Out since Week 5 with a shoulder injury, JuJu Smith-Schuster is now back at Steelers practice ahead of their playoff opener. The Steelers designated the fifth-year wideout to return from IR on Thursday.
With Smith-Schuster’s shoulder issue deemed season-ending three months ago, this is certainly an interesting development. A practice return does not necessarily mean he will play against the Chiefs; Mike Tomlin was noncommittal on that subject. JuJu coming back would obviously help the Steelers as big underdogs in Round 1.
Smith-Schuster is believed to be healthy, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). However, the Steelers are not yet banking on him to be back for Sunday night’s game. JuJu has not experienced any issues in two practices this week, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link), pointing to an activation ahead of Saturday’s deadline.
Smith-Schuster passed on offers to sign with the Chiefs and Ravens last year, preferring his familiar Steelers setup as an avenue to a potentially more lucrative free agency payday. This injury did not help Smith-Schuster’s quest for a better market in 2022, when the cap spike should help many UFAs cash in after last year’s COVID-19-induced cap reduction. Interest should still come JuJu’s way in March, but the former second-rounder’s stock has dipped since his 1,426-yard season alongside Antonio Brown in 2018.
Amid Ben Roethlisberger‘s decline, the Steelers rank 15th in passing. Diontae Johnson notched his first 1,000-yard season, while Chase Claypool ended the regular season with 860 receiving yards. Pat Freiermuth has become a key target as a rookie. Those three are signed beyond this season. James Washington, whom the Steelers activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, joins Smith-Schuster as a free agent-to-be.