Why the Patriots chose JuJu Smith-Schuster over Jakobi Meyers
One in, one out.
That’s been the case for the Patriots’ wide receiver position in free agency. On Tuesday, Jakobi Meyers signed with the Raiders on a three-year, $33 million deal. Just over 24 hours later, the Patriots signedJuJu Smith-Shuster to a – that’s right – three-year, $33 million deal.
While we don’t know the breakdown of Smith-Schuster’s contract yet, it’s striking that the bases are similar. But that’s not where the similarities end.
The two players are nearly exactly the same age – Meyers was born Nov. 9 1996 and Smith-Schuster later that month on Nov. 22 (I’ll save you the math – they’ll both turn 27 in 2023). Meyers is listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds while Smith-Schuster is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds.
Both players play similar roles as well. In his first season with the Chiefs last year, Smith-Schuster played significantly more in the slot than he had in the past. Their per game production (averaging it out since Meyers missed three games due to injury) lines up too. Meyers averaged 4.8 catches and 57.4 yards per game in 2022. Smith-Schuster? 4.9 catches and 58.3 yards.
If you’re starting to think this feels like a replacement, you’re not alone. Shortly after news of Smith-Schuster’s signing – and identical contract – broke, Meyers tweeted, “Cold world lol.” Meyers had said at the end of last season he was open to returning to New England.
It’s not as simple as the Patriots making a one-for-one switch either. The Patriots went out of there way to land Smith-Schuster. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, they outbid the Chiefs in negotiations over the past day to get him to sign in New England.
There’s so much in common between the two players, and the Patriots seem to have gone out of their way to sign Smith-Schuster rather than keep Meyers. Why make that move when Meyers had proven success in New England and an established chemistry with Mac Jones? There may be a few reasons.
First, those production numbers are a bit misleading. Meyers put up the stats he did as the top receiver in the Patriots’ often-stagnant offense. Smith-Schuster was able to find similar success playing alongside the likes of Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman, catching passes from Patrick Mahomes in the league’s top scoring offense.
Excited for my next chapter in New England! I will give this organization everything I have, thank you for believing in me! 🙏🏾🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/EwOxy7L7yz
The second and probably more pressing reason is a dynamic Smith-Schuster will bring to the position that Meyers didn’t. Last year – and really the last few years since Julian Edelman left – the Patriots’ offense has been hamstrung at times by a lack of ability to create after the catch, especially from the slot receiver position. Smith-Schuster should help fix that.
Since entering the NFL in 2017, Smith-Schuster ranks second among all NFL receivers with at least 400 catches in YAC (yards after catch) average at 5.6 yards per reception, per Pro Football Reference. That trails only Cooper Kupp. Last season, Smith-Schuster averaged a career-high 6.0 YAC per reception, which ranked fifth in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 catches.
By comparison, Meyers averaged 3.5 YAC per reception last year, which ranked tied for 32nd in the NFL. For his career, he’s averaged 3.4 YAC per reception.
JuJu Smith-Schuster gained +141 yards after the catch over expected last season (5th-most among WR).
Now, the challenge for the Patriots will be to maximize Smith-Schuster’s YAC ability. That’s easier said than done, and something they’ve struggled with in recent history.
Jonnu Smith was viewed as a YAC-driven player when the Patriots signed him in 2021, but never found a way to incorporate that skill into the offense. Kendrick Bourne, who was probably the team’s second best non-running back YAC option behind Smith last year, spent most of the season on the bench.
It will be up to new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to do what Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia struggled to do around Mac Jones – set the Patriots’ receivers up to create after the catch. It would also help if the Patriots add another wide receiver threat on the boundary, to ensure Smith-Schuster is getting mostly one-on-one looks from defenses. If that’s going to be the plan – a good one with Jones under center – the context of the Meyers/Smith-Schuster decision makes a lot of sense.
UPDATE:According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Smith-Schuster’s contract includes $16 million in guaranteed money. Meyers’ deal with the Raiders includes $21 million guaranteed.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.