Since the day the Pittsburgh Steelers selected JuJu Smith-Schuster out of USC with their 2nd round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, there has been nothing but praise for the young man.
Even at 20-years-old, the youngest player in the NFL, Smith-Schuster has been getting rave reviews from his quarterback and coaching staff throughout his journey into the professional ranks. While he is seeing more targets, Smith-Schuster has the ability to transform the Pittsburgh offense, even in Year 1.
Smith-Schuster’s unique skill set of size, speed and strength hasn’t been seen in Pittsburgh since Hines Ward donned No. 86 and was knocking defensive players on their behinds for the black-and-gold. No wonder Ward, who served as a coaching intern during training camp this year, gravitated to the rookie.
How exactly can Smith-Schuster transform the offense? His ability to run good routes, his physicality after the catch and his willingness to block for his teammates will only help expand the team’s offensive portfolio.
There was a time when the Steelers offense thrived with the ‘bunch’ formation putting players like Nate Washington, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes over top the tight end, or tackle, on either side of the formation. It was there the Steelers could run, or pass, depending on the defensive look, mainly because they had the blocking receivers to do just that.
Antonio Brown is great, but he isn’t known as a blocker. Smith-Schuster most certainly looks to be headed down the path of Ward, and not so much Brown, when it comes to style of play.
The one aspect of comparing the rookie to Ward is how Smith-Schuster is a bigger, and possibly faster, specimen on the field. The NFL Draft comparison for Smith-Schuster coming out of college was to recently retired receiver Anquan Boldin. Not a bad comparison for a budding receiver in the NFL.
This is what his NFL Draft Profile said about his play:
“Smith-Schuster will get dinged for his lack of speed and separation but he reminds me of Anquan Boldin with his strong hands, physical approach and ability to win the combat catches. JuJu is missing some of the speed traits teams want from their WR1, but he could become a high-volume, possession target with the size to win some 50/50 throws down the field. Teams who have a speed merchant at one spot would be wise to take a look at Smith-Schuster as a physical counterpart.”
Either way you look at it, Smith-Schuster’s well-rounded approach to the game will allow the Steelers to utilize him, and offensive sets/formations, which wouldn’t be as successful without him. Fans have already witnessed Smith-Schuster’s blocking, just ask Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings, and his two touchdown receptions show a knack for getting open when it matters the most.
It looks as if the Steelers have drafted yet another great wide receiver, and this one will really help the offense become even more complete.