A pair of Pittsburgh Steelers explosive offensive players are heading into their contract year and could be looking to join new teams in 2021. In a Q&A session with Steelers fans, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic said that he believes it is “not likely” that the team re-signs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner.
More precisely, when asked about the potential of Pittsburgh re-signing the players, Bouchette said “no” in regards to Conner and “not likely” regarding Smith-Schuster.
Bouchette added that Conner is expected to receive fewer touches in 2020, presumably in a fashion that allows Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. to receive more action in preparation for increased roles in 2021. Pittsburgh also drafted running back Anthony McFarland this year.
Smith-Schuster, 23, was a Pro Bowler in 2018 despite playing in a No. 2 role behind Antonio Brown. That year, he posted 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on 111 targets while starting in 13 games (16 appearances). He came back down to earth in 2019, catching 42 passes for 552 yards and three scores despite being the No. 1 wideout. While some would argue that he struggled due to to inconsistency at quarterback, the argument can be flipped around in a way that suggests a true star wideout would be able to perform no matter who his quarterback is.
Behind Smith-Schuster on the depth chart are James Washington and Diontae Johnson, two fellow young receivers who showed flashes of excellence last season, as well as rookie Chase Claypool.
As for Conner, he also emerged as a star during 2018 when Le’Veon Bell was holding out. Much like Smith-Schuster, Conner was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2018 but regressed in 2019. In 13 games (12 starts), he had 215 rushes for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground plus an additional 55 catchers for 497 yards and a score through the air. In 2019, however, he had just 150 total touches while accumulating 715 scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns.
Both Smith-Schuster and Conner could have bounce-back seasons if Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, but the fan favorites will likely be showcasing their talents in 2020 with the purpose of finding a new team come 2021.