The missing piece? Examining JuJu Smith-Schuster's skillset, now paired with the Chiefs' offense
Fans have been clamoring for another weapon, and he's here. Looking at every snap Smith-Schuster took in 2021 to walk through how he fits and what he can do.
Well, that’ll break up the tension a little.
Just as we were starting to reach the “it’s OK to panic a little” phase of the offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs dropped a piece of very welcome news for their fanbase. Well, actually, someone else did.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is officially a Chief, signing a one-year deal that appears to be loaded with incentives and features a relatively low base salary ($3 million base, $10.75 million max). The salary cap implication for 2022 is that (depending on whether those incentives are considered likely to be obtained or not, and it’s likely a mixed bag) Smith-Schuster comes at a cost that doesn’t put much of a dent in the cap and leaves room for additional moves.
Smith-Schuster has been talked about potentially being a Chief for so long, it felt relatively surreal seeing him photoshopped into red and gold.
Smith-Schuster, only 25 years old, has already been in the league for five years. He made a big splash entering the league, racking up nearly a thousand yards his first season and then (in his best statistical year) another 1,426 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2018.
In the 3 years since, it’s been a bit more of a roller coaster for Smith-Schuster statistically. Over the last 3 seasons he’s dealt with a pair of injuries that shortened seasons (missing 4 games in 2019, then 12 in 2021) and seen his production tail off. Of course, stats don’t necessarily make the player, and that drop in production mirrored the Steelers marching out a shrug emoji at quarterback in 2019, then Ben Roethlisberger’s play taking a sharp turn for the “he’s not good anymore.” He also saw his target share drop thanks to the arrival of other talented receivers in Pittsburgh.
So of course, the question becomes (as it ever does) what Smith-Schuster brings to the table, and how he fits in Kansas City. And the only place we can really discover that with such a weird situation in terms of statistics is in his film. So I watched how Smith-Schuster performed in 2021 prior to injuring his shoulder in Week 5. It’s worth noting he played with bruised ribs in Week 4 after a Week 3 hospital ball from Big Ben got him hurt.
Despite taking a huge hit and getting hurt on the play, Smith-Schuster made this catch. But we’ll circle back to that (spoiler, he’s a tough player). Also, if there are concerns about the shoulder that sidelined him most of 2021, he was healthy in time to play in the Wild Card round against the Chiefs, providing a chance to see whether he looked like himself (he did). So in all, we have about 5 games of 2021 film to go through.
Let’s talk about what Smith-Schuster does well, how he fits in the Chiefs’ offense, and any limitations he may have.