The Pittsburgh Steelers selected USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster with the 62nd pick in the 2017 NFL draft — grabbing him at the tail end of the second round. The 20-year-old receiver brings toughness, reliable hands, and solid route-running to Pittsburgh’s receiving corps.
JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t a speed demon like some of the other receivers in this draft class, but he provides an element coaches want out their receivers: grit. He isn't afraid to battle for 50-50 balls, run routes over the middle of the field, or deliver bone-crushing blocks. At 6’2, 216 pounds, he has the size to shield defenders from the ball and snag it. His play style is Anquan Bolden-esque.
Pittsburgh should be excited about selecting Smith-Schuster because he plays with intensity and loves to get physical with defenders. He’s also an excellent run-blocker.
During his three-year stint in Southern California, Smith-Schuster hauled in 213 passes for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Why did the Steelers select him?
Strength and reliable hands
As a big-bodied receiver, Smith-Schuster has the strength to fend off defenders when battling for throws. Because of the 20-year-old’s size, defensive backs struggled with out-powering the USC product.
For instance, in a 21-17 win against Colorado last season. Smith-Schuster corralled a difficult 34-yard pass late in the third quarter. Quarterback Sam Darnold lined up in the shotgun, took the snap, and immediately surveyed the field. Then, he climbed up the pocket, and released the deep pass to Smith-Schuster near the sidelines.
The young receiver came back for the ball with cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon draped all over him. Smith-Schuster caught the low pass while Witherspoon fell on him. That was not an easy reception because Smith-Schuster had to come back to the ball and fight off Witherspoon to get in position to make the catch.
The USC product can play when the ball is in the air and has the size to lineup on the perimeter.
A tenacious blocker
As a football fan, you probably heard people say some receivers are prima donnas who hates blocking. Smith-Schuster isn't that type of player. He loves to use his size to deliver bone-crushing blocks. In fact, he can drive defenders into the turf like an offensive lineman.
If you want to see how much of a dominant blocker the 20-year-old is, look no further than his vicious hit on Utah State’s Dallin Leavitt.
So I THINK JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TEAM_JUJU9) just killed a guy. Goodness. #USC #FightOn pic.twitter.com/U72r0vmTTA— Stephen Nelson (@Stephen__Nelson) September 10, 2016
Smith-Schuster ran up from near the end zone to annihilate Leavitt. The USC product is one of the most aggressive players in the draft class, and that block shows you why he’s dangerous on the field. His fearless attitude is on display during every game.
Smith-Schuster only ran a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash. While that’s impressive for a guy of his size, he won't be able to outrun defensive backs at the next level.
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, Smith-Schuster’s teammate at USC, believes the big-bodied receiver is “way faster than people give him credit for.”
“People were saying 4.7 — in my mind, I was like ‘I don’t think he’s 4.7’ — so when he ran a 4.5 I thought ‘That’s pretty fast.’ When people don’t expect you to run that fast it helps you out a lot.”
Still, Smith-Schuster said he’s the best receiver in this draft class.
“I’ve played in so many roles, I’m a physical, tough man. I’m willing to work and I’m coachable.” Smith-Schuster also has to do better job of creating separation.
Since he doesn't have the speed to go along with his size, he must get used to batting for contested catches, too.
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