(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster averaged just 8.6 yards per catch last year, which ranked 126th in the league. And most of his routes were run from the slot. So, this offseason Smith-Schuster has stated in several interviews that he wants to be line up on the outside more in 2021.
He made that point evident last week when he spoke with the media, stating that "playing more outside" is his biggest goal this season.
"Being able to play outside, you are adding more to your craft," Smith-Schuster said via Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. "When you look at Year 2, probably the best year I have had as a Pittsburgh Steeler, I played more outside than inside. Having another threat player on the other side with Ben (Roethlisberger). I think we have threat players all the way around.
"I haven't even had a conversation with (offensive coordinator) Matt (Canada) about me playing outside, but through OTAs there's been plays where he has put me outside, put me in the best situation getting the ball outside. It's not just me, that's all of us. Everyone is getting a little bit of a touch, moving around, knowing this offense. I think this offense is going to help us out a lot, being able to open up holes for Najee (Harris), being able to open plays and balls down the field. I really believe in this offense."
New offensive coordinator Matt Canada told reporters this morning that it's their job to put players in the best position to succeed when asked about the possibility of Smith-Schuster playing more on the outside.
"The great thing about JuJu is he loves to win," Canada said via Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. "He's gonna be excited and happy when we win. Obviously, JuJu can do a lot of different things. Our job is to put players in position to make plays. It's not to run a certain play or a certain scheme or a certain anything.
"And if we believe putting anybody in any spot on the field gives us the best advantage to do that, that is our challenge."
WassermanNFL on Twitter today yesterday that they're now representing Smith-Schuster. The USC product was formerly represented by Roc Nation.
According to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal, NFL agent Chafie Fields, co-head of Wasserman's U.S. football division, is representing Smith-Schuster.
Many believe that the root of why Smith-Schuster wants to play more on the outside is tied to getting a long-term deal. However, as Smith-Schuster said, 2018 was probably his best career year when he played more on the outside.
"My value is my value. I thought everything that happened this year was different, with the cap being low, Smith-Schuster said last week via Dejan Kovacevic of DKPittsburghSports. "So next year, with the cap being so much bigger and knowing I'll be on the market again, other teams are going to want to offer something to my value. But this year, I want to make sure I go out and make my value better."
Smith-Schuster says he'll be on the market again, but he made it clear that the Steelers will be an option, as well.
"I think to come back for another four more years and have nine years as a Steeler would be tremendous and remarkable," Smith-Schuster said. "It would be unheard of from a receiver standpoint. No doubt. Don't get it wrong. Pittsburgh is definitely still an option on the table, and I know that they'll fight hard and they're one of the teams that have the most cap."