ESPN Analyst Floats Cardinals as Destination for 24-Year-Old Pro Bowl WR

JuJu Smith-Schuster floated as Giants free agency fit

Getty JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills.

The Arizona Cardinals have one of –– if not the best wide receiver in all of football, with perennial All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins at their disposal. In his first season in the desert, Nuk readily reminded Bill O’Brien of his ill-fated trade, ranking top-three in the NFL in both receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,407).

Yet despite his brilliance, Arizona’s lack of a legitimate, consistent receiving option opposite Hopkins greatly compromised the team’s passing game. ESPN contributor and Pro Football Focus’ Senior Football Analyst Seth Galina would like to change that and he believes he’s found the “perfect” candidate to do so, in Pittsburgh Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The Cardinals need someone who can work the middle of the field to take some heat off No. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins. And that’s what JuJu’s game is: the underneath middle of the field.

His game fell off a bit in 2020, and it remains to be seen whether he can be a true No. 1 receiver, but the beauty is that he won’t have to be the top guy in Arizona. Smith-Schuster posted an 81.8 PFF grade as Antonio Brown’s understudy in Pittsburgh in 2018, but that number fell to 63.1 in 2019 and 70.0 in 2020. Becoming a secondary option again might do wonders for both JuJu and the Cardinals in the make-or-break year for the Kliff Kingsbury era.

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JuJu Not Expected to Return to Pittsburgh

But don’t take my word for it, take the official team website’s. Bob Labriola of recently broke down Pittsburgh’s receiving corps and a 2021 season outlook most likely void of Smith-Schuster.

Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 17, and despite his pronouncements on social media that he wants to continue his career with the Steelers, he’s unlikely to want to accept what the cap-strapped Steelers would be able to pay him on a new contract.

The idea of the Steelers letting a 24-year-old Smith-Schuster walk in free agency seemed asinine just a few seasons ago. However, since Antonio Brown’s exit from Pittsburgh, the former second-round pick has failed to live up to his billing as a true No. 1 receiver.

Smith-Schuster’s Struggles as a No. 1 WR & Future Outlook

While Smith-Schuster did lead all Steelers wideouts with 97 receptions in 2020 and tied for the team lead with nine touchdowns, the once big-play threat had been seemingly delegated to a possession role.

Over his first two seasons in the league, he averaged 1,172 receiving yards, including a brilliant 2018 campaign where he ranked fifth in the NFL in receiving with 1,426 yards. However, this past season, the USC product was only able to muster up 831 receiving yards on 97 receptions, a career-low average of 8.6 yards.

Add in the presence of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, as well as Smith-Schuster’s off-field antics –– albeit not harmful –– and suddenly the fan-favorite wideout has become expendable in Pittsburgh.

Yet, despite his limitations as a featured target, Smith-Schuster still possesses the type of skillset that would be a welcomed addition to nearly any team, the Cardinals included. The Long Beach (CA) native is a physical underneath presence, just two years removed from hauling in a whopping 111 receptions. He’s averaged 1,058 receiving yards in every season that he’s appeared in more than 12 games. He’s shown the ability to serve as a viable return specialist, averaging 26.7 yards per kick return as a rookie, including a 96-yard touchdown. Not to mention his willingness as a blocker would make Larry Fitzgerald proud.

Aside from Hopkins, no Cardinals receiver surpassed 54 receptions, nor 621 yards receiving in 2020. Safe to say a player such as JuJu could build on those numbers.


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