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JuJu Smith-Schuster is ready to bring his good vibes to New England.
Less than a day after receiver Jakobi Meyers ran an out route to Las Vegas for a bag of money (and a reunion with former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels), the Patriots secured Smith-Schuster’s services for similar riches: $33 million for three seasons.
The contract terms are not the only thing Meyers and Smith-Schuster have in common. Both are 26. Both are accomplished slot receivers who can dance outside the numbers on occasion to exploit favorable matchups. Both are consistent: If the ball is in their vicinity, they’ll catch it.
So, why Smith-Schuster?
The long and short of it is what the 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pounder can do after he secures the package: He can turn a short gain into a long one.
Smith-Schuster is an elite yards-after-catch guy, and that’s an area where the Patriots offense needed to improve. Targeting Smith-Schuster is a clear indication that this will be a priority in Bill O’Brien’s attack.
As reliable as Meyers was in a lot of areas, making yards on his own by making would-be tacklers miss was not one in which he excelled.
Over his six-year career, Smith-Schuster has averaged 5.4 yards after the catch, which is 2 yards more than Meyers has averaged in his four seasons.
In 2022, his lone season in Kansas City, Smith-Schuster was at his elusive best working with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is a master at ball placement.
According to Next Gen Stats, Smith-Schuster was fifth in the NFL in yards after the catch over expected, a metric that factors in how likely a pass catcher is to gain yards based on scheme and proximity to defenders. The top four in that category? Miami’s Jaylen Waddle, Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown, Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase, and San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel.
Like Meyers, Smith-Schuster is bigger than your prototypical slot receiver (think Troy Brown, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman) who can free himself by running precise routes (think digs and crossers). He also will play with power, which helps him both shed blockers and block second- and third-level defenders.
In 2019, Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered this scouting report when asked about Smith-Schuster, who was then with the Steelers.
“He’s instinctive, catches the ball well,” the coach said. “He’s got good size, smart. They move him around.”
It seems logical that O’Brien will move Smith-Schuster around like a chess piece, lining him up both inside and outside the numbers to exploit favorable matchups and accentuate schemes.
The acquisition of Smith-Schuster doesn’t preclude the Patriots from making additional moves to improve a receiver room that also includes DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Tyquan Thornton.
Pass catchers (at both receiver and tight end) will be a priority in the draft if the Patriots can’t improve the positions during the second and third waves of free agency.
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Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.