JuJu Smith-Schuster is headed back to Pittsburgh, reportedly spurning larger offers to make one more run with Ben Roethlisberger. While that's great for Roethlisbeger, it creates a headache in the projections process for the Steelers because they once again have too many mouths to feed in the passing game.
The Steelers played 10 games, including the playoffs with Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron all healthy. The target distribution gives us a starting point for projecting 2021.
I count 10 games Steelers played w/ Ben, JuJu, DJ, Claypool & Ebron all playing at least 40% of snaps.— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) March 19, 2021
DJ 73-738-5 on 117 TGT (24.7%)
JuJu 65-714-6 on 105 TGT (22.2%)
Ebron 47-455-5 on 77 TGT (16.3%)
Claypool 42-442-6 on 73 TGT(15.4%)
It's worth noting that Roethlisberger was averaging 47 pass attempts per game in that stretch. It's hard to imagine they keep up that pace, but it's also odd they spent $8 million on Smith-Schuster before addressing their obvious need at running back. Besides, Roethlisberger only averaged 4.6 air yards per completion, so a lot of those passes served the same purpose as runs.
While I don't project the Steelers for 700 pass attempts, they do project as one of the most pass-happy teams in the league with 616 attempts. That's a near-10% decrease from the 672 attempts they've averaged in 2018 and 2020 with Roethlisberger under center. At a 22% target share that would get Smith-Schuster to 136 targets. What he does with them is another mystery.
Smith-Schuster's efficiency cratered in 2020. While he did catch a career-best 75.8% of his targets, he averaged just 8.6 yards per reception and 6.5 yards per target. That can be mostly attributed to the fact that his aDOT fell to 5.5, nearly 40% below his career norm. Even in 2019, with terrible quarterback play, Smith-Schuster averaged 13.1 yards per catch. I split the baby with the projection, putting him at 11.6 yards per catch. That would be the second lowest mark of his career, but a huge increase from last year.
What does this all mean for Fantasy purposes? Smith-Schuster and Johnson both project as No. 2 receivers, inside my top 20. I prefer Smith-Schuster because of his demonstrated upside (remember, he finished as WR8 in 2018) but I wouldn't argue too strongly if someone wanted to put Johnson slightly ahead. Both are solid fourth-round picks in re-draft.
Claypool is hurt the most, falling outside of my top 30 receivers in all re-draft formats. Even with the large pass volume, it's hard to see Claypool reaching 120 targets, and he certainly has some touchdown regression coming for 2021. Both Roethlisberger and Ebron project as borderline starters at their positions. If you can draft them as backups, you'll feel a lot better about it.
A quick Twitter poll reveals that Claypool is still the community's favorite in Dynasty, with Smith-Schuster a distant third. I actually reverse the order, but all three are currently inside my top 25 Dynasty wide receivers. If anything, the temporary logjam may create a buying opportunity for all three.