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As of mid-July, Juju Smith-Schuster carried an ADP of WR19. Fantasy owners are already baking in an increase in production in his second season. JuJu is a good receiver. He definitely belongs in the NFL and he's a worthy sidekick to Antonio Brown. But how exactly is he reaching mid WR2 numbers?

Last season, JuJu posted a 73.4% catch rate, finishing with 58 receptions on 79 targets with seven touchdowns. How much better can he really get?

He will undoubtedly be drafted within the first few rounds of most fantasy leagues, but he may not deliver a solid return on investment. Let's figure out why.

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Great Player, Bad Fantasy Value

In order to figure this out, let's analyze Ben Roethlisberger's pass volume to determine what kind of target share JuJu can reasonably expect. In 2017, Roethlisberger and Landry Jones combined to attempt 589 passes. Out of those 589 passes, 163 of them went in AB's direction and 106 of them went in Le'Veon Bell's direction. Also bear in mind, AB only played 13.5 games and JuJu saw a significant target bump in the two games Brown missed. Steelers TEs combined for 106 targets and the non-AB WRs saw 199 targets.

In 2018, we can reasonably expect Brown to play a full season and push 180 targets. The TE should easily see about 100 targets again, which includes Vance McDonald, rookie Jaylen Samuels, and the other miscellaneous pass catchers. Bell is going to eclipse 100 targets again. That leaves roughly 200 targets for the rest of the team. The Steelers added James Washington via the draft and we can expect the fourth WR to see a handful of targets as well. How many can we really project for JuJu? I have a hard time seeing him surpassing 90-100 targets.

A helpful exercise is to look back at a previous year that could parallel 2018 quite well. I've chosen to go with 2013. That season, Roethlisberger attempted 584 passes. 167 went to Brown, about 100 went to the TEs and 75 to the RBs. The Steelers WR2, Emmanuel Sanders, saw 113 targets that season, while their WR3, Jerricho Cotchery, saw 76 targets. Sanders' numbers that season were 67-740-6.

Even assuming JuJu is better than Sanders and will command 100 targets, can we really expect a catch rate above 70% again? His 2017 catch rate was fifth in the league. I believe a decline is a near certainty, especially given the increase in volume. Therefore, even if JuJu's target count goes up from 79 to around 100, I have a difficult time envisioning his receptions going up very much. He's probably looking at a 60-65 catch season. Remember, this guy is playing with the best WR in the NFL and arguably the best RB in the NFL. They are going to command touches and targets ahead of JuJu every time. I would project JuJu for something like a 60-950-6 line. That's very good. It's fantasy viable. Using 2017 average PPR point-per-game stats, that would also put JuJu right around the WR30.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is being drafted at his ceiling and offers no real room for a positive return on investment. Combine his expected drop in efficiency with pressure from James Washington and potentially Jaylen Samuels for targets as well as the ascension of Vance McDonald, unless you're baking in another Antonio Brown injury, JuJu is almost sure to disappoint fantasy owners selecting him in the fourth round.

 

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