Earlier this year, the New England Patriots had a decision to make on their most productive pass catcher of the previous three seasons: Keep wide receiver Jakobi Meyers on a market-rate deal, or let him leave in free agency?
The Patriots decided to go the latter route, and to bring in former second-round draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster as a replacement.
Both players ended up signing similar deals: Smith-Schuster joined New England on a three-year, $25.5 million contract; Meyers moved to the Las Vegas Raiders via a three-year, $33 million pact. The two were also given $16 million in full guarantees each.
Five weeks into the season, the Raiders probably feel better than the Patriots about their return on investment.
Whereas Smith-Schuster has played a comparatively marginal role in a Patriots offense that has had all sorts of issues so far in 2023, Meyers picked up right where he left off upon departing New England. A look at their respective numbers through the first five games of the season confirms this:
JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Jakobi Meyers: Weeks 1-5
As can be seen, Meyers is outperforming Smith-Schuster in virtually every important metric both from a volume and an efficiency perspective. As always, though, context matters as well.
Meyers, for example, is benefitting from having a bona fide A-tier wide receiver (Davante Adams) draw plenty of the defensive attention away from him — something Smith-Schuster does not have. The Patriots passing game as a whole has also been significantly less productive than the Raiders’, stemming in large part from insufficiencies at quarterback and along the offensive line.
Smith-Schuster’s opportunities, as a result of all that, have been limited. Add the fact that the team decided to play it safe with his recovery from a knee injury suffered last season, and you can see why he has not come close Meyers’ production.
All that being said, he has not performed as well as his predecessor even when getting the opportunity. The big selling point for Smith-Schuster over Meyers — yards-after-catch ability — has also not been a major factor so far, with both averaging 2.4 post-reception yards. He also has dropped a pair of passes, same as Meyers but on fewer targets.
The story is more complex than “JuJu bad, Jakobi good” but the bottom line remains the same nonetheless. The Patriots’ decision to effectively swap Meyers for Smith-Schuster was curious at the time, has not paid off so far, and — for reasons partially beyond the wideout’s control — is looking worse by the week.
Obviously, the upcoming game between the Patriots and Raiders would present a perfect opportunity to change the early-season narrative. However, with Smith-Schuster leaving Sunday’s contest against the New Orleans Saints due to a head injury, there is no guarantee he will be able to suit up against Meyers and company in Week 6.
The Patriots, meanwhile, will have a front-row seat to watch their former WR1 go to work.