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JuJu Smith-Schuster faces an important contract year in 2020

In JuJu Smith-Schuster's second season — a season in which he turned 22 years of age — he caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. By all accounts, he looked like he was on a path to stardom that had been built around both his play on the field and his fun-loving persona off it. The 2019 season threw a wrench in those plans, however, and that was not lost on JuJu's former running mate, Antonio Brown

In a recent interview with Pittsburgh radio station 93.7 The Fan, Brown said of JuJu, “If you want to call out AB, you better have your standards high like AB because if they're not, somebody has to tell him because that's the problem with the country nowadays. They have nobody to tell them the truth. JuJu Smith-Schuster is running around with 500 yards, and everyone thinks he's the world. The Steelers didn't make the playoffs. That is a problem.”

Brown was, of course, referencing (with the convincing sound of someone who has “no beef”) Smith-Schuster's dip in production without an All-Pro wide receiver there to draw away coverage. But that was just one factor in a tough transition year for JuJu. It was a season in which Ben Roethlisberger lasted just over one game before being lost to a season-ending elbow injury, leaving the not-so-dynamic duo of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges to finish out the season. On top of the losses of Brown and Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster dealt with nagging injuries himself throughout the year before suffering multiple injuries in a Week 11 game against the Cleveland Browns that caused him to miss four weeks.  

The result was a massive drop in production for the third-year receiver out of USC. In contrast to the gaudy 2018 numbers, Smith-Schuster caught just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns over the course of the 2019 season. It leads to the question — which version of JuJu is the real one? Is he a legitimate No. 1 option at wide receiver, like the numbers he posted as a second-year player would indicate, or is he just a solid secondary option on a good offense? In other words, can Smith-Schuster succeed as the guy? 

It's a question that many thought we would get the answer to this past season with the opportunity wide open for him as the top guy in Pittsburgh. But the loss of Brown wasn't the only major change in JuJu's football world. Several other confounding factors complicated things, blurring the lines between what was at fault for the disappointing season.

[Editor's note: Available to all of PFF's EDGE and ELITE subscribers, PFF's Free Agent Rankings Page consists of three-year grades, PFF WAR and in-depth analysis for all of the top NFL free agents. Contract information from our friends at Over The Cap is also available. Subscribe today for access!]

What changed in Smith-Schuster's third season?


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