Fantasy football player profile: JuJu Smith-Schuster


(As fantasy football dives headlong into draft season, some players warrant a little extra attention. All August, Dom Cintorino and Adam Pfeifer will do deep dives into some of the notable names. Follow along with our player profiles series. Today’s profile: JuJu Smith-Schuster)

Fantasy football 2021 value – JuJu Smith-Schuster

Look, I get it. After his breakout sophomore season in 2018 when JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 111 balls for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, expectations were sky-high for the young receiver. And with Antonio Brown out of Pittsburgh, many fantasy analysts (including myself) had him penciled in as a surefire top-10 wideout. While Smith-Schuster has underwhelmed over the last few seasons, by no means has he been bad. After a lost season in 2019, JuJu bounced back in 2020, hauling in 97 balls for 831 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing as the WR16 in PPR formats.

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I understand why most people aren’t excited about JuJu anymore, especially after he was essentially used like a tight end last year. Smith-Schuster averaged just 6.49 yards per target in 2020, the eighth-lowest mark among all wideouts with at least 50 targets, per the FTN Fantasy advanced receiving stats. Meanwhile, his 5.83-yard average depth of target was the lowest among all receivers in that split. The issues with the Steelers offensive line led to Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball out extremely fast. In fact, the Steelers led the league in average time to pass (2.17 seconds, per the FTN Fantasy advanced passing stats), and with Smith-Schuster lining up in the slot around 80% of the time, he was peppered with quick, short-area targets from Roethlisberger. He wasn’t targeted at the elite rate as teammate Diontae Johnson, but JuJu still averaged a healthy eight per game. And while Johnson was among the league leaders in first read targets, Smith-Schuster still saw a healthy 88 targets as the first read, the 11th-most among all receivers.

Heading into the 2021 season, the Steelers offense might look a little different but not to the point where it truly impacts Smith-Schuster. Pittsburgh spent a first-round pick on Najee Harris, who they clearly want to give the ball to 20-25 times per game. The offensive line, however, is arguably worse than it was last season when Pittsburgh ranked 31st in run-blocking and 28th in yards before contact created per attempt (1.17). If they struggle to get the running game going again, the Steelers could easily once again contend for the league lead in passing attempts. Personnel wise, we are seeing the Steelers experiment with more two-TE sets after drafting Pat Freiermuth. If that continues into the regular season, Johnson and JuJu are likely the two receivers on the field in that set, especially since Smith-Schuster is a very strong blocker. So although Pittsburgh does have three top-30 wideouts in Johnson, JuJu and Chase Claypool, I don’t worry at all about the playing time for the most veteran one of them, Smith-Schuster.

We would obviously love to see more upside from Smith-Schuster this season, which would require him to play more on the perimeter, where he lined up just around 20% of the time last year. He was top-10 in the NFL in catches last season but outside of the top 35 in receiving yards — JuJu didn’t record a single 100-yard game, either. Smith-Schuster did find the end zone, however, scoring nine times, as he led the Steelers with nine end-zone targets. The floor is very high, but if we see more usage on the outside in 2021, we could see a return of a ceiling. I understand the hype has died down over the last two years, but Smith-Schuster has now gotten to the point where he deserves more respect.

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Fantasy Football ADP Stock Watch – JuJu Smith-Schuster

Because the hype has fallen off, Smith-Schuster has honestly become a value in fantasy leagues. Per FTN’s ADP tool, JuJu is coming off the board as the WR30 and on a site like Underdog, he is being drafted as the WR39. That is absurd, even on a site that is only 0.5 PPR scoring and tends to lean toward upside. Smith-Schuster is coming off the board after receivers such as Odell Beckham and Kenny Golladay, and while I understand it, I also disagree with it. Again, JuJu was the WR16 last season in PPR leagues and was still inside the top-30 in points per game in that same format. As a third wideout in PPR leagues, JuJu is an extremely safe and ideal target in the middle rounds.

NFL Fantasy Football Ranking – JuJu Smith-Schuster

Once again, FTN Fantasy’s consensus rankings are on par with ADP, as JuJu comes in as the WR30 here. And for what it is worth, he drops to WR32 in 0.5 PPR scoring, as Smith-Schuster is clearly less appealing in that format. I understand JuJu no longer has an obvious ceiling of 1,500 receiving yards, and honestly, barring a massive change in role or usage, he’d be lucky to eclipse 1,000. However, Smith-Schuster does have the potential to reach 100 receptions, which is a mark only six receivers reached a season ago. He is my WR23 in full PPR leagues and WR31 in half PPR formats and while he hasn’t emerged as a truly elite wide receiver since the departure of Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster is still a very good football player who puts up numbers. It is as simple as that.

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