John "JuJu" Smith-Schuster (he officially changed his last name to honor his stepfather) took the mantle of the next great Trojan receiver immediately upon arriving on campus. A 12-game starter and second-team All-Pac-12 all-purpose selection, Smith-Schuster caught 54 passes for 724 yards and five scores, and also returned kicks for USC as a true freshman. He and quarterback Cody Kessler (2016 third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns) continued their partnership in his sophomore year, helping him attain first-team all-conference and second-team Associated Press All-American honors (89-1,454-10). Smith-Schuster has fought through injuries throughout the past few years, missing time in his senior year of high school, breaking his hand in 2015 (though he didn't miss action), and injuring his back during his junior year. That injury lowered his numbers (70-914, 10 scores), though he still received second-team all-conference recognition from league coaches.
Outstanding size and a very available target. Shows no concern working over the middle. Known for his competitive spirit and alpha demeanor. Hyper-aware of defenders around him in space. Works back to the ball as aggressively as he needs to when defenders are attempting to ball-hawk. Searches and sinks into the optimal openings against zone coverage. Plays to his size and has plus route strength. Shows effective uses of frame to shield cornerbacks from contested catches. Plucks it way out front of his body with strong, confident hands. Tremendous ball tracker with ability to search, find and follow the pass in over his shoulder. Has body control to twist and contort in mid-air to pull the throw in. Plays with sideline awareness and consistently drops feet in-bounds on boundary catches. Rugged, aggressive runner after the catch with a stiff-arm to hurt feelings.. Has field vision after catch for maximum YAC yardage. Reliable blocker who can help spring a big run. Able to sustain blocks with power.
Needs to get better at freeing himself at the break point of his routes. Doesn't seem to get cornerbacks tilting with his routes. Missing the sudden acceleration out of his cuts to generate separation and an easy throwing window. Contested catches will have to be a big part of his future. Rarely shows a second gear to run under the deep throws. Will coast when turning to find deep ball rather than maintaining play speed. Off-man corners may squat on underneath routes if they don't fear his vertical speed. Can be slow to release against press coverage. Plays with a delayed open to the quarterback on his comeback routes. Will need to pay better attention to his angles as a blocker. Eight of his ten touchdowns this season came in three games.
Sources Tell Us
"He has a mom and stepdad who keep him grounded. His passion and enthusiasm are second to none and he absolutely loves football. He came in as a safety and probably could have gone pro as a safety as well if he had stayed there." - Former USC assistant coach
Smith-Schuster will get dinged for his lack of speed and separation but he reminds me of Anquan Boldin with his strong hands, physical approach and ability to win the combat catches. JuJu is missing some of the speed traits teams want from their WR1, but he could become a high-volume, possession target with the size tto win some 50/50 throws down the field. Teams who have a speed merchant at one spot would be wise to take a look at Smith-Schuster as a physical counterpart.