JuJu Smith-Schuster: Buy Low or Bye Bye?

Shane Manila

A favored strategy in dynasty football leagues is “buying low.” Nearly any time a player is injured or underperforms, the chorus will sing out for everyone to buy low. It’s a sound strategy, but it’s not foolproof. Sometimes, what we perceive as a player’s “low” is just a stop on the way to lower depths.

In this article, I want to look at a player who might be considered to have a “buy low” window to determine if we should try to acquire this player, allow other league managers to acquire them, or even sell low if we already roster this player. Now, keep in mind, every player at a certain cost becomes a value, as the wise @Ciga_FF once told me on Twitter many moons ago. That said, not every player is a value at their current cost.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR PIT

Not every discount you’ll be able to get on a player is going to be of the bargain bin variety. Sometimes, the dip in cost is relatively small. But when discussing high-end players, even a small discount can be substantial.

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After entering the 2018 season with a positional ADP of 14.5 at the wide receiver position, Smith-Schuster lept up to the wide receiver 4.8 in 2019. That’s what having 111 catches, 1,426 receiving yards, and seven touchdown seasons where you score 18.6 fantasy points per game will do for your value, I suppose. Finishing as the WR9 in per-game scoring for the 2018 season at just 22 years old caused many fantasy analysts to pontificate that Smith-Schuster could be the overall WR1 in dynasty leagues.

Antonio Brown’s flameout and departure from Pittsburgh before the 2019 season let some of our minds run wild with the stats Smith-Schuster could put up in 2019. Instead, what followed was an injury-riddled season where he could only suit up for 12 games and hauled in just 582 receiving yards, in which he averaged just 9.4 fantasy points per game.

While you could blame some of the lack of production on being forced to play with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, the 2019 season did show that Smith-Schuster is not QB proof. There’s no shame in that — few wide receivers are QB proof — but for a player who we had WR1 hopes, it was at least disconcerting. His inability to produce as Batman after Brown’s departure also dampened some of our hopes and dreams for Smith-Schuster, lending credence to fears that he’s better suited for the Robin role on an offense.

Smith-Schuster’s lackluster 2019 led to him to fall to the WR8 in dynasty heading into this season. While that’s still in the upper echelon, it’s certainly not top five like he was the season prior.

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When “Too many mouths to feed” is an actual thing

With the addition of Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron, Diontae Johnson’s continued ascension has negatively impacted Smith-Schuster’s fantasy production in 2020. There are nine teams entering week 13 that have two top-24 WRs this season, including the Steelers. No team in the NFL, except the Steelers, supports three WRs within the top 28 in PPR scoring.

Entering week 13, Chase Claypool is the WR20 and Smith-Schuster checks in as the WR22. Diontae Johnson is the WR28, and if you exclude the two games he couldn’t finish due to injury, he averages 17.11 fantasy points per game, which would place him as the WR11 on the season. When factoring in Eric Ebron (TE12) and James Washington being integral parts of the Steelers offense, I find it hard to be too disappointed in Smith-Schuster’s WR22 production.

As of November DLF mock drafts, Smith-Schuster has fallen to the WR18. In less than two seasons he’s fallen from being a top-five wide receiver to a low-end WR2 in value.

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Smith-Schuster’s battle for targets is one of the most unique circumstances for any wide receiver in the NFL. He’s 18th in the league at the wide receiver position for receivers with 7.6 targets per game. While that’s a healthy amount, it’s a far cry from the 10.4 he averaged in 2018 when he finished as the WR9.

Moving on

Though there’s been nothing definitive, all indications are that the Steelers will likely allow Smith-Schuster to leave via free agency after this season. Typically it’s a bad thing when a wide receiver leaves an offense, but again, this is a unique situation. It’s hard to envision many (any?) other offenses in the league with the plethora of high-level receiving options that the Steelers boast.

If he were to land on the Rams, somehow — salary cap be damned, then his situation wouldn’t improve. But outside of that circumstance, anywhere Smith-Schuster ends up will be an improvement for his individual situation. Now is the time to buy (assuming you don’t have a trade deadline in your league ((you should not have trade deadlines in your leagues!)). I wouldn’t wait until the off-season when Smith-Schuster finds a new home and the narrative surrounding his outlook becomes positive.

In three full seasons, Smith-Schuster has finished as a WR1 and WR2 and is on pace to finish as a WR2 in his fourth season. Still just 24 years old, he does not turn 25 until next November, he hasn’t even approached his prime yet. Looking objectively at his career thus far, there is no reason to believe that Smith-Schuster won’t be a perennial WR2, if not WR1, for the next five years. Again, the “buy low” isn’t a massively discounted price, but it’s discounted enough to make it worthwhile.

As always, I turn to the DLF Dynasty Trade Finder app (probably my favorite tool on the entire site) to see real-world trades that pique my interest. Three of the first four trades listed are absolute slam dunks for me. Kenny Golladay is three years older than Smith-Schuster and hasn’t out-produced him or hasn’t played in about a month, and I could not hit accept fast enough if I was offered Smith-Schuster for Golladay. Allen Robinson is an excellent wide receiver, but again the age discount (and getting Michael Pittman to boot) makes the second trade an easy one for me to support. The final trade listed below is as easy as they come. Trading rookie picks for an established, young, star player like Smith-Schuster is a move I would make any day of the week.

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Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter @ShaneIsTheWorst if you ever feel like talking some fantasy. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong (or right) below in the comments.

shane manila