The New England Patriots are in need of a veteran wide receiver, and based on recent reports from NFL.com’s Mike Giardi, Bill Belichick is doing his due diligence researching options to fill the void. One free-agent wide receiver whose name has come up among multiple publications is Pittsburgh Steeler and former Pro-Bowler Juju Smith-Schuster. The former USC Trojan has found arguably more success as a social media personality than he has as an NFL player.
He’s had some strong seasons with the Steelers, but he has also stacked 3.3 million followers on Instagram and rode that notoriety to several opportunities off the field.
Juju Smith-Schuster, What Have You Done Lately?
While the 25-year-old would seemingly check some boxes for the Patriots as a downfield weapon, Clutch Points Ezra Bernstein has put the social-media active star on a short list of players New England should avoid.
“While New England does need help at wide receiver, former Pittsburgh Steeler JuJu Smith-Schuster is not the answer,” Bernstein insists. “The USC product is a fan favorite, but he hasn’t done all that much on the football field recently. Over the last two seasons combined, Smith-Schuster has 960 receiving yards and three touchdowns. That’s partially due to injuries, but he’s also had a tough time being effective when on the field.”
The Patriots Desperately Need a WR, Blame it on N’Keal Harry
The Patriots know all too well about hyped receivers who have spent more time off the field than on, and those who have struggled to make an impact when given the opportunity. That last sentence was about as accurate of a summary of N’Keal Harry’s career as you’ll find anywhere. The former 2019 first-round pick has missed 16 of a possible 49 games in his three-year career, and when he’s played, he’s been even less productive than Schuster.
Harry’s 57 receptions for 598 yards and 4 TDs aren’t his totals from the 2021 season, that’s all he has amassed over his entire career thus far. Even if that stat line was from one campaign, it would still be underwhelming for a guy with Harry’s talent after being drafted in the first round three seasons ago. Quite honestly, had the Patriots gotten more out of Harry, they wouldn’t be in dire need of a wide receiver.
“In his last full season in 2020, Smith-Schuster’s average depth of target was 6.5 yards, proving that he isn’t a big-play threat,” Bernstein continued. “It’s hard to justify spending money on an overpriced safety blanket for Mac Jones when there are far better upgrades available elsewhere.”
In Schuster’s best season as a pro, which was his second year in the NFL back in 2018, he had a whopping 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and 7 TDs in the Steelers’ pass-happy offense. That year, the Steelers ranked No. 1 in pass attempts and No. 2 in passing yards. Needless to say, Schuster wouldn’t be landing in an offense that is going to throw it that often if he signed with the Patriots. For that reason, New England might not be the kind of organization he wants to join.
Is Juju Smith-Schuster Too Social For Foxborough?
There’s also the question whether Schuster can fit into the Patriot way. Schuster has found himself in hot water because of social media stunts. He drew the ire of many in the football world when he was recorded doing the dangerous and ill-advised Milk Crate Challenge on TikTok. Schuster’s version of the stunt that challenges people to safely run over stacked milk crates went viral, much to the chagrin of the local and national media. Schuster was accused of being more driven by his social media presence than his professional football career by CBS Pittsburgh’s Bob Pompeani and Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan.
Schuster also raised eyebrows by calling the Cleveland Browns “nameless, grey faces,” and for dancing on the Cincinnati Bengals’ logo. Schuster is a high-profile guy, and that’s not usually a archetype the Patriots target.
Bernstein likes a more under-the-radar option for the Patriots to fill a void at wide receiver.
Patriots’ Alternative Options at WR
“New England has several better options than Smith-Schuster at wide receiver,” Bernstein adds. “There are a ton of big-name pass-catchers in this free agent class, but it’s somewhat unlikely the Patriots go after any of them because of their cap situation. DJ Chark of the Jacksonville Jaguars is certainly a name to watch for New England. His speed is appealing to any team, and he’s still only 25 years old.”
Chark’s name has come up before as a potential option for the Patriots, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Like Schuster, he does have one Pro Bowl season to his credit. However, of all the major sports, an invitation to the NFL’s All-Star showcase must be taken with a more noticeable grain of salt than the others. With all due respect to Chark, acquiring him might not be any more needle-moving than picking up Schuster, though it figures to be a cheaper option–and that’s always seemingly up the Patriots’ alley.
Perhaps the NFL Draft is a better spot for the Patriots to find their No. 1 option at WR. Bernstein talked up some of the more attractive options in this year’s draft class.
“If Belichick decides to spend his cap space somewhere else, the Patriots should still be able to upgrade their wide receiving corps,” Bernstein suggested. “The 2022 NFL Draft is incredibly deep at wide receiver, with five players at the position potentially going in the first round. Guys like Treylon Burks of Arkansas and Chris Olave of Ohio State should be on the board when the Pats pick at 21. There’s absolutely no reason to spend valuable cap space on Smith-Schuster this offseason, even with the hole at wide receiver the Patriots have.”
Olave has been mentioned by multiple experts and analysts in the Patriots stratosphere as a perfect fit for New England. His slick route-running, deceptive speed and good hands seem like an ideal skill set for Jones and Co. However, Burks is arguably the most impressive pure athlete and he’ll likely remind some of the Seattle Seahawks’ star wideout DK Metcalf. The Patriots passed on Metcalf back in 2019 when they elected to draft Harry with the No. 32 pick instead. If they have a chance to grab another similar physical specimen in this year’s draft should they risk passing on another potential game changer?
In any case, Bernstein makes a strong point with his opposition to a free-agent deal to bring in Schuster.
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