NFL Prop Bet - JuJu Smith-Schuster
It’s beginning to look more and more likely that the NFL season will be played in full. Precautions and changes, such as no fans, will happen, but it looks as if each team will play 16 games, allowing us to comfortably place season-long prop bets.
The only necessity for FanDuel’s season-long prop bets to take place is that teams must play a full 16 game regular season. These bets can allow us to take away week-to-week variance, as they can produce in 16 games rather than 1. We can take advantage of players that are undervalued heading into the season, specifically JuJu Smith-Schuster.
It wasn’t long ago that Smith-Schuster was seen as the best wide receiver prospect in terms of fantasy in the NFL. His value bottomed out last season, though, as he dealt with injuries, inconsistent quarterback play, lower efficiency throughout the season.
Smith-Schuster broke onto the scene as a 21-year-old rookie in 2017. He played only 63.8% of offensive snaps in 14 games (7 starts) for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He posted 58 receptions for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns on 79 targets as a rookie. Smith-Schuster played 80% or more of the snaps in his last 7 games in 2017, though, totaling 41 receptions for 686 yards and 4 touchdowns. Extrapolating his averages over 16 games equates to a 94/1,568/9 line on 121 targets.
Smith-Schuster continued his momentum throughout the 2018 season. He played 86% of Pittsburgh’s snaps over 16 games (13 starts). He turned those snaps into 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and 7 touchdowns on 166 targets. This was Smith-Schuster’s true breakout at only 22 years old, making him arguably the best young wide receiver in the NFL.
The Steelers offense busted in 2019 because of a multitude of injuries. Smith-Schuster played only 57.1% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps. He played in 12 games, posting 42 receptions with 552 yards and 3 touchdowns on 70 targets.
Smith-Schuster’s injuries weren’t his only issue, though. Ben Roethlisberger was injured in the Steelers’ second game, playing only 95 snaps in 2019. In the games both men played, Smith-Schuster saw 16 targets, recording 11 receptions for 162 yards. This extrapolates to 88 receptions for 1,296 yards on 128 targets over 16 games.
Instead, Smith-Schuster played the majority of his snaps with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. That duo combined for roughly a 62% completion percentage to go along with less than 6.5 yards per attempt. These averages are well below Roethlisberger’s career averages of 64.3% and 7.8. It’s far from surprising that Smith-Schuster struggled in 2019.
There are a number of concerns surrounding Smith-Schuster’s 2020 production, as there are a number of unknowns heading into the season.
Roethlisberger is coming off of major surgery. He struggled in only two games last season, and it’s fair to question if he will return to the dominant quarterback he previously was in 2020.
Roethlisberger struggled against the New England Patriots in his first game last season. He only played 50% of the snaps in his second game against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s tough to fault his struggles in 2019, though, as New England featured one of the best secondary’s in NFL history last season.
Regardless of what quarterback Roethlisberger is, it’s tough to imagine him playing worse than the duo of Rudolph and Hodges last season.
Pittsburgh saw their defense step up in a major way in 2019. They could continue to focus heavily on defense, allowing their offense to focus on a slower pace while riding their group of running backs.
From 2006 through 2018, Roethlisberger averaged 556 pass attempts per season [assuming 16 games]. In his last healthy season, he saw a ridiculous 675 pass attempts, allowing Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown to see 166 and 168 targets, respectively.
It’s unlikely Roethlisberger sees 600+ pass attempts in 2020 because of Pittsburgh’s defense, but the Steelers totaled 510 pass attempts with a pair of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Smith-Schuster will likely be working as the WR1 this season, and it’d be shocking if Pittsburgh doesn’t throw the ball 500+ times this season.
Overall, this is the biggest concern, but there’s very little reason to be concerned about Smith-Schuster’s volume.
The Steelers have plenty of mouths to feed on offense. Smith-Schuster will likely be the WR1 out of the slot with Diontae Johnson continuing to progress. James Washington flashed at times last season, as well. The team brought in Eric Ebron to pair with Vance McDonald at tight end while also having multiple running backs that can contribute to their passing attack.
Competition is nothing new for Smith-Schuster, though. In 2018, Pittsburgh’s running backs combined for 104 targets. Their tight ends combined for 119 targets. Their wide receivers, excluding Smith-Schuster, combined for 279 targets all while Smith-Schuster saw 166.
Assuming Pittsburgh doesn’t throw the ball 600+ times this season, everyone’s numbers could decline. The key for Smith-Schuster is that Pittsburgh doesn’t have anyone like Brown that will command 168 targets in a season. There can be a case made that the offensive weapons for Pittsburgh could help open the field for Smith-Schuster to find success.
Smith-Schuster is the ultimate buy-low option. He saw virtually every obstacle in 2019, forcing his value to plummet when he couldn’t overcome injuries and poor quarterback play.
He’s due for a bounce-back season, though, and Roethlisberger will be returning to action. Regardless of the quarterback’s potential struggles, he’ll be a clear upgrade over Rudolph and Hodges.
Smith-Schuster will be a focal point of the Pittsburgh offense. He’s averaging 12.9 yards per reception over his last 2 seasons, meaning he would need 86 receptions to exceed 1,100 yards in 2020. After posting 111 receptions in his last healthy season with Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster makes an elite bet on the over.
Bet 1.12 units on JuJu Smith-Schuster OVER 1,099.5 yards (-112) to win 1 unit