By: Phillip P-Mac McGruder @ChiefsFocus
It’s been a long hard year for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Starting 3-4 before finishing with another AFC West title (their sixth), 12-4 record, 2nd seed in AFC playoff picture and hosted our fourth straight AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium in 2021. We did it without a key missing piece that could’ve put NFL opposing defensive coordinators on notice. We were missing a WR2 with the ability and skills to open our offense up or better yet a Sammy Watkins replacement. A year after a searching far and wide, the Chiefs have acquired their WR2: JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Smith-Schuster, Pro Bowl receiver formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal that could increase to $10.75 million through incentives. He’ll be the Chiefs’ primary slot receiver, an additional weapon for superstar QB Patrick Mahomes who will run routes alongside star speedster receivers Tyreek Hill, and Mecole Hardman and star tight end Travis Kelce.
Now that brings people to ask the question how does JuJu fit even though the Chiefs already have a slot receiver in Tyreek Hill?
Smith-Schuster was used primarily in the slot, or as Pittsburgh’s “Z” receiver last year. The Steelers used him in motion a lot, too. In fact, the way the Steelers deployed Smith-Schuster last year looked a lot like the way the Chiefs would use Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Even though their playing styles are completely different, it doesn’t mean the three can’t coexist, since they bring different skillsets to the table. Where both Hardman and Hill uses their quicknesses to create separation over the middle of the field, Smith-Schuster attacks the same area by using his bigger frame to win contested catches.
Smith-Schuster is in a fantastic situation. The Chiefs have a wide-open offense with weapons like Hill, Kelce and Hardman who are going to command a lot of attention. Smith-Schuster should have no problem slotting in as the No. 2 receiver and making an impact.
When working from the slot with the Steelers, Smith-Schuster led the league, from 2017 through 2020, with 1,107 yards after catch, according to Next Gen Stats. That means that you’ll see Hill and Hardman stretching the field vertically while Kelce and Smith-Schuster handle the underneath routes.
Smith-Schuster burst onto the NFL scene with 58 catches for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2017, his rookie season. One year later, he was even better, with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and another 7 touchdowns. But in 2018, Antonio Brown had forced his way out of Pittsburgh, making Smith-Schuster the No. 1 receiver. In 12 games, he was only able to produce 42 catches for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster hasn’t been able to put together a 1,000 yard season since Brown left the Steelers, but he did rebound for 9 touchdowns in 2020. He only played in five games last season due to a shoulder injury, but he was off to another disappointing start, with only 15 catches for 129 yards and no scores.
Despite that, the element that Juju Smith-Schuster brings at the WR position for the Chiefs. He’s 6’1”, 215 pounds with about 33 inch arms. He’s a big guy at WR and he plays to that size, often using physicality to create separation and create yards after the catch.
The Chiefs haven’t had a WR like this since Dwayne Bowe. This is the type of weapon that could prove to be Patrick Mahomes’ security blanket over the middle and possibly in jump ball situations.
Opposing defenders should be aware that JuJu will never let up when it comes to being physical. My message to the defensive coordinators who’ll face this Chiefs offensive attack this fall, Don’t let your guard down, or the rejuvenated Legion of Zoom will make you pay.