FF Tips

JuJu Smith-Schuster looks poised for a 2020 rebound

By Kevin English 7:07pm EDT 7/24/20

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What You Need To Know:

  • Torpedoed by awful QB play, JuJu’s numbers fell flat in 2019. He finished outside the top 60 WRs in PPR points per game.
  • JuJu battled injuries including a toe, a concussion and a knee ailment. He missed 4 games.
  • Returning for a contract year, JuJu carries massive bounce back appeal if Ben Roethlisberger — now 38 — can stay healthy.

Offense crumbles

JuJu’s 2019 was the story of one bad event after another.

First in Week 2, Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury. What followed was ugly play from QBs Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges: 6.38 yards per attempt, a 62.3% completion rate and a 4.1% TD rate.

Stepping back, Pittsburgh’s offense ranked:

— 27th in total points

— 30th in total yards

— 31st in total plays

— 31st in yards per play

— 26th in pass attempts

Smith-Schuster picked up a toe injury in Week 1, only to re-aggravate it in Week 4. He played through the injury, but a bad toe and even worse QB play proved costly. He hit double digit PPR points — a low bar — in only half of his games from Week 2 to Week 10.

When Week 11 arrived, JuJu suffered a knee injury and a concussion after posting 2 catches for 21 yards. That marked JuJu’s third reported concussion as a pro. And with the knee a bigger problem, he didn’t return until the final 2 games (at Jets, at Ravens).

Still playing hurt, he totaled 4 catches for 28 yards in those matchups.

So his season settled at 42-552-3 in 12 games.

Back healthy now, look for the contract-year WR to reemerge.

Ben returns

JuJu’s 2020 upside comes down to one factor: Roethlisberger’s health.

If he can play close to a full season, the support will be present for a rebound. Just consider this about JuJu’s 2018 alongside Ben: No WR in league history has topped his 111 catches during an age-22 season. Only Josh Gordon surpassed his 1,426 yards.

Yes, he played alongside Antonio Brown for that campaign. And Pittsburgh did pace the league in pass attempts. That’s not happening again.

But Antonio Brown’s out of the picture, and we know — at least on a limited sample — that JuJu has produced encouragingly without AB (and with Ben). He tallied lines of 6-75-1 (7 targets), 9-143-1 (10 targets) and 5-37-1 (10 targets) in 3 such games from 2017-2018.

We have no doubts over his skill set.

If there’s a drawback, it’s the presence of 2nd-year WR Diontae Johnson. A tactical route runner who out-shined JuJu in 2019, a year 2 jump could cap the veteran’s target share.

There are some enticing pieces elsewhere — James Washington, rookie Chase Claypool and TEs Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald — but not to the level where they’ll siphon significant targets.

While JuJu’s not a high-end deep threat, he can make up for that with continued red zone action. In 2018, he saw 31.3% of Pittsburgh’s RZ targets — 6th highest share among WRs. Brown managed just a 22.9% share.

With ~3 inches and 30 pounds on Johnson, expect a busy season in those critical situations.

Draft Sharks Bottom Line:

Smith-Schuster was a total bust in 2019. Injuries and a season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger torpedoed the WR’s fantasy value.

Back healthy and entering a contract season, the 23-year-old is a prime bounce-back candidate with WR1 upside.

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