Normally when you think of slot WRs in the NFL, the archetype that comes to most people instantly is the Wes Welker, Jamison Crowder types. That said, not all teams use that exact archetype, and in fact as more teams continue to use the shorter more fluid CBs in the slot, a few teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, who utilize 6’’3 Jordan Matthews in the slot, have found a good amount of success over the middle of the field.
When it comes to big bodied slots like Jordan Matthews, what makes them so dangerous is their ability to box out a CB, similar to that of Small Forward boxing out a Point Guard. There’s a difference in overall height and mass, which makes it difficult for shorter CBs because they have to fight through them. They can’t reach around and very rarely will they be able to get over the top of them.
This can’t be better illustrated than this play here. Orlando Scandrick is in press matched up on Matthews in the slot. Matthews gives a little shake, gets inside and the 5’10” Orlando Scandrick gets completely boxed out on the slant.
While this is only an 8-yard gain, this is absolutely frustrating for a defense because despite Scandrick being in the hip pocket of Matthews, he can’t have much of an impact on the pass because he’s a Point Guard going up against a Forward. He runs the risk of being called for interference if he were to start grabbing Matthews and with his size and length the only way he can stop it is by going through, or over, Matthews.
This is the type of play that can become a go-to play for any QB, because if the QB knows he’s got Forward on Point Guard in man-to-man coverage, he’s going to have the inside slant audible on hand because it’s at least a good 7 to 8 yard gain.
While I used Matthews as an example to demonstrate what a bigger slot WR is capable of vs. the trending archetype at slot CB, his play style doesn’t really resemble that of JuJu. While this next WR was mostly a boundary WR, he and Juju are so similar it’s like staring into a mirror.
I’m talking about the pre injury Hakeem Nicks, who at one point looked like Dez Bryant’s twin. Nicks was a guy who didn’t have the greatest athletic ability but he was so physical, great at hand fighting and good with positioning his body that it didn’t matter how much separation he created.
Right here Eli basically throws this ball up for grabs. He does this because he knows not only can he climb the ladder, but he’s physical and will not allow the CB to outfight him for the ball, even if that CB is Aqib Talib.
This is very much an aspect that JuJu brings to his game. He knows how to adjust to those
errant 50-50 throws and position himself so that the CB cannot make a play on the ball.
Same type of play, only this time the pass is underthrown a bit by Darnold. CB has the inside and JuJu sees this, he adjusts, climbs the ladder and converts it into a TD. While this CB isn’t Aqib Talib, he’s flashing that similar type of ability that Nicks showed early in his career.
Another area where they are extremely similar is after the catch. When they get in the open field and take on defenders, they are downright physical but deceptively elusive.
Normally on WR screens you see most WRs jump around and try to make guys miss. Hakeem Nicks takes one cut, puts his head down and puts that right hand out in front. The pure physicality of him was on display as he threw out the stiff arm and still got the 1st down.
This is where JuJu’s game resembles Nicks the most.
Similar type of play. Kessler dumps it down to JuJu on a screen. He immediately turns up field and stiff arms the CB out in front of him to the ground. Juju’s game is physicality and he plays with plenty of it.
This is an element that Juju Smith brings at the WR position. He’s 6’1”, 215 LBs with about 33 inch arms. He’s a big guy at WR and he plays to that size, often using physicality to create separation and create yards after the catch.
The Steelers haven’t had a WR like this since Hines Ward , and to a lesser extent Jerricho Cotchery. This is the type of weapon that could prove to be Big Ben’s security blanket over the middle and possibly in jump ball situations.
Opposing defenders should be aware that JuJu will never let up when it comes to being physical.
Don’t let your guard down, or JuJu will make you pay.