The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of talent at wide receiver, but they can’t afford for Juju Smith-Schuster to miss serious time due to injury.
Ben Roethlisberger is blessed to lead one of the NFL’s most talented offenses. Antonio Brown might be the best wide receiver in football and many would say the same thing about Le’Veon Bell at the running back position. Even with all that offensive firepower, the Steelers can’t afford to lose Juju Smith-Schuster for any length of time.
That’s why Steelers fans should be mildly concerned about the wide receiver’s injury. He claims his knee has been bothering him “over time.” The talented wideout refused to give reporters much additional information about his knee, but it’s worth noting he has not participated in any team drills so far during the preseason.
Smith-Schuster was only third on the team in catches last season, but Martavis Bryant’s trade should give him an opportunity to earn more touches in 2018. In just 14 games, the former USC wideout was able to catch 58 passes for 917 yards. His 15.8 yards per catch average placed first amongst Steelers’ receivers
Much of what the Steelers like to do on offense is predicated on having two receivers that can threaten the defense down the field. Antonio Brown clearly does that on one side, but Smith-Schuster’s ability to do it on the other side is just as important. If he’s out of the lineup, it’s going to allow teams to double team Brown much more frequently.
Smith-Schuster’s ability to run defensive backs down the field also gives Bell a ton of room to catch short passes and turn them into big gains. Like Brown, his production could suffer significantly without Smith-Schuster on the field. Making one man miss isn’t that difficult for Bell, but trying to elude two tacklers will usually be too much for him.
If Smith-Schuster does miss serious time the Steelers would likely throw rookie James Washington into a starting role. He’s a talented wideout in his own right, but Mike Tomlin must understand he needs some time to adjust to NFL defensive backs. The difference between his offense at Oklahoma State and what the Steelers run on Sundays is very different.
Steelers fans need to hope that Smith-Schuster’s knee injury is just as minor as he claims it is. The fact that it’s been bothering him for a significant period of time tends to suggest otherwise. Pittsburgh can’t afford for him to miss a chunk of the season if they want to make their Super Bowl dreams come true.