When Antonio Brown was traded, JuJu Smith-Schuster was quick to respond to the call for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. JuJu Smith-Schuster told fans nothing more than that he is ready. Ready to take on the duties of the best receiver on a team that once had the best wide receiver in the league. Of course, the challenge has not been something new for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was has climbed rung-by-rung to the top of the Steelers wide receiver totem pole.
Remember when he was drafted and Martavis Bryant reminded us all that he was Sammie Coates replacements, and not his? Well, the first part was correct, he was Sammie Coates replacement, and while Coates laughed it off at the moment, the team traded him that offseason.
When JuJu Smith-Schuster entered camp as a rookie there were legitimate questions as to who would win a camp battle between him and Eli Rogers.
Smith-Schuster dealt with a knee injury late into the preseason and barely contributed in the first two weeks. Still, by Week Four of his rookie season, he not only got full reign over Rogers, but there were also legitimate questions as to whether or not JuJu Smith-Schuster had replaced Martavis Bryant as the Steelers second wide receiver.
Smith-Schuster slowly took over that job in the next three weeks and by week eight of his rookie season, Martavis Bryant was suspended for calling out Smith-Schuster on Instagram because the rookie was outproducing him over a six-week span.
For Bryant, it was a chance to prove that he was a needed piece of the offense. His deep presence across from Antonio Brown took all the coverage away from Smith-Schuster, right? Who could take the top off when all the coverage moves to Brown? Then Smith-Schuster took the top off himself with the longest completion of Ben Roethlisberger’s career-a 97-yard game-changing touchdown.
By the end of his rookie season, Smith-Schuster had gone from a hopeful candidate to replace Sammie Coates and a potential Eli Rogers upgrade to a full-fledged upgrade from Martavis Bryant. Nobody saw that coming.
That is a significant leap for a rookie who just turned 21 years old. A step back in his sophomore year with Bryant being completely replaced by rookie James Washington had to be expected, right? Nope, instead JuJu Smith-Schuster kept climbing.
In 2018 Smith-Schuster caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards. Antonio Brown caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards.
Just like in 2017 when many said that Martavis Bryant was opening up the chance to get stats for Smith-Schuster, the same are proclaiming that Smith-Schuster only saw his meteoric rise in 2018 because of Antonio Brown and the attention he took. Heck, those same people were questioning if he could outproduce Eli Rogers as a rookie.
They were fair questions at the time and look silly in retrospect. At what point does it become apparent Smith-Schuster is progressing at an extreme rate and it has his peers scrambling? Are we going to ask the same questions about him replacing Brown that we asked about him replacing Bryant? Rogers? Coates?
JuJu Smith-Schuster passed Sammie Coates before training camp of his rookie season. Eli Rogers was not far behind. He passed Martavis Bryant by Week Four of that year. He even outproduced Antonio Brown by his second year in the NFL. Now, he is 22 years old and has the keys to the car.
Will it be tougher without Antonio Brown? Undoubtedly. Are you really not expecting JuJu Smith-Schuster live up to expectations and exceed them? If he did not it would be a first.