Patriots make a splash by signing free agent WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

Smith-Schuster won Super Bowl LVII with Kansas City last season in a rebound year. The former Steelers draft pick was second on the team behind superstar tight end Travis Kelce in targets (101), receptions (78) and receiving yards (933) in a campaign that looks more in his first four seasons in Pittsburgh than an injury. plagued by 2021.

After the Patriots lost top wide Jakobi Meyers to the Raiders this week, the 26-year-old is a clear replacement for Meyers with a similar skill set. The former Pro Bowler boasts above-average quickness for a 6-foot-1 receiver, shows strong hands and catch-point physicality, and runs similar routes with inside-out alignment versatility.

While there’s certainly some overlap in how new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien deploys Smith-Schuster, there are a few areas where JuJu offers more upside than Meyers.

Smith-Schuster and Meyers are often referred to as big slot machine receivers, but the Pats’ newest wide receiver offers more flexibility to play him on the outside. Last season, Smith-Schuster went nearly 60% of his hauls, catching 49 passes for 544 yards.

Smith-Schuster can line up at the “X” receiver position and win contested strikes, carrying seven of his 15 contested targets. Primarily, the Chiefs were throwing jump balls at him on back-and-forths or having him use his body control and feel the sideline on back-shoulder fades.

Along with offering a little more on the outside, Smith-Schuster is an improvement over Meyers in racking up yards after the catch. He averaged 5.9 yards after the catch and forced nine missed tackles as a ball carrier in 2022. By comparison, Meyers had 3.6 yards after the catch per reception and forced just two missed tackles, by PFF.

It remains to be seen whether or not Smith-Schuster can grab the offense, develop a comparable repertoire with quarterback Mac Jones and be as consistent as Meyers has been in his four seasons in New England.

However, you can see why the Patriots would view Smith-Schuster as a more dynamic playmaker while retaining the chain movement and safety coverage characteristics that Meyers brought to the offense.

New England needs to aggressively pursue wide receiver upgrades this offseason, especially after Meyers left for Las Vegas, and is beginning to do so with this move.

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