One day after losing Jakobi Meyers to the Raiders on a 3-year, $33 million deal, the Patriots have signed Super Bowl champion JuJu Smith-Schuster to his own 3-year, $33 million deal. Though this seems like a 1-to-1 swap on the surface, there are key differences between the players and contracts.
So let’s get the math out of the way first. New England offered Smith-Schuster 16 million dollars guaranteed, compared to Meyers’ more lucrative 21 million guaranteed from Vegas, implying they wanted a cheaper option for the role they had in mind for each player than what Meyers earned elsewhere.
As players, the receivers may appear similar as big slot or “Z” receiver options who can box out defenders and win at the catch point. But when taking a closer look, there are key differences between the two and how they’ve been used.
The most glaring difference between each player is their actual size. Though both receivers are over 6 feet tall, Smith-Schuster is an inch shorter and weighs 215 lb, compared to Meyers’ 200 lb. These disparities show up in their play styles.
Meyers’ game is more about using quickness and deception to win at the top of routes, then using his catch radius to routinely make tough grabs when coverage was tight. This served him well in the intermediate route tree, particularly vs off coverage, but a lack of dynamic athleticism made Meyers a non-factor after the catch. This made him a poor fit for Bill O’Brien’s offense, which historically gives premier receivers a lot of opportunities in space.
Most of Smith-Schuster’s production comes after the catch due to his lack of quickness and burst in routes, but he hits a different gear with the ball in his hands. He’s a physical runner who breaks tackles, shows exceptional balance through contact, and eats chunks of yardage in the open field.
Smith-Schuster is rarely targeted against man, with most of his targets arriving in the cavities of zone coverage. But his proficiency running whip routes bodes well for his potential in O’Brien’s scheme, which heavily features New England’s infamous HOSS Y Juke to get YAC threats matched up against linebackers.
The biggest drop off from Meyers to Smith-Schuster is ball security, with JuJu recording 3 fumbles and 3 drop last season compared to 1 fumble and 1 drop from Meyers. That said, turnovers and lack of dependability will send you to the dog house in New England (ask Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor), so Smith-Schuster has all the incentive to shore up that part of his game. Meyers is also a more reliable blocker, though Smith-Schuster has the physical profile to improve.
So how will the Patriots use their new weapon? As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, replacing Jakobi Meyers will more likely be a group effort than one player taking over all his roles.
Tyquan Thornton will likely be the primary candidate for downfield concepts like the crossers and corner routes Meyers thrived on. With Thornton likely becoming the team’s primary “Z” receiver, aligning outside and off the line of scrimmage, and DeVante Parker as the team’s primary “X” receiver, Smith-Schuster should assume Meyers’ slot duties. The new addition could also make his way onto the field in 2-receiver sets if he improves as a blocker. And when O’Brien wants to feed someone YAC opportunities or find a size advantage on critical conversions, Smith-Schuster will likely be the man for the job.