On Monday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and all of Steelers nation got the heart breaking news that JuJu Smith-Schuster will be lost for the year. The most veteran receiver on the roster is in need of a season-ending shoulder surgery that will put his 2021 campaign to an end. Smith-Schuster came back to the Steelers on a one-year prove-it type of contract, so the future is anything but certain for the fun-loving wide out.
But first, and most importantly, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to get through this season without JuJu, and they’ll have to do it with the guys that already make up this roster, plus perhaps another name.
So where does it begin?
Smith-Schuster has been called upon as a tough yardage type of player. A guy that gets the ball on third down and is asked to run through defenders to move the chains. This role will fall into the lap of James Washington. Washington has been the Steelers contested catch guy basically since the start of his career, but he will get his most significant bump in playing time with this injury to Smith-Schuster. Washington was unhappy with his role on the Steelers back in training camp, and reportedly asking to be traded. Now the Steelers will rely on him more than they ever have in the past. Washington deserves the opportunity, and is a high quality receiver in this game.
I also anticipate both Chase Claypool and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth to see an increased workload in the passing attack. Both of these big body guys are matchup nightmares and someone the Steelers can distribute Smith Schuster‘s targets too. The Steelers are also heavily rumored to sign Anthony Miller formally of the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans. If/when he gets up to speed, I anticipate he will move into James Washington’s number four receiver role, but I don’t anticipate a gigantic statistical bump from him when he’s ready to go.
The one offensive player I don’t think will feel any affect of Smith-Schuster’s departure is Diontae Johnson. Johnson is already a high volume target from Ben Roethlisberger and will most likely only be asked to continue to run the things he has been running all year long. Johnson will continue to play primarily out wide, and running the same style of routes he has all season.
Not to trash Smith-Schuster while he’s down, but thankfully the Steelers really haven’t utilized him much at all this year. Replicating what they are losing in him shouldn’t be necessarily that difficult. Of course he is still the elder and vocal guy of that group and those intangibles aren’t something you can just find elsewhere immediately.
But what do you think? Do you think the Steelers will be able to survive without JuJu Smith-Schuster in the lineup? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.