Smith-Schuster is a Great Plan B at WR
As free agency continues to pass, it is looking more and more likely that the Baltimore Ravens will address the wide receiver position quickly in this month’s NFL Draft.
That could happen as early as the 16th overall pick, where options such as Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis could come into to play. But if the Ravens go another route in the first round, finding a wide receiver in the second or third round will be paramount.
With four selections in the top 78 picks of the draft, it would be rather shocking if the Ravens didn’t add a wide receiver before the end of Day 2. But if they pass on a pass catcher in round one, who is the next best option?
Of the likely day two picks at wide receiver, USC’s Juju Smith-Schuster stands out as the premiere choice. The former USC standout could come off the board as soon as the early second round.
Knocked for his marginal speed and overall athleticism, Smith-Schuster may end up being a day-two gold mine for whichever team selects him.
A three-year star at USC, Smith-Schuster stood out as a freshman (54 catches, five touchdowns) and never let up, finishing his career with 213 receptions. At 6’1″, 215 pounds with 10 1/2″ hands, Smith-Schuster has the ideal build to be a true outside receiver in the NFL.
Let’s take a look at what makes Smith-Schuster such an intriguing prospect, and why he could be an impact player in Baltimore.
What the Ravens need on offense is a physical receiver who can high point the ball downfield and in traffic. After Williams, Smith-Schuster may be the next best receiver in the draft in this regard.
Finding an impact receiver comes down to selecting a player who best fits quarterback Joe Flacco‘s strengths. Having speedsters such as Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman helps, but having pass catchers who are not afraid to go up and grab the ball is just as desirable.
What Smith-Schuster lacks in downfield speed, he makes up for in downfield catch ability in coverage.
Exceptional speed is only needed if a receiver cannot haul the ball in, in tight coverage. As seen through the likes of Anquan Boldin and others in Baltimore, a catch is a catch whether it is in the open field or while draped by a defender in coverage.
For Smith-Schuster, however, he not only succeeds in the downfield dependability game, but also in short-yardage effectiveness. He creates space in the short-to-intermediate game with smooth route running and explosiveness.
Smith-Schuster would settle in well in this regard opposite Wallace, who proved himself in 2016 as a highly effective short-yardage player. Having a player with such skill on each side of the field opens up possibilities for Flacco on 3rd-and-4 or 4th-and-2 situations.
Route-running ability and balance can also help counteract average speed downfield. Smith-Schuster’s ability as a route runner helps him just as much as speed would.
In this year’s draft class, Smith-Schuster is among the best (again, up there with Williams) when it comes to vision and ball tracking downfield.
Overall, the general consensus seems to be that Smith-Schuster is in the next tier of receiver prospects after Williams, Davis and Washington’s John Ross. Given that expectation of the former USC standout’s draft status, he very well may be one of the day-two steals of this draft.
Plus, at just 20 years old and not turning 21 until November, Smith-Schuster is the youngest notable receiver prospect in the draft, offering even more room for growth.
If the Ravens opt for a player at a position other than wide receiver in round one, Smith-Schuster would be the best bet as a backup plan for their next selection.