Meet Big Ben’s new first option
JuJu Smith-Schuster thrived in Antonio Brown’s shadow in his first two years in the league with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, we’ll see how he does as top banana.
Indeed, with the seven-time Pro Bowler now in New England (via Oakland), the eyes of the Steeler faithful turn to the third-year wide receiver out of USC to step in and become quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s primary target. But is he up to the task?
His numbers certainly suggest he is. Following an impressive 2017 rookie campaign that saw Smith-Schuster tally 58 catches for 917 yards with seven touchdowns, he earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2018 on the strength of 111 catches for 1,426 yards with seven TDs. So impressed were his teammates that they voted him team MVP for the 2018 season.
But that was with Brown as the No. 1 option, drawing the focus of the opposing defense’s best coverage men and often being double-teamed, which took the pressure off other receivers. Now that responsibility falls to Smith-Schuster, who lacks the breakaway speed of a prototypical No. 1 receiver. If he’s able to maintain the same level of production while keeping opposing defenses honest, Roesthlisberger and the Pittsburgh air attack could be in for another big year, AB’s absence not withstanding.
It will be on display Monday, Sept. 30, on ESPN, when Smith-Schuster, Roethlisberger and the Steelers play host to the Cincinnati Bengals in a clash of longtime AFC North rivals.
Full name: John Sherman “JuJu” Smith-Schuster
Birth date: Nov. 22, 1996
Birthplace: Long Beach, Calif.
Height/weight: 6 feet, 1 inch/215 pounds
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (2017-present)
Draft: Selected in the second round (62nd overall) by the Steelers in 2017
Position: Wide receiver
Honors and achievements: Pro Bowl (2018); Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team (2017); First Team All-Pac 12 (2015)