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Unfortunately for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2019-20 season that began with much optimism came crashing down early. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was lost in Week 2 for the rest of the season, and the team stumbled to a 1-4 start. Things were not much better for star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, as he battled foot and knee injuries all year and missed four games.
When wagering on any player prop before a season starts, one must certainly account for the possibility of injury. That is what makes JuJu Smith-Schuster’s prop so intriguing.
FanDuel Sportsbook has listed Smith-Schuster’s over/under for receiving yards at 1099.5. Keep in mind, FanDuel’s rules stipulate that teams must play a full 16 game regular season for a player prop wager to stand.
This article will make the case for both the over and under for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s regular-season total receiving yards before ultimately making our prediction. In addition, we have identified a number of player props we love and have been releasing our picks as part of a series over the last month.
Check out all of our 2020 NFL Player Prop Bets here.
Will JuJu Smith-Schuster Go Over/Under 1099.5 Receiving Yards?
- Over 1099.5 (-112)
- Under 1099.5 (-112)
The Case for the Over
After JuJu Smith-Schuster’s first two years in the league, it was evident a star was in the making. Smith-Schuster made the All-Rookie Team in 2017 after finishing the year with 917 yards on 58 catches. He made his first Pro Bowl after an outstanding 2018 campaign where he led the team with 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. His 1,426 yards in 2018 were also good for fifth in the league. Smith-Schuster ranked sixth with 111 receptions in 2018, and tenth in 2017 with a 15.8 yards per receptions average.
To say that Smith-Schuster’s 2019 season compared to his first two years in the league was a disappointment is an understatement. JuJu amassed just 552 yards in 12 games. That per game average extrapolated over 16 games comes to 736 yards.
While injuries and missing four games are partly to blame, most of the blame should be placed on who was throwing him the football. The Steelers offense struggled mightily once backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges replaced Ben Roethlisberger. An offense that finished fifth in scoring in 2018 plummeted to 27th in 2019. In addition, they ranked 27th or worse in passing, rushing, third down efficiency and red zone efficiency.
In an attempt to work through the injuries that nagged him last year, Smith-Schuster developed a new workout regimen in the offseason. He is working with a new celebrity trainer in an attempt to improve his training regiment and overall fitness level.
If all of that was not positive enough, the fact that Smith-Schuster is on the last year of his rookie contract this year should be a huge motivating factor. Smith-Schuster needs a rebound year to show the front office that last year was a fluke and that he should be rewarded with a lucrative long-term contract.
The Case for the Under
While one can never predict injuries from year-to-year, JuJu Smith-Schuster does not exactly inspire confidence from an injury standpoint. Dating back to his college years, Smith-Schuster has had toe and hand issues. In the NFL, he has suffered two concussions along with thigh, foot and knee issues. Sports Injury Predictor predicts a 48.1% chance for an injury for Smith-Schuster in 2020, along with projecting him to miss 1.8 games. If Smith-Schuster were to miss two games, he would need to average 78.5 yards per game to surpass his total.
There is no denying that Smith-Schuster was one of the league’s best receivers in 2018. However, that production came when Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were around to take opposing defenses’ attention away from him. Smith-Schuster is clearly the focal point of defenses with regard to the passing game. Thus, if he routinely sees double or triple coverage, he may find it tough sledding to surpass his projected total.
Smith-Schuster will benefit mightily from the return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. However, Roethlisberger is still 38 years old and entering his 17th season. Even the great Tom Brady has shown signs of decline as the years go on, and he has not had to recover from the litany of injuries that Roethlisberger has. “Big Ben” has not even played two full games without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, so there may be a feeling-out process to see how he gets adjusted to his new offensive weaponry.
Whether or not JuJu Smith-Schuster can surpass his projected receiving yardage total comes down to two main things. Can he stay healthy, and is Pittsburgh’s offense going to be dynamic enough to take attention away from him?
2019 was not a “lost year” for all Steelers. Receivers James Washington and Diontae Johnson got valuable experience and will be better apt to support Smith-Schuster in the passing game. In addition, running back James Conner also missed six games last year. A healthier Conner will bring more balance to the offense, and a threat of a productive running game always helps open things up downfield in the passing game.
Lastly, do not undersell the fact that Smith-Schuster is playing this year for his next contract. Players in contract years often far exceed their expectations, which is exactly what I expect Smith-Schuster to do. Even if he misses two games with an injury, an average of 78.5 yards per game is more than doable, considering he averaged 89.1 in 2018.