At the risk of rebranding myself as one of those fantasy analysts who overreact to every training camp highlight that hits the Twitter feed, um, well ... OMG WILL YOU PLEASE JUST LOOK AT WHAT JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER IS DOING IN CAMP OMG OMG!
Incredible diving catch by JuJu Smith-Schuster pic.twitter.com/ImqTVJw0rF
— KC Sports Network (@KCSportsNetwork) July 27, 2022
Here's further evidence of Smith-Schuster getting deep and making plays, which basically never happened for him in recent years in Pittsburgh:
— KC Sports Network (@KCSportsNetwork) July 28, 2022
He's also working the short and intermediate areas, snagging whatever Patrick Mahomes throws his way:
— Chiefs Core (@ChiefsCore) July 27, 2022
Wherever you had him slotted in the initial version of your draft cheat sheet, it was probably too low. The case for aggressively drafting Smith-Schuster is easily made. It begins, of course, with opportunity.
Hundreds of targets are up for grabs in Kansas City
Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson have all relocated, leaving a total of 260 vacated wide receiver targets. We don't need to choose a specific individual winner from the current group of pass-catchers in KC; it's easy to imagine a scenario in which JuJu, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman all see enough opportunities to maintain season-long viability in fantasy while Travis Kelce draws his usual 130-plus targets. It's also entirely reasonable to expect 120 or more chances for Smith-Schuster. And it's not just the quantity of targets available to him that should excite you, but also the quality.
Mahomes is just a galactically large upgrade for JuJu
With all due respect to Ben Roethlisberger — a no-doubt inner-circle Hall of Fame talent — he enjoyed his last season of high-level play back in 2018. In each of the past two years, he was like a zombified version of vintage Big Ben. He ranked next-to-last in intended air yards per target last season (6.7), just a tick ahead of Jared Goff. He'd averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt since 2019, well off his career rate of 7.6.
Mahomes, of course, possesses unlimited arm strength and uncommon creativity. He's essentially a sorcerer playing quarterback. The man has played at an MVP level since taking the controls in Kansas City, averaging 301.4 passing yards per game and 8.1 per attempt. This is simply a staggering upgrade for Smith-Schuster. We are not going to see another 2020-style season from him in which nearly all his targets are at or near the line of scrimmage.
Smith-Schuster is still a young player who's already produced a monster season
It may feel as if JuJu is some aging vet entering the A.J. Green phase of his career, but, in fact, he's still only 25. He's two years younger than MVS and just one year older than Hardman. He's a year younger than Mahomes. The Chicago Bears just drafted a receiver who's only 170 days younger than JuJu.
We're actually talking about a young dude.
Let's also please recall that in Roethlisberger's last productive season, Smith-Schuster was almost unfair. He caught 111 balls for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, at age 22, comfortably finishing among the top-10 fantasy receivers in any format. We know it's within JuJu's range of outcomes because it actually happened. A 25-year-old's talent doesn't simply disappear.
Smith-Schuster won't even need to approach the level of production he reached in his best season in order to justify his 2022 fantasy ADP. If JuJu can simply remain healthy and available, Mahomes is going to return him to every-week starting status.