Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over/undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some the pros and cons on where those players are regarded in fantasy circles through these long days of summer leading into the actual starts of training camps and actionable news. Earlier this week, we took a look into Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Week 1 Age: 24.8
Contract: Signed through 2021
Using the Dynasty ADP app available at RotoViz, we have the rise of one of the most precocious wide receivers to enter the league beginning to dwindle following last season. Since the start of the new offseason, Smith-Schuster has been drafted on average of 62.6 overall and the WR25. At this time, a year ago, he was being selected at 25.2 overall and the WR7 after being drafted as the WR6 at 14.9 overall following his 2018 WR1 campaign.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Career Stats
After Smith-Schuster’s 111-1,426-7 season on 166 targets in 2018, Antonio Brown was traded to the Raiders and he was set to carry the passing game. There was an immediate question on how Smith-Schuster would thrive as the focal point of a team’s passing game with Brown no longer on the team, but the 2019 season provided a cloudy picture on Smith-Schuster as not only did he play the season with multiple ailments, but Ben Roethlisberger was also injured in the second game of the season, forcing the Steelers to get bottom-dwelling production from Delvin Hodges and Mason Rudolph.
At the end of the day, Smith-Schuster turned in a down 42-552-3 line in 12 games during 2019 and fantasy gamers were largely willing to stay on the optimistic side of the coin since Big Ben was returning in 2020.
Smith-Schuster bounced back with 97 receptions this past season (sixth among wideouts) and 8.0 targets per game (15th). The downside is that he turned all those receptions into just 831 yards as he averaged a career-low 8.6 yards per catch. He also turned in a career-low 6.5 yards per target, a figure that has declined each season in the league.
Smith-Schuster averaged 1.27 yards per Pittsburgh pass attempt, trailing both teammates Diontae Johnson (1.41 yards) and Chase Claypool (1.33 yards).
The saving element to Smith-Schuster’s season was he scored a career-high nine touchdowns on a team-high 10 end zone targets.
The biggest thorn for Smith-Schuster was how he was utilized in 2020 compared to his previous career usage. As the Pittsburgh offense and passing game in particular last season manifested into a quagmire of shallow, quick passes as the season progressed, Smith-Schuster was relegated to a puddle jumping role in the offense.
Smith-Schuster’s Career Usage
|Year||Slot %||aDOT||% Deep Tgt|
One of these is not like the others. As we covered a year ago, the type of targets a wide receiver receives matters. Outside of being used near the end zone, Smith-Shuster was forced to live on a diet of the worst types of targets for fantasy. Smith-Schuster ran a career-high 84.9% of his routes from the slot paired with a career-low depth of target of just 6.0 yards. The only wide receivers with a lower depth of target in 2020 were Lynn Bowden (4.8 yards), Isaiah Wright (4.5 yards), Isaiah McKenzie (4.4 yards), and Deebo Samuel (2.2 yards).
After receiving roughly 20% of his targets per season on throws over 15 yards downfield, Smith-Shuster had just 12 such targets all of 2020, which was tied for 90th in the league. For some added context, those 12 downfield targets were the same number as Tyler Eifert in 2020 and one fewer than his teammate Eric Ebron.
The positive news is that the offensive display the Steelers closed the 2020 season with warranted significant changes and they acted. The organization fired offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and promoted Matt Canada from quarterbacks coach to helm the offense. While rookie running back Najee Harris has come and stated that Canada’s new offense resembles a lot of what Steve Sarkisian was utilizing at Alabama, the real comments we care about pertaining to what we just ran through was that Smith-Schuster went on Adam Schefter’s podcast last week and stated that he going to be back to playing more outside for the 2021 season.
Now, that is vague commentary on specific usage and we should still anticipate Smith-Schuster to primarily play inside this season, but as noted above, even reducing his slot use down to roughly two-thirds of his routes can provide him more opportunities to win downfield and get some added targets that carry some cholesterol for fantasy points.
Smith-Schuster still needs to warrant those targets, however. Matt Harmon covered him for his reception perception series and Smith-Schuster has been in the 24th percentile or lower in success rate versus man coverage and 14th percentile in press coverage in all four of his NFL seasons as opposed to 72nd percentile or higher versus zone.
All things said and done, when analyzing Smith-Schuster, the 2018 season is looking like an outlier on his full body of work in a similar fashion to the 2014 Randall Cobb season that we kept chasing. His potential as an alpha wide receiver in an offense based solely on his stat lines over his first two seasons was oversold when he is more in the mold of a Jarvis Landry or Cooper Kupp in terms of where he wins, how he is utilized and how he will ultimately accrue fantasy production. On a weekly basis, he is more likely to be in the WR2-WR3 area than a WR1.
There is nothing wrong with that, either. Not every player is week winner on their own merit and a player in the mold of Landry and Kupp is more than viable for fantasy and could wind up potentially undervalued since he can carry a tangible floor with upside we have already seen. Smith-Schuster also still does not turn 25 years old until this November, giving him a runway for several seasons of production remaining for your roster. He is even younger than his teammate Diontae Johnson, despite playing two more NFL seasons.
The only remaining touching point for Smith-Schuster — where does his environment go beyond the 2021 season?
Signing only a one-year deal and apparently turning down a chance to play with the Chiefs this offseason, Smith-Schuster will be an unrestricted free agent again next offseason. We also do not know if this is it for Big Ben, even if he does stay in Pittsburgh long-term. The past two seasons attached to average and bottom-rung quarterback play have done Smith-Schuster no favors, but he can also definitely recoup value in the upcoming season for his next opportunity in free agency.
Bringing this home, in dynasty, every player has potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league in which he is valued per manager.
I see his current Dynasty pricing more than fair, and I am slightly higher than the field at WR22. I believe last season was a bottom out on his output per target, the volume still exists, and there is value in his floor paired with where he is on the age spectrum, even if his early-career stat lines misled gamers that he was an alpha fantasy producer and he fails to tap into that ceiling again.
Smith-Schuster is a proven touchdown scorer, scoring at least seven times in three of his first four seasons, which can give him an extra out in down games that are not anchored by the volume he may need over the long haul. That said, I do not believe that Smith-Schuster also raises his future Dynasty ADP a great deal and will settle in the WR20-WR30 range for this apex stretch of his career over the next few seasons.
If I can buy near current market value, I want to pursue that. I would absolutely move someone such as David Montgomery or Chris Carson for him if I could or even buy years back with someone such as Keenan Allen, who is valued about a round higher at this time in startups.
But if another team in my league still sees the potential for an alpha WR1 or I can get another wideout that I view as having a better path to potentially being a fantasy WR1, then I want to move him. Someone such as Jerry Jeudy or his other teammate, Chase Claypool.
Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as a guideline pending which side you fall on. On nearly all of these I would prefer the Smith-Schuster side easily outside of the tight ends and Claypool, with a conversation to be had on either rookie.
Equal 2020 Rookie Pick Value: Mid-to-late First (1.07-1.09)
Equal RB Value Targets: David Montgomery, Chris Carson, Kareem Hunt
Equal WR Value Targets: Courtland Sutton, Chase Claypool, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, D.J. Chark
Equal TE Value Targets: T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews