PITTSBURGH — JuJu Smith-Schuster made a leap of faith in the name of loyalty to return to the Steelers for a fifth season with the team.
With a depressed market, Smith-Schuster put loyalty over monetary value in the 2021 offseason. However, that does not mean that Smith-Schuster is not looking to maximize his value this upcoming offseason. Part of doing so requires Smith-Schuster to prove he can be versatile. As such, Smith-Schuster is looking to play on the outside more this season. Smith-Schuster made his biggest goal for the 2021 season very simple.
“My biggest goal is to play more on the outside,” Smith-Schuster said.
Smith-Schuster has played outside before, however, 88% of Smith-Schuster’s routes run in 2020 were from the slot. He ran 587 routes on the entire season, and 513 of those routes were from the slot alignment according to Sports Info Solutions. In addition, Smith-Schuster was targeted 108 times in the slot. Both of those stats led the NFL last season. With Matt Canada’s offense now coming into play, Smith-Schuster believes he can be effective on the boundary.
“Through OTAs, there have been plays where he’s put me outside,” Smith-Schuster said. “He’s put me in the best situation. You know, putting me outside and that, that’s not just me, that’s all of us.”
Smith-Schuster’s main motivation for wanting to move to the outside includes financial incentives. In order to get the most on the open market in the 2022 offseason, Smith-Schuster believes he must show versatility to play both in the slot and on the outside at the X or Z positions.
“Playing inside, I might be the best, but when I’m playing outside, it’s about adding more to your craft,” Smith-Schuster said. “You look at Year 2, and it’s probably the best year I’ve had. I was playing more outside than inside.”
With Smith-Schuster having been the primary slot receiver throughout the entire 2020 season, if he should play on the boundary more, that will leave a massive hole. Who can fill that hole? Smith-Schuster points to talented returner Ray-Ray McCloud as a guy who should take on a bigger role in the offense.
“I think the second person to play behind me is Ray-Ray McCloud,” Smith-Schuster said. “He’s a guy that you just really haven’t seen. As a slot receiver, he’s explosive. You know, in practice, he makes plays. You’ll probably see more of him playing slot this year.”
There can only be so many players on the field. So, if McCloud is to play in the slot and Smith-Schuster on the outside, someone will have to lose snaps as a result. Regardless, however, Smith-Schuster seems to have one goal. And he believes it is possible to achieve that goal thanks to his skill and McCloud’s hidden abilities.