42 receptions for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns, not the absence of Antonio Brown.

Clutch Times call For Clutch Players

Statistics aren’t always everything. Players can have some of the greatest statistics on the books, but how and when did they accumulate them? For example, quarterback Philip Rivers, who came into the league in Ben Roethlisberger’s draft class along with two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, has impressive statistics. Undoubtedly Roethlisberger and Manning have two Super Bowl rings apiece. Ben and Eli have some of the greatest clutch throws in Super Bowl history to catapult them to those rings. We’re talking David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch,” Mario Mannigham’s ‘Sideline Snag,” and my favorite of all “Santonio Holmes’ “Extension Level Event!” What does Philip Rivers have? Garbage time statistics. What would we call a catch from that collection, “Garbage Pail Kids Grabs?” I believe most of Phillip Rivers gleaming statistics resulted from his team consistently trailing in games. Once the leading teams switched to prevent defenses, Philip Rivers gobbled up passing yards and touchdown passes like Pac-Man gobbling up pellets. Statistics accumulated in garbage time are tainted and misleading.

In a 2017 matchup against the Steelers’ arch-nemesis the New England Patriots. JuJu Smith-Schuster showed his mettle as a rookie. with the Steelers training 27-24 with less than a minute to go. The Steelers needed a big play, and JuJu took a short crossing route that game announcers admitted looked like a 10-15 yard gain and scampered for 69 yards putting the Steelers in position to win. Unfortunately Jesse James’ apparent touchdown was overturned by officials and the Steelers eventually lost after a Ben Roethlisberger interception.

Last season, with a young, inexperienced Mason Rudolph on the road against a vaunted San Francisco 49er defense, Smith-Schuster again turned a short crossing route into a monster 76 yard TD which helped the Steelers stay competitive. The catch had to have boosted the young quarterback’s confidence. This catch and run was eerily similar to his catch against the Patriots in 2017 except this time he took it in for a score.

In 2018 with the the Steelers inexplicably trailing he Oakland Raiders 24-21 late in the fourth quarter, Smith-Schuster took a lateral from James Washington and bolted down the sideline 40 yards to put the Steelers in position to send the game to overtime. Unfortunately, Boswell lost his footing on the field goal sending the Steelers back to Pittsbugh in defeat.

JuJu Smith-Schuster consistently goes all out for the Steelers the entirety on each game and doesn’t throw teammates under the bus when they don’t close the deal. He has proven to be not only a standup and standout player, but a supportive, encouraging teammate as well.

JuJu B’s (Bullets)

  • At 22 years old, became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 200 receptions
  • Broke three tackles in route to a 100 yard kickoff return against the Cleveland Browns
  • Avenged Antonio Brown’s concussion at the hands of Cincinnati Bengals Linebacker Vontez Burfict by knocking Burfict out of the game with a vicious block in his rookie season
  • Had the 8th most receiving yards by the age of 23 in NFL history
  • Was the youngest player to reach 2,500 receiving yards, at 22 years and 297 days which broke Randy Moss’ record of 22 years and 310 days.

I could go on-and-on with these.

After all JuJu Smith-Schuster has accomplished in the first three years of his Steelers career, somehow, someway, fans and writers wonder if JuJu should get a second contract. They continue to wonder if JuJu is a bona fide number one receiver. Not only should Smith-Schuster get a second contract, but a third and possibly a fourth short term contract should his health allow. JuJu should be a Steeler for life and has a good shot at eclipsing Hines Ward in all Steelers receiver statistical categories. Oh yeah, he’s most definitely “number one.”

Please help me out folks. Why are we having this debate again?