JuJu Smith-Schuster Fantasy Outlook & Value 2020

JuJu Smith-SchusterA slew of injuries and a rookie quarterback contributed to a considerable decline in production for Smith-Schuster in 2019. After finishing seventh in receptions (111) and fifth in receiving yards (1426) in 2018, Smith-Schuster failed to be the best receiver on his team, finishing fourth on the Steelers in receptions (42) and third in receiving yards (552) in 2019. On the bright side, QB Ben Roethlisberger will return under center after a nearly season-long absence, which will improve the Steeler’s quarterback play. With help towards the WR position with draft acquisition Clase Claypool and steady quarterback play, I believe Smith-Schuster will return to top-15 form in 2020.

2019 Recap

REC REC YDSREC TDS FPTS FPPG
42552373.26.1

Last year, Smith-Schuster had the worst year of his three year career. He finished with 42 receptions for 552 receiving yards, three touchdowns, and 73.2 fantasy points. He played a career-low 12 games as he dealt with a nagging knee injury. Smith-Schuster averaged 6.1 fantasy points per game in a year he will want to forget.

2020 Projections

RECREC YDS REC TDS FPTS FPPG
84935 721613.5

Despite JuJu Smith-Schuster’s disappointing 2019 season, I project that the receiver will have a bounce-back season. However, I doubt that the receiver will match his 2018 numbers.

Many forces will help Smith-Schuster’s fantasy numbers next season. One is the return of hall-of-fame quarterback Ben Rothlisberger. Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback behind his breakout rookie and stellar sophomore year campaigns. In his third year, the wildly inconsistent QB Mason Rudolph struggled to make on-target passes down-the-middle to Schuster. We simply won’t see rookie mistakes too often from Rothlisberger.

Many also foreshadowed Smith-Schuster’s decline in 2019 due to the absence of WR Antonio Brown. While I agreed that the absence of such a threatening number-one receiver would allow defenses to target Smith-Schuster specifically, I also believed that the lack of an outside receiver on the Steelers would hurt Smith-Schuster’s ability to primarily focus on the slot, the area he is the most comfortable and productive. However, the addition of Chase Claypool, a big-bodied X receiver that could command attention on the outside, would put less pressure on the Steelers to play Smith-Schuster in that role. While Claypool may take away a few targets, JuJu will still be the number one option. Having the proper supporting cast, those that allow Schuster to utilize his strengths will enhance his fantasy value.

I am worried about Smith-Schuster’s injury history. 3 concussions and a string of lower-body injuries have forced the talented receiver to miss quite a few games over his career. With a larger sample size, it is clear that fantasy owners should prepare for Smith-Schuster to miss a few games a season. But this shouldn’t deter fantasy owners from drafting the receiver given his ADP.

ADP & Auction Value

ADP: 76.8, WR 15
Auction Value: $18

JuJu’s ADP is based on last year’s abysmal season. With Smith-Schuster having this low of an ADP, he is an absolute steal. A healthy hall-of-fame quarterback and a revamped offense will give Schuster the opportunity to return to top-15 form. While hesitant to put him as a potential top-ten fantasy receiver, I would never hesitate to draft him in the seventh round. He is one of the draft’s biggest sleepers with an ADP of 76.8.

Floor

At his worst: injuries, poor quarterback play, and lack of other receiving targets, Smith-Schuster managed to achieve 42 receptions and 552 yards. I doubt that with good quarterback play and the addition of a jump ball receiver, Schuster would regress even further. Schuster will have a higher floor in PPR leagues due to his yards and reception count. While he had an elite year in 2018 in yards and receptions, he has never been an elite red-zone target. Thus, his floor will be lower in standard formats.

Ceiling

Unfortunately, it seems that Smith-Schuster reached his ceiling in 2018 when playing alongside Antonio Brown. Brown’s consistent double teams opened up opportunities in the slot against weaker cornerbacks. Also, it is unlikely that Rothlisberger will not regress due to age and injury.

Even if Roethlisberger returns to form JuJu Smith-Schuster will face difficulty as a number one option. Without the star power to command attention away from Schuster, the opposing team’s top corners will continue to target and disrupt his routes. Also, Schuster’s lack of touchdowns (3 in 2019) would make him a negative asset for standard scoring leagues.

Overall, I think Schuster will return to similar rookie numbers (58 rec, 917 receiving yards) which is productive, but not top-10 numbers or fantasy value. Thus, Schuster will probably perform as a borderline tier two/three WR at his best.

Pittsburgh Steelers Offense

Pittsburgh SteelersAfter the loss of Rothisberger early in the season, the Steelers offense went conservative in their playcalling under rookie QB Mason Rudolph. The previously dynamic offense with Antonio Brown running complex route trees and Le’Veon Bell catching balls in the open field was replaced with a run-first offense behind James Connor and a barrage of check-downs. Coach Mike Tomlin will most likely look to go back to the pre-Ben Rothlisberger

I am also interested in the Steelers incoming QB Coach Matt Canada. The Steelers were one of a handful of teams that did not employ a quarterback’s coach in 2019. Nonetheless, Mike Tomlin has stated that Canada will be more than just a quarterback coach; he will provide unique and fresh ideas to the Steeler’s offensive schemes. Considered one of the most prolific college coordinators – he turned Jacoby Brissett into a starting-caliber prospect and worked to develop Steelers RB James Connor. Given his pedigree and innovative philosophy, I am willing to bet that the Steelers will not have a simple, pedestrian offense. Instead, I see an offense where Schuster will have easier opportunities to make plays.

Strength of Schedule

The AFC North has a few strong cornerbacks, most notably, Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey, Browns CB Denzel Ward, and Bengals CB Jackson lll. In addition to Marlon Humphrey for the Ravens are guys like Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters. The Ravens will be a tough outing for the Steelers and most teams. However, the Bengals and Browns were ranked in the button half of pass defenses in the league giving Smith-Schuster opportunities to shine. Coupled with only 3 games against 2019 top-10 pass defenses on the Steeler’s schedule, good things could come from Smith-Schuster and the Steelers.

2020 Fantasy Football Player Outlooks
  
Miles has participated in fantasy football and baseball for nearly 7 years with an appreciation for the level of fan engagement it brings to the game. In his free time, Miles is an avid runner who also enjoys poker, cooking, and watching movies.

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