WR JuJu Smith-Schuster could be a problem for the Steelers in 2021.
Smith-Schuster told the media that he wants to line up outside. He said Ray-Ray McCloud can play the slot.
But McCloud will be lucky to get on the field. He’s the No. 5 receiver and, after drafting TE Pat Freiermuth, the Steelers can more easily and often go double-tight.
That makes McCloud a very seldom-used spare part.
Smith-Schuster is best used in the slot. He gets covered by slot corners, who are often smaller. Deploying Smith-Schuster thusly got him a team-high 97 catches in 2020.
But it also limited his receiving yards to 831 and his yards per catch to 8.6, which ranked 126th in the NFL. Dead people fall forward further.
That kind of receiver doesn’t get big money in free agency. Smith-Schuster knows that first-hand.
But the Steelers are better with Smith-Schuster in the slot. That’s why he played in the slot on 79 percent of his snaps, and was in the slot for 82 percent of his targets.
If Smith-Schuster doesn’t play the slot, who does? Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington aren’t as good there. Smith-Schuster is a proven commodity in the slot.
It won’t be McCloud.
Smith-Schuster wants it to be how it was when Antonio Brown and he both played outside, and Smith-Schuster got huge numbers living off Brown’s scraps.
But Claypool ain’t Brown, and this Ben Roethlisberger ain’t that Ben Roethlisberger.
Prediction: Smith-Schuster’s social media-displayed egomania will boil over. So will his frustration over his free agency being an utter disaster. He's already talking about next year's free agency. If Smith-Schuster doesn’t get his way, he will act out.
But he might get his way. Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin could make that happen.
The Steelers are about no player ever knowing an unpleasant moment more than they are about winning.