The Patriots have made their first significant external free-agent addition of the offseason by signing former Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a three-year contract, according to reports.
Smith-Schuster won Super Bowl LVII with Kansas City this past season in a bounce-back year. The former Steelers draft pick was second on the team behind superstar tight end Travis Kelce in targets (101), receptions (78), and receiving yards (933) in a campaign that more resembles his first four seasons in Pittsburgh rather than an injury-plagued 2021.
After the Patriots lost top wideout Jakobi Meyers to the Raiders this week, the 26-year-old is s a clear replacement for Meyers with a similar skill set. The one-time Pro Bowler possesses above-average quickness for a 6-foot-1 receiver, shows strong hands and physicality at the catch point, and runs similar routes with inside-outside alignment versatility.
Although there will certainly be overlap in how new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien deploys Smith-Schuster, there are a few areas where JuJu offers more playmaking upside than Meyers.
Smith-Schuster and Meyers are often referred to as big slot receivers, but the Pats newest pass-catcher presents more flexibility to play him on the outside. Last season, Smith-Schuster ran nearly 60 percent of his routes out wide, catching 49 passes for 544 yards.
Smith-Schuster can line up at the "X" receiver position and win contested catches, hauling in seven of his 15 contested targets. Mainly, the Chiefs would throw him jump balls on out-and-ups or have him use his body control and feel for the sideline on back-shoulder fades.
Along with offering a bit more on the outside, Smith-Schuster is an upgrade over Meyers in accumulating yards after the catch. He averaged 5.9 yards after the catch and forced nine missed tackles as a ball carrier in 2022. For comparison, Meyers accumulated 3.6 yards after the catch per reception and only forced two missed tackles, per PFF.
It remains to be seen whether or not Smith-Schuster can grasp the offense, develop a comparable repertoire with quarterback Mac Jones, and be as consistent as Meyers was in his four seasons in New England.
However, you can see why the Patriots would view Smith-Schuster as a more dynamic playmaker while maintaining the chain-moving and security blanket-style traits Meyers brought to the offense.
New England needs to aggressively pursue upgrades at wide receiver this offseason, especially following Meyers's departure to Las Vegas, and is starting to do so with this move.