We were all more than a little surprised when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected a wide receiver in the second round of the draft. Martavis Bryant had just been tentatively reinstated by the league, and that fact seemingly made the position set for the team. Almost two months later, the log jam at receiver is even more evident than it was on draft night. The only path to playing time for Schuster will be to unseat Eli Rogers as the slot receiver. The competition between these two should be the most interesting of all as the preseason unfolds.
Rogers had a breakout year in 2016. He had 48 receptions for nearly 600 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first season in the NFL. That’s a pretty remarkable stat line for a rookie receiver playing the very complicated slot position. There were flashes where Rogers looked somewhat AB like in his route running and elusiveness. He did this while playing through various foot injuries that caused him to miss some time during last season. In a recent article with Jeremy Fowler, Rogers said “I feel five steps faster” now that he is completely healthy. If he is indeed significantly faster, it would appear the starting slot job would be hard to take away from the second year player. It wasn’t all positive news for Rogers in 2016 though. Mike Tomlin benched the rookie receiver for one game last season for apparently being late for meetings on more than one occasion. While the team never publicly said why Rogers was sat, rumors persisted of his lack of work ethic and attitude.
Enter JuJu Smith Schuster, a player known for his grit and determination during his time at USC. He’s almost the polar opposite of Eli Rogers. At 6-2, 220 lbs, Schuster is a much bigger man then his rival at the slot position. Schuster’s style has been compared to Steeler’s legend Hines Ward. The talented receiver had over 900 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season at USC. All that, and the fact that the Steelers expect zero trouble from this rookie and you start to see why they used a high draft pick on him.
So who comes out on top in this competition? Well it seems it’s all in Eli Rogers hands at this point. Being healthy, and having a year’s experience playing with Ben Roethlisberger give Rogers a big advantage going in. If he can show that his transgressions are a thing of the past, it’s his job to lose. Smith-Schuster can be used at all wide receiver positions, not just in the slot. The Steelers can afford to be patient with him for the upcoming season. Eli Rogers needs to take the threat to his job seriously though, it’s not too far of a stretch for him to be on the outside looking in if he continues his behavior from last season.