What? Back-to-back Steelers highlighted in fantasy football profiles? You must think I’m a Steelers’ fan. Well, that’s not the case. I’m a Detroit Lions’ fan, just don’t tell anyone!
Like most USC wide receivers, most of us fantasy players usually avoid them because, well, they just don’t seem to pan out. The best one I can think of that is still viable in the NFL is Marqise Lee, but it has taken him a few years to turn into a fantasy-relevant option.
Back to JuJu Smith-Schuster though. Known for his touchdown celebrations, the “knock-out hit” on Vontaze Burfict and his Twitter posts, Juju is just as fun off the field as he is on it.
John “JuJu” Smith-Schuster was selected in the second round (62nd overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 NFL Draft. Many questioned him going to Pittsburgh as JuJu would be competing with a crowded wide receiver core behind the likes of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.
As many of us disgruntled fantasy owners know, Bryant didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded him last year as he was often riding the bench or even a healthy scratch on some occasions.
That’s all JuJu needed. After Bryant was a healthy scratch in week eight, JuJu went off against the Detroit Lions for 193 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. It was after this game when JuJu became a top waiver-wire priority. If you were lucky like me, you grabbed him a week or two before, but most were rushing to get him following his breakout performance against the Lions.
JuJu never looked back after that game as he held onto the team’s No. 2 wide receiver position for the remainder of the season and finished with 58 receptions, 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Good enough to finish as the No. 23 WR in .5 PPR leagues.
Here’s a stat I like to look at for Smith-Schuster. When Brown went down during the team’s week 15 matchup against the Patriots, JuJu went out and handled being the team’s No. 1 receiving option with ease as he hauled in all six of his targets for 114 yards. As we all assumed due to the secure position the Steelers were in towards the end of the regular season, we were not about to see Brown on the football field again until the NFL Playoffs. JuJu proceeded to take full advantage of this opportunity putting up a week-16 performance that included seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. He followed that up with a monster week 17, this time against the Cleveland Browns, with 143 yards on 10 receptions and another touchdown.
In the three games without AB, JuJu averaged nearly eight targets, seven catches and over 110 yards per game while notching two touchdowns. In the 11 games (no offensive stats in week one) that Brown played in, JuJu averaged 6.3 targets, 3.7 catches and 58.5 yards per game to go along with five touchdowns.
Up until the Brown injury, JuJu produced 11.1 yards per target, had three games with over 97 yards, but also tallied eight games with under 40 receiving yards.
Entering fantasy draft season as the No. 18 wide receiver according to fantasy football calculator, JuJu is currently going in the fourth round, which makes him a mid-WR2 in 12-team leagues.
Am I the only one who thinks this is a little high? Are people looking at JuJu’s production from when AB was out and thinking that he’ll continue to score at that clip even when one of the game’s best producers at the wide receiver position is lined up across from him?
Let’s not forget that in that unbelievably great divisional-round shootout against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in which Pittsburgh lost 45-42, AB was active and did exactly what AB does while JuJu put up three receptions for five yards and a touchdown. All be it, he was saved by the touchdown, but seriously, five yards?
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh also went out and selected James Washington in the second round. That’s high draft capital to put into a rookie wide receiver. Sure, they might be looking for an eventual replacement for AB as he just turned 30 on July 10, or it may have also been to fill the void left after the Steelers sent Bryant to the Raiders in a draft-day trade.
In regards to target distribution, Roethlisberger is definitely the type of quarterback who relies on his top playmakers. With JuJu being the clear third target behind AB and Le’Veon Bell, he should be in line for a good amount of looks in the Steelers’ offense.
It’s worth noting that the Steelers’ strength of schedule for wide receivers ranks as the third hardest in the NFL. However, I suggest not to look too much into it this type of statistic as it’s based on how the 2017 defensive units ranked and doesn’t account for 2018 offseason acquisitions or NFL Draft selections.
As mentioned earlier, JuJu is being drafted as a WR2 in fantasy leagues, and to me, that’s just too high. Where were fantasy players drafting Bryant last year? Yeah, exactly around the same area.
I like JuJu, don’t get me wrong, but I think people are drafting him way too high. I feel much more comfortable drafting him where our consensus rankings have him versus his current ADP.
Being able to utilize JuJu as a WR3/Flex play rather than your every-week WR2 would be more realistic based on how I feel he projects in 2018. If he falls to the late fifth or early sixth round, by all means grab him as you’ll likely receive quality value at this position. At his current average draft position though, no thank you. I would rather have the WR1 of other teams such as Alshon Jeffery or Golden Tate.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
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