The Steelers Need JuJu Smith-Schuster to Step Up in a Contract Year to Avoid $8 Million Mistake

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a disappointing end to the 2020 NFL season. They reeled off an 11-game win streak to begin the season but lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Several players need to step up for this team to improve in 2021. JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year contract worth $8 million. The wide receiver will need to elevate his performance to prove it wasn’t a mistake.

JuJu Smith-Schuster turned down better offers to re-join Pittsburgh Steelers

JuJu Smith-Schuster was a free agent following the 2020 season. Several championship-contending teams made enticing pitches to the one-time Pro Bowler. However, he decided to opt for less money and re-join the Steelers.

AFC contenders like the Kansas City Chiefs and the rival Baltimore Ravens presented the wideout with more lucrative offers. It’s not surprising that he didn’t go to Baltimore. He’d be considered a traitor in Pittsburgh, and the Ravens passing attack isn’t the most explosive. If he joined the Chiefs, he would be linking up with arguably the best quarterback in the NFL today in one of the league’s most potent offenses.

The Steelers drafted Smith-Schuster in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. It appears the USC product believes he owes the team that drafted him a debt of loyalty. There’s plenty of reasons why he’d want to return to Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, and their fan base is passionate about their team. Mike Tomlin has proven that he’s one of the best coaches in the league. Also, there’s a lot of talent still on this football team heading into 2021.

Smith-Schuster has taken a step back since Antonio Brown left

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on the field during game
JuJu Smith-Schuster in action for the Pittsburgh Steelers | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When the Steelers drafted Smith-Schuster in 2017, Antonio Brown was still the guy. From 2013 to 2018, Brown reeled off six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He recorded a league-leading 15 touchdowns in 2018. He was the clear No. 1, and the Steelers brought Smith-Schuster in to be a strong complement.

Well, the relationship between Brown and the Steelers soured to the point of no repair. JuJu immediately vaulted into the No. 1 receiver role after the 2018 season.

Smith-Schuster thrived playing with Brown. He caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. He was named to the 2017 NFL All-Rookie team. The Long Beach, California native followed it up with a monster sophomore season. He recorded 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl selection.

Since the Steelers have parted ways with Brown, Smith-Schuster has seen a dramatic dip in production. He played 12 games in 2019 and caught 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns. He recorded 97 receptions for 831 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, which was an improvement.

He’s heading into his fifth season in Pittsburgh but has yet to prove he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. He is in danger of being passed by Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Johnson received more targets than Smith-Schuster in 2020.

Ben Roethlisberger will continue to spread the ball around, so JuJu will have opportunities, but the hype train has certainly slowed down.

Many have been critical of JuJu Smith Schuster’s antics

JuJu Smith-Schuster has not lived up to expectations in the post-AB era. Yet, he is making more headlines off of the field than he’s making on the field.

During the Steelers’ win streak, the team was riding high and having fun. The players were dancing in the locker room after games. They were making Tik Tok videos too. This put a massive target on Pittsburgh’s back.

Things came to a head in Week 15, when Smith-Schuster made a Tik Tok video of him dancing on the Cincinnati Bengals logo. Bengals safety Vonn Bell laid a punishing hit on the Steelers wide receiver during the game, which fueled his teammates. Cincinnati upset their division rival in a 27-17 victory.

The 24-year-old did not mean any harm. “I saw it more as not disrespect, but it’s for my fans on social media,” he told ESPN. The Steelers were on a six-game losing streak, and the desire to be a star on social media appeared to be a distraction.

Smith-Schuster has been on record saying he’s not going to change who he is. Well, the antics have spilled into the offseason. There’s a new social media-inspired challenge called the Crate Challenge, where people try to walk on stacked milk crates without falling. JuJu recently participated in the challenge. While he completed the challenge, he took an unnecessary risk a week before the season.

In the NFL, winning comes first. Mike Tomlin understands that there’s a lot of pressure for the Pittsburgh Steelers to contend in 2021. JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the biggest names on the roster and will need to step up to the task, especially if he wants a big contract.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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