JuJu Smith-Schuster’s standing on the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart appeared to take a hit in their season-opening loss to the Eagles.
The veteran played just 42 of the Patriots’ 80 offensive snaps in the game, fewer than sixth-round rookie Kayshon Boutte. On the heels of the Week 1 loss, it was reported that the Patriots don’t view Smith-Schuster as one of their “five most effective pass-catchers,” according to the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan.
An indication that the Patriots might have felt that way in Sunday’s game came in their final drive, which Smith-Schuster observed from the sideline as he didn’t play a single snap in the two-minute drill.
Smith-Schuster downplayed that there might have been a bigger reason for his lack of playing time on Sunday, especially in crunch time.
“No, I think it’s just a situation that we were in and the personnel that was out there,” Smith-Schuster told reporters on Friday.
Part of the reason why the Patriots reportedly don’t view Smith-Schuster as one of their top pass-catchers is related to the surgically repaired knee injury that bothered him in the 2019, 2020, and 2022 seasons, according to Callahan. The injury reportedly kept Smith-Schuster off the practice field during the team’s workouts in the offseason after he aggravated it in the Chiefs’ run to winning the Super Bowl last season.
Smith-Schuster isn’t too concerned though about the situation with his knee.
“Yeah, 100 percent. I think it’s 100 percent,” Smith-Schuster said. “I’ve been working on it every day. It’s nice being here, find a nice routine, get in with the trainer every single day to go out there to perform.”
Smith-Schuster played in his regular slot receiver role in Sunday’s game, recording four receptions for 33 yards, but also had a pretty big third-down drop. As Smith-Schuster averaged fewer than 10 yards per reception, Callahan reported that the team believes the knee injury has “diminished some of his explosion and run-after-catch ability,” which helped him earn a three-year, $25.5 million deal from the Patriots this offseason.
In a separate conversation with MassLive’s Karen Guregian, Smith-Schuster once again downplayed that concern.
“No, I don’t think so,” Smith-Schuster told Guregian when asked if he felt he’s lost any explosiveness. “Obviously, the first game was tough for all of us. We all have things we need to get better at . . . at the same time, that’s part of the process. You come to a new team, even when I was with the Chiefs, you start out slow, sluggish. Even when I was with Pittsburgh, it was slow and sluggish. You’re still learning. It’s crazy, I’m Year 7 in the league, and there’s guys who are Year 12, and you’re still learning. “
Even though there have been reported concerns surrounding Smith-Schuster’s knee since he wasn’t around at the team’s offseason workouts, he has been active and present ever since then. He practiced for the entirety of training camp and received similar playing time in the preseason as the other Patriots’ starters.
Smith-Schuster also hasn’t missed a practice since training camp ended and hasn’t been on the injury report.
Sign up for Patriots updates🏈
Get breaking news and analysis delivered to your inbox during football season.