Pro Football Focus released their list of the Top 150 free agents last week and have Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as the No. 24-ranked player available.
While Smith-Schuster is the fifth-ranked wide receiver on the list, he is the highest rated Steelers entering free agency.
A fan favorite in Pittsburgh for the last four seasons, Smith-Schuster is still just 24 years old. After an injury-plagued 2019 season where he struggled as the Steelers’ de facto No. 1 receiver, Smith-Schuster bounced back fully healthy in the slot last season.
A physical, savy player, PFF believes his success in the slot could be both a blessing and a curse when free agency negotiations begin in earnest.
“There is a lot to like about his game,” the PFF staff wrote. “He is clearly smart, understands coverages and can exploit both man and zone defenses from the slot, as well as having good size, but his projection as a full-time perimeter receiver involved more guesswork, and that’s his biggest battle heading to the negotiating table.”
Smith-Schuster has expressed a desire to continue his career in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation makes that highly unlikely. With the promise of Diontae Johnson and emergence of rookie Chase Claypool, he could have played his last football in Black and Gold.
If Smith-Schuster is not expected back in Pittsburgh next season, then where does PFF predict he will play in 2021?
The New York Jets.
PFF’s free agency prediction is that Smith-Schuster will sign a four-year, $68 million deal with the Jets next month. They are projecting $35 million guaranteed with $22 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Smith-Schuster signing in New York makes sense. Devoid of weapons for some time, Smith-Schuster would be a significant upgrade for current quarterback Sam Darnold — a fellow USC alum — or whoever they select with the No. 2-overall pick in April’s draft.
One of the most recognizable brands in the league, The Big Apple appears to perfect of a destination for immensely popular wideout. The signing would be a win-win.
Smith-Schuster led the Steelers with 97 receptions in 2020, while also tallying 831 yards and nine touchdowns.
Selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Southern California, Smith-Schuster has 293 receptions, 3,565 yards and 24 touchdowns as a Steeler. He was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl in 2018.