The Pittsburgh Steelers made an expected move on Thursday along with a surprise move which many did not expect. After going on the Reserve/Injured List following Week 5, JuJu Smith-Schuster is returning to practice Thursday. Additionally, wide receiver James Washington has been activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
We also activated WR James Washington from the Reserve/COVID-19 List.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 13, 2022
Smith-Schuster suffered a shoulder injury on a rushing play in the Steelers Week 5 matchup against the Denver Broncos. While Smith-Schuster alluded to his injury as being “season ending” at a charity event, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not use the same verbiage when describing the injury. Although Smith-Schuster is returning to practice, it merely opens the 21-day window for him to return to the active roster, or finish the season on Injured Reserve (IR).
For the 2021 season, Smith-Schuster only appeared in five games before his injury where he had 15 receptions on 28 targets for 129 yards and no receiving touchdowns. Smith-Schuster did have three rushing attempts for 9 yards and a rushing touchdown before his injury.
A free agent yet again following the 2021 season, Smith-Schuster had signed a one-year deal with the Steelers last offseason. With another chance at free agency, many believed Smith-Schuster had played his last game for the black and gold. While there is always the possibility of Smith-Schuster returning to the Steelers beyond the 2021 season, now there is at least a chance he could return for this postseason.
With the 21 day window beginning on January 13, it would be February until Smith-Schuster would have to be activated to the Steelers’ active roster which would be beyond Conference Championship weekend.
Simply having a player returning to practice and opening their 21-day window does not guarantee a return for Smith-Schuster, even if the Steelers were to advance in the postseason. The Steelers have yet to have a player be activated for their next game once they designated them to return, and the Steelers never activated guard Kevin Dotson to the active roster during his 21-day window which began on December 22.
As for the other roster move, the Steelers activated wide receiver James Washington from the Reserve/COVID-19 List. Washington missed the Steelers Week 18 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. On the season, Washington has appeared in 15 games and has 24 receptions on 44 targets for 285 yards and two receiving touchdowns.
No corresponding move for the Steelers 53-man roster has been announced at this time. With the return of Washington, the Steelers currently have no players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
For those thinking Smith-Schuster doesn’t have a shot to play this week, the reports coming out of Pittsburgh are if he feels like he can go, they could give him a shot to play.
This per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network: