A draft is not typically won or lost on a single player, but every year there are a few players that give you far better odds of taking down your leagues. They can be terrific late-round values, breakout stars, or early-round dominators who lay waste to others at their position. One player with that potential in 2018 is JuJu Smith-Schuster.
An Outstanding Rookie Season
One reason to think Smith-Schuster can be awesome in 2018 is that he was already awesome in 2017. As a rookie, he finished as the WR22 in PPR leagues while participating in just 13 contests. On a points-per-game basis, Smith-Schuster finished as the WR12.
A big reason for Smith-Schuster’s success was his outrageous efficiency. He caught 72.5 percent of his passes and posted a touchdown rate of 8.75 percent. Of all WRs with at least 50 targets, Smith-Schuster ranked third in the NFL in RACR (Receiver Air Conversion Ratio, or how well a receiver converts air yards into receiving yards), coming in at 1.13.
Since RACR and aDOT tend to have an inverse relationship, it makes sense to look at his depth of target as well. Of the eight players with a RACR of at least 1.00, Smith-Schuster had the highest aDOT (10.3), with the second highest aDOT coming in at just 8.6 (Cooper Kupp).
We can’t be sure that Smith-Schuster will maintain the level of efficiency he displayed as a rookie going forward; in fact, it is likely he will not. But that isn’t the main reason to draft him. His best characteristic is that he makes for an excellent antifragile option.
Antifragility is a concept coined by Nassim Taleb in his book, Antifragile. Put simply, it is a property that allows for improvement as stressors are applied. The antifragile fantasy option is one that gets better when the chaos of the NFL season kicks in. This is Smith-Schuster’s strength.
The main target-getter on the Steelers is clearly Antonio Brown. In the second quarter of Week 15, Brown was injured and missed the rest of the season. If we include that contest, Smith-Schuster played in three games without Brown.
Smith-Schuster’s performances without Brown would have been about on par with Brown’s 22-point average, the top mark in the league. The sample here is small, but there is evidence to show the tremendous amount of upside in Smith-Schuster should anything happen to Brown in 2018.
But Smith-Schuster’s anti-fragility doesn’t end with Brown. Pittsburgh also boasts one of the league’s best pass-catching RBs in Le’Veon Bell. Bell has averaged 6.8 targets per game over the past four seasons, good for a 16-game pace of 108 targets. Certainly if he were to go down, more volume would filter to Smith-Schuster as well. In fact, in the one game Bell missed this year, Smith-Schuster had 10 targets and posted 29.3 fantasy points.
Of course, for any fantasy play to be profitable, we need to consider price. Smith-Schuster is currently the WR21 off the board in MFL10s, the WR17 on DRAFT, and the WR19 on Fantasy Football Calculator.
If you look at just the 10 games prior to the three Smith-Schuster played without Brown (or mostly without Brown), JuJu averaged 12.6 PPR points per game. That would have been 23rd at the position in points per game. His full-season pace of 201 points would have finished WR18. In other words, Smith-Schuster is essentially being drafted at his floor. It is unlikely that, outside of injury, he returns value far below his ADP. It is, however, very much within the range of outcomes that he completely smashes that value.
When looking at the profile of Smith-Schuster, there is a lot to like. He was fantastic as a rookie, and appears to be properly valued if we assume everyone on the Steelers stays healthy. However, there is a ton of upside to be realized should anyone in the Steeler passing game suffer an injury. That makes Smith-Schuster not only the perfect antifragile selection, but a potential 2018 league-winner.