Updated: Aug 24, 2020
JuJu Smith-Schuster was set for a breakout year in 2019, in what was his first full season as a WR1. Antonio Brown was moved to Oakland in the offseason and the Steelers felt extremely confident in the 3rd year receiver to take over the reigns. Was Smith-Schuster’s success largely due to Brown drawing more double teams/coverage schemes? Could he be a legitimate WR1 for Pittsburgh? These were just a few of the questions Smith-Schuster was hoping to answer in 2019. Unfortunately, due to Ben Roethlisberger’s injury in week 2, we never received answers to those questions. Injuries and inconsistent quarterback play, combined with Smith-Schuster missing 4 games, all added up to his worst season as a pro. He had career lows in targets (70), receptions (42), and receptions per game (3.5).
Last season in a standard ppr re-draft league, I agreed to a trade for JuJu Smith-Schuster & Chris Carson. I gave up Christian McCaffrey & James Washington. Ultimately I was hoping for Carson to elevate to a RB 1 and Smith-Schuster to be a huge boost to my receiving core. I still managed to go 8-5 in the regular season, but was bounced in the first round of the playoffs mainly because of the significant drop-off in Smith-Schuster’s performance in 2019. The team I moved McCaffrey to ended up winning the championship… I preface my article with this information to show how badly I was burned by JuJu in 2019 and why I believe in him again in 2020. With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, a bounce back year is bound to happen for Smith-Schuster. Here are three reasons why he will be a top 10 Fantasy WR in 2020.
(Image via CBS Sports)
Reason #1: Ben Roethlisberger is a top 10 fantasy QB when healthy
After measuring total QB fantasy football points from 2013-2018 (PPR), Ben Roethlisberger’s average ranking was 11.6. He played 16 games in 2013, 2014 & 2018 and finished 11th, 5th & 3rd in points respectively. There are some major questions surrounding his health, but with a full year off, he could bounce back in a major way. As we’ve seen with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the lifespan of a quarterback is growing. It’s clear that Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster had great chemistry in 2018. Even with Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster received 166 targets (2nd) and hauled in 111 catches in 2018. The Steelers have a cast of other receivers that include James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and rookie Chase Claypool to help take the load off Smith-Schuster. When Roethlisberger is under center, he produces. That simple fact alone should make you feel better about drafting JuJu Smith-Schuster in your fantasy football draft this year. Some people are going to be hesitant to draft him, which means he may slip a couple rounds and you could end up with a WR 1.
(Image via Sports Illustrated)
Reason #2: The Steelers Offense will Bounce Back
The loss of Ben Roethlisberger was catastrophic for the Steelers offense last season. Because of great coaching and a top 5 defense, they still managed to go 8-8. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the Steelers are a top 5 offense. They ranked 3rd in 2017 & 4th in 2018 in total offense. I know what you’re all thinking: BUT, BUT, ANTONIO BROWN DUH!!! Roethlisberger was a hall of fame quarterback before Brown. Brown was a huge part of the Steelers success, but there is still room for success this season with the current skill players on the roster. As I stated above, I really like their complementary receivers. They also might have the best overall depth in the league at the running back position with James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell Jr (Maybe a hot take). Also throw in rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. in the mix. The Steelers have significant weapons on offense to take attention away from Smith-Schuster, which should allow him to get back into the WR 1 conversation.
(Image via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Reason #3: Significant Increase in Yards Per Target/Plays Downfield
After looking over a lot of film from last year, Smith-Schuster was hurt because of inaccurate throws from Hodges & Rudolph. He had a career low 7.9 Yards per Target in 2019 (12 games). In two seasons with Roethlisberger under center, Smith-Schuster had an average of 10.1 Yards Per Target. One stat that jumped out at me in comparing 2019 to 2018 was the Target Quality Rating. This is a stat that combines catchable targets with average target depth (Source: PlayerProfile.com). In 2018, his TQR was 7.4, as opposed to a significant drop in 2019 of 4.9. Another stat that will increase this year is his red zone receptions. Smith-Schuster had 4 red zone receptions in 2019… 4!!!!! In 2018 he had 16 with Antonio Brown in the lineup. This stat should point to an increase in red zone opportunities, which means more touchdowns for you. Significant opportunities for him down the field will drastically increase this season. He’s guaranteed 100+ targets as long as he is healthy, which has been somewhat of an issue for him. I’d feel extremely confident about him being a top end WR 2, with a potential to reach WR 1 status if all goes how I expect.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s expected resurgence in 2020. Follow me on Twitter @bsweet2020 to engage in more conversations and maybe I’ll even make you a trade that helps you win your fantasy league this season.