JuJu Smith-Schuster is following in the footsteps of fellow Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, taking over as the team’s leader in receptions (77) and receiving yards (1,055). But, he wouldn’t be able to do it without the attention the six-time Pro Bowl player draws.
“Obviously, he’s been here for (nine) years,” Smith-Schuster said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s getting double teamed, triple teamed; it’s hard, you know? But he still makes his plays and he still has the explosive plays that he’s making.
“And for me to be a young guy, me and (running back James Conner) and some of the other guys are being able to eat off his plate because of what he’s done in the past.”
Brown’s numbers are hard to replicate, especially for such a young player. During the 2013-17 seasons, the veteran receiver had the more catches than any player in NFL history over a five-year span. This season, he sits among the top 14 in both receptions and receiving yards but is second to Smith-Schuster with 71 receptions and 974 yards.
“He’s helped me out a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “We always talk about just making each other better. Every day I go out and practice, I try and be the best I can be on the field, competing against him.
“When it comes to gameday, it’s just we all talk about, ‘It’s G.O.A.T. time.’ It’s time, ‘The G.O.A.T. comes alive.’ You make your plays, on both sides. And we’ve seen it work.”
While Smith-Schuster is having a breakout season in Pittsburgh, Brown still posts some impressive numbers.
No player has more touchdown receptions than Brown’s 11, and only Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill has more catches over 40 yards (6) than Brown (5). Smith-Schuster is tied for sixth in the NFL with four of those high-yardage catches.
But, Smith-Schuster is also making a name for himself in other categories. His 1,972 career yards are the fourth most for a player through their first 25 NFL games, and he is the league’s only player with three touchdown plays of at least 75 yards since 2017.
His efforts have earned high praise from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has targeted Smith-Schuster 110 times.
“He is reliable, dependable and trustworthy. I know he’s going to be in the right spot,” Roethlisberger said earlier in the week, via ESPN.
The Steelers will need that dependability as the AFC wild-card race heats up, and both Smith-Schuster and Brown will have big parts to play. Pittsburgh is currently projected as the fourth seed, according to NFL.com, but will have a tough road ahead with games against the Chargers, Patriots and Saints in its final weeks.