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JuJu Smith-Schuster or Martavis Bryant: Who was the Steelers’ second-best receiver in 2017?

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A statistical look at who staked their claim in 2017 as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best receiver whose name is not Antonio Brown.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

When watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver trio of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, there’s little doubt about which of them is the best receiver in town.

Antonio Brown led all Steelers receivers in receptions (101), targets (162), yards (1,533), and touchdowns (9) during the 2017 regular season. On top of that, Brown led the entire NFL in both receiving yards (1,533) and receiving yards per game (109.5) despite the fact that he missed the final two and a half games of the regular season.

While few would dispute Brown’s claim to the Steelers receiving corps’ throne, some early season locker room drama raised questions about who was the second-best receiver on the roster.

After a Week 7 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, where Martavis Bryant caught a single pass for 3-yards, Bryant took to Instagram. When a commenter wrote, “JuJu’s better”, Martavis responded, “Juju is no where near better than me fool.”

So now that the 2017 season has come to an end, the question is: was Martavis right?

Well first, let’s set some ground rules. To study which of these guys had the better season, it’s important we only look at their accomplishments during games where both players started the game, due to the fact that one player’s absence would leave an obvious advantage for the other player to get more snaps and targets. Because JuJu missed Weeks 12 and 14, and Martavis missed Week 8, the statistics that both players compiled during these weeks will be omitted from the results below. Also, since both players were active during divisional round of the playoffs, their statistics against the Jaguars will be included in the totals. Thus, we are using a sample size of 14 games where both players were active.

The Numbers

Surprisingly, the total targets that each player received are very close considering the 14-game sample size. Neither player received much preferential treatment from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, although JuJu did get a couple of extra passes.

Total Targets

JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
74 72

If nothing else, the similarity of these numbers shows that Big Ben was equally comfortable throwing to both players.

In the case of Bryant and Smith-Schuster, total receptions are very telling considering their similar number of targets. JuJu completed 54 receptions, whereas Martavis could only come down with 42.

Total Receptions

JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
54 42

When it comes to reliability, JuJu was much more trustworthy with making the catches that were thrown his way than Martavis was. And with a large sample size of greater than 70 targets, these results would not likely be skewed by one or two balls that were thrown inaccurately.

Completion Percetage

JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
72.97% 58.33%

Even though both players put up some respectable numbers in this category, Bryant had the edge over Smith-Schuster in average yards per catch this season. His long stride and elusive running style certainly played a part in being able to pick up almost 15 yards per catch on average.

Average Yards Per Catch

JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
13.5 14.5

Of course, scoring points is the most important impact that a player can have on the success of their team. In our 14 sample games, JuJu scored touchdowns more than twice as often as Martavis.

Touchdowns

JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
JuJu Smith-Schuster Martavis Bryant
7 3

In 2015, it was unquestionable who the Steelers’ number 2 receiver was. Martavis Bryant earned the nickname “Alien” by showing freakish talent on the field, and was viewed as one of the best up-and-coming wideouts in the NFL. Fast forward to 2017, Martavis showed that he can still be an effective and elusive downfield threat after a disciplinary year removed from football.

However, the data shows that a power shift has occurred in Pittsburgh’s receiving royalty, with rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster becoming the Steelers’ best receiver whose name is not Antonio Brown.

If Martavis wants to recapture his former status amongst Steelers wide receivers, he’ll have to do a lot more than argue his credentials on social media.

He’ll have to prove it on the field.