Where to Find Some Good JuJu

Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) runs after a pass reception against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Browns won 48-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You need some juju? Charms, crystals, or beads? Good juju or bad juju? We could all use a little good juju right about now. No, no, no, not that type of juju. You know, JuJu not juju. Oh, JuJu Smith-Schuster.

On March 19th, JuJu sent a shock throughout the Steel City by announcing his return to the squad. After what seemed to be a divorce between the two parties, JuJu re-signed on a one-year deal worth $8 million. Certainly, JuJu was quite ecstatic with the return, mentioning his love for a city he now calls home. Interestingly enough, five days prior, it appeared even JuJu was prepared for a break-up.

Immediate Outlook

As reported by Taylor Bisciotti, JuJu turned down larger offers from division rivals and even Super Bowl contenders. On paper, it seems as if JuJu did, in fact, take a hometown discount to remain with Pittsburgh. More importantly, JuJu turned down more lucrative offers simply to continue to play for Big Ben.

It has been reported the Ravens were, in fact, the division rivals to have offered Smith-Schuster. Clearly, there was a lack of interest from JuJu to join Lamar Jackson and Co. Given their desperate WR1 situation, it seems likely the Ravens would have offered a much larger contract compared to what the Steelers could have.

The Culture

After stumbling in the final regular season and a first-round playoff exit, it had seemed as if everyone had questioned the culture Mike Tomlin had built. Has he lost his locker room? Were the TikTok dances creating a toxic environment?

JuJu re-signing on a hometown discount certainly disproves this claim. If the organization saw JuJu’s pregame shenanigans as an issue, they wouldn’t have even bothered offering him a contract in the first place. The veterans and front office were able to put any problem they had with his dances and instead looked at the spark he adds to their offense. Add in the fact that JuJu voluntarily took a discount to return speaks volumes to Tomlin’s culture. Ultimately, the Steelers are an organization players continue to want to play for, even if it means at the expense of a pay-cut.

Future Prognosis

After being drafted in 2017, JuJu emerged on the scene as he finished with 917 total years. JuJu followed this up with a career performance and even looked to be one of the top wideouts in the league when he finished with over 1400 yards. With his breakout performance, combined with the antics of Antonio Brown, the Steelers elected to move on from Brown, solidifying JuJu as the bonafide WR1.

However, 2019 proved to be a different story. Instead of taking that next step and entering the elite category, JuJu took a significant step back. Finishing the season with only 552 yards and missing four games of the regular season. Keep in mind, the Steelers did employ a revolving door at quarterback, so in reality, JuJu’s down year may have just been a by-product of a bigger problem at hand.

In 2020, JuJu was set to return to his old form with Big Ben fully healthy. However, his inconsistencies continued throughout the season, resulting in rookie Chase Claypool and Dionte Johnson receiving the bulk of Big Ben’s yards. More concerning, JuJu averaged only 6.5 yards per target and only 8.6 yards per reception. His 6.5 YPT continued a downward trend since his rookie season, and his 8.6 YPR would rank 126th out of 153 qualified wideouts. Numbers that simply do not place him in the top ranks. Despite the numbers or lack thereof, JuJu did produce a career-high nine touchdowns and caught 97 passes, giving Steeler fans a glimpse of the old JuJu.

The biggest concern here is his yards per reception. After averaging 11.6 yards per target in 2017, that number has since decreased each year. Taking a deeper dive, and we see that number began its descent upon the arrival of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. Whether this was a product of the scheme or perhaps the game’s flow, Fichtner turned JuJu into a dink and dunk wideout, despite having that big-play potential. Keep in mind that JuJu has two touchdowns of 97 yards, one during his rookie year and the other in his second year.

Quite honestly, there might not be a single-player who benefits more from the firing of Fichtner than JuJu. With the arrival of new OC, Matt Canada, it will be up to him to unlock the old JuJu and turn him into the deep threat he once was. If the Steelers can, having JuJu opposite Chase Claypool could turn into one of the best deep threat tandems in the league. Which would not only help Big Ben but might even push JuJu back into the conversation of a top wideout in the league once again.