Steelers Rumors: JuJu Smith-Schuster 'Trending Toward' Return from Injury vs. Chiefs

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 14, 2022

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 19:  JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Las Vegas Raiders on September 19, 2021 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster reportedly has a good chance to play in Sunday's AFC Wild Card Round game against the Kansas City Chiefs after missing the final 12 games of the regular season with a shoulder injury.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Smith-Schuster had "no issues at all" after practicing Thursday and is "trending toward playing" Sunday.

Smith-Schuster was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return after getting injured in Week 5, and it now looks like he will be on the field for what could be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's final NFL game.

The 25-year-old wideout appeared in five games before getting injured this season, registering 15 receptions for 129 yards and no touchdowns, primarily out of the slot.

Since Smith-Schuster got injured, Ray-Ray McCloud has largely stepped into the slot role, supporting outside receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.

McCloud has become one of Roethlisberger's favorite targets with 39 receptions for 277 yards, meaning he could maintain an offensive role even with Smith-Schuster back in the lineup.

Smith-Schuster was originally a second-round draft pick out of USC in 2017, and it looked like he was going to be a star as an outside receiver.

In just his second season, he set career highs with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards to go along with seven touchdowns en route to his first and only Pro Bowl appearance.

Smith-Schuster has struggled to return to that level of production, though, dropping off to 42 grabs for 552 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games in 2019, and 97 receptions for 831 yards last season, although he did set a new career high with nine touchdowns.

Even if he isn't as explosive as he was earlier in his career, there is no question Smith-Schuster is a favorite and trusted target of Big Ben, so he could have a fairly substantial role in Sunday's game.

Roethlisberger isn't likely to make big plays in the passing game, but Pittsburgh has a chance for success against the Chiefs if he can nickel and dime them by moving the chains—and that is an area in which Smith-Schuster excels.

If Smith-Schuster does play, Roethlisberger will have a full allotment of weapons, including Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Claypool and McCloud at receiver, Pat Freiermuth at tight end and Najee Harris at running back.

Kansas City will be heavily favored regardless after reaching the Super Bowl in back-to-back years. However, facing a Steelers team that is close to full strength should make things tougher for the Chiefs.