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NFL free agency 2023: Who is new Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster?

Smith-Schuster signed a reported three-year deal with New England.

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The New England Patriots made their first true splash of NFL free agency, reportedly signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a three-year contract. After reportedly sniffing around the wide receiver market in multiple ways, the Patriots land the 26-year old a day after losing Jakobi Meyers.

With Juju now headed to Foxboro, let’s take a closer look at him and what he adds to the equation.

Hard facts

Name: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Position: Wide receiver

Opening day age: 26

Size: 6-foot-1, 215 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2025 (2026 UFA)

Experience

Smith-Schuster’s career got off to a strong start with the Pittsburgh Steelers after the club selected him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. JuJu posted 917 yards and nine touchdowns his rookie season before exploding for 1,426 yards and seven more touchdowns on 111 receptions during his sophomore campaign.

The next three years in Pittsburgh did not go as great, as Smith-Schuster was limited to just over 1,500 combine yards in 33 games. As a free agent in 2022, he signed an incentive-laden one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith-Schuster’s bet on himself paid off as he hauled in 78 passes from Patrick Mahomes for 933 yards en route to a Super Bowl championship.

Patriots preview

What is his projected role in New England? Smith-Schuster projects as an immediate replacement for Jakobi Meyers. At 6-foot-1, JuJu is a bigger slot option like Meyers but possesses much better quickness and has more playmaking ability. He averaged 5.9 yards per reception after the catch and forced nine missed tackles as a ball carrier last season, whereas Meyers averaged just 3.6 yards after the catch and forced two missed tackles (stats via PFF).

Does he have positional versatility? While he projects as a slot replacement for Meyers, Smith-Schuster also has the ability to line up outside as an “X” receiver as well. Last year in Kansas City, he aligned out wide on nearly 60 percent of his snaps. JuJu is a physical receiver at the catch point where he caught seven of his 15 contested targets last season.

What is his special teams value? Outside of his rookie season - where he was a constant on Pittsburgh’s kick return unit and had nine kick returns - Smith-Schuster rarely plays special teams. He should not be considered as a special teams contributor in New England.

What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? The terms of Smith-Schuster’s deal was reported as a three-year, $33 million contract - the same numbers of Jakobi Meyers’ deal with Las Vegas. ESPN’s Adam Schefter added that $22.5 million will be earned over the first two years of the deal. While not enough details are yet known to see what kind of cap hit Smith-Schuster will carry on a year-to-year basis, it likely won't be enough to prevent New England from making another impact move - perhaps at wide receiver.

What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Based off where New England prefers to play Smith-Schuster within their offense, it could impact what kind of receiver they target in the draft. Most of the top options in this years class are slot receivers, but there are some enticing outside options - such as TCU’s Quentin Johnston - they could consider if they prefer JuJu inside.

One-sentence verdict: After losing Jakobi Meyers, New England went out and upgraded with a player who possesses many of the same traits but is more dynamic.

Instant grade: B+

Poll

How would you grade the Patriots signing WR JuJu Smith-Schuster?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    A
    (2235 votes)
  • 47%
    B
    (2649 votes)
  • 9%
    C
    (554 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (109 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (77 votes)
5624 votes total Vote Now