JuJu Smith-Schuster is out for the season with a knee injury, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now on their third receiver. With Antonio Brown on one side of the field and James Washington on the other, there is plenty of opportunity for someone to step up.
With the Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster out for the season, the team is looking to one of their other receivers in Diontae Johnson.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a difficult start to the 2021 NFL season, and the losses are continuing. JuJu Smith-Schuster, once believed to be on the verge of becoming a superstar, will most likely miss the remainder of the season due to a shoulder injury.
His absence will be felt by an offense that is averaging just 18.8 points per game and is headed by a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who seems to be beyond his prime.
Although things seem to be gloomy, there may yet be some optimism in the Steel City.
The bad news is that without JuJu Smith-Schuster, output will suffer.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 reacts after getting hurt during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field | Joe Sargent/Getty Images
While Chase Claypool’s rise has made Smith-Schuster the Steelers’ most gifted receiver, he is a proven player in a league that values experience. He also has 831 receiving yards and nine touchdowns (tied with Claypool) to his credit from the 2020 season. That’s not to be sneered at.
In each of his first two seasons, he scored seven touchdowns, and he’s even been known to run the ball on occasion. In 2021, he has a touchdown on the ground. Unfortunately, his shoulder injury was caused by the ball being in his hands during a jet sweep.
The wideout will have shoulder surgery, according to Ian Rapoport, and is likely to miss the remainder of the season.
Has Smith-Schuster lived up to the expectations that surrounding him when he was drafted out of USC in 2017? Most likely not. That said, he’s been a consistent target for Roethlisberger and not bad for a second-round selection.
Hope for Pittsburgh: It’s Diontae Johnson’s turn to shine.
In the first half of the game at Heinz Field, wide receiver Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a grab against cornerback Trayvon Mullen Jr. #27 of the Las Vegas Raiders | Getty Images/Justin K. Aller
With a 1-3 record and a relegation battle in the AFC North, the Steelers must build on their Week 5 victory against the Denver Broncos to even have a chance of making the playoffs. The news about Smith-Schuster is heartbreaking, but Steelers supporters may wipe away their sorrows with a Terrible Towel infused with Diontae Johnson’s tremendous potential.
Johnson has three receiving touchdowns to lead Pittsburgh, and he’s becoming into a big-play threat downfield. Given Roethlisberger’s accuracy issues, this is significant. The good news for Pittsburgh is that he now has a track record as a playmaker as well.
Johnson scored five touchdowns in his first season. He ended with seven in 2020. Johnson has shown to be a genuine danger in a struggling offense, scoring three times in five games. He’s been every bit as steady as Claypool for the Steelers, averaging 76.3 yards per game and 12.3 yards per grab.
Defenses know Johnson will be Big Ben’s unquestioned 1B option behind Claypool now that Smith-Schuster is out for the season. Johnson has shown that he is capable throughout his time with the black and yellow.
He’s all set for his prime-time showdown.
Roethlisberger is ultimately responsible for Pittsburgh’s offensive output.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger #7 looks on during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field | Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Don’t get it mixed up. Claypool is still the team’s top receiver.
He’s a physical marvel, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 238 pounds, and he’s lived up to Notre Dame’s expectations as a 2020 second-round selection. Claypool has 873 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches in the 2020 season. Despite missing Pittsburgh’s defeat to the Green Bay Packers, he leads the club in receiving yards with 341 thus far in 2021.
Johnson, a third-round draft selection out of Toledo in the 2019 NFL Draft, has been every bit as explosive for the Steelers and is beginning to put it all together in what seems to be a fast ascent to NFL greatness.
The Steelers are also gifted with rookie running back Najee Harris from Alabama, who has the potential to be a star. So far this season, he has just two rushing touchdowns and 307 total rushing yards, but he is a dual-threat running back who can also be used in the receiving game. In 2021, he had 28 receptions for 198 yards and a touchdown.
In today’s NFL, Pittsburgh has the offensive weapons to score points, whether it’s Claypool, Johnson, or Harris.
The problem, as it has been in recent seasons, is Roethlisberger’s rapidly dwindling skill set.
Johnson can ultimately assist the Steelers this season in this area. He’s far from a vertical-only danger, despite some huge plays along the sidelines. On underneath routes and around the sticks, he’s fast and sure-handed.
As a result, he’s an all-around weapon for a Steelers offense that relies on him to continue to perform like a rising star.
Pro Football Reference provided the statistics.
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