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Steelers turn to JuJu Smith-Schuster in win over Lions

If you’re a Steelers fan and an NFL draft junkie, the moment JuJu Smith-Schuster was drafted doesn’t quite measure up to the moment Ben Roethlisberger was drafted.

When Roethlisberger in that pinstripe suit spoke to his new coach on the phone, those of us watching on TV saw a turning point in Steelers history even if we didn’t know it at the time.

In those days, the first round of the draft took place on Saturday afternoon.

Now, the second round is prime time TV. When the Steelers drafted Smith-Schuster with the 62nd overall pick, he was on camera crying tears of joy.

Not as cool as Roethlisberger’s deferential phone conversation with Bill Cowher 13 years earlier, and there probably were some Steelers fans crying because their team took a receiver and not a cornerback.

On Sunday night, it was Lions fans crying in their beer.

Smith-Schuster caught seven passes for 193 and a 97-yard touchdown in the Steelers’ 20-15 win at Detroit.

What does Martavis Bryant have to say now?

There’s no denying the lightning-strike impact Bryant made as a rookie. His first career catch was a 35-yard touchdown that narrowed a 13-3 deficit to 13-10 on a Monday night against the Texans. The Steelers won that home game to improve to 4-3, and that started a three-game winning streak that snapped the Steelers out of a post-Tebow malaise of 8-8 seasons in 2012 and 2013 and a 3-3 start in 2014. They’ve made the playoffs every year since.

The Steelers might not have made the playoffs in 2014 without Bryant, but who knows how many more games they’d have won if Bryant wasn’t suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season and all of last season?

That game in Week 7 of 2014 was Bryant’s first as an active player. Just by getting on the field in Week 1, Smith-Schuster accomplished something that Bryant couldn’t in any of his first three seasons.

And for a franchise that knows how to draft receivers who contribute right away, it’s hard to think of a better single-game performance by a rookie at that position.

According to Pro Football Reference, Smith-Schuster’s 193 receiving yards are second-most in Steelers history by a rookie receiver in a single game. Jimmy Orr holds the record with 205 against the Chicago Cardinals in 1958.

Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown reception tied the longest offensive play in franchise history. Bobby Gage ran for a 97-yard touchdown in 1949.

It’s not just the astronomical numbers that define Smith-Schuster’s game Sunday night. It’s also his emergence as a go-to guy in tight spots.

The Steelers clung to a 13-12 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter and faced third-and-9 from their own 3-yard line when Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster for the 97-yard touchdown that increased the Steelers’ lead to 20-12.

There was the third-down drop that killed the Steelers’ next drive, but Smith-Schuster ultimately killed the Lions’ hopes for a victory by catching a four-yard shovel pass on third-and-1 with 1:29 left.

How fitting it was that the 20 points the Steelers (6-2) scored match the age of Smith-Schuster, the NFL’s youngest player. He might not be old enough to drink and he doesn’t have a driver’s license, but his maturity under pressure has earned him WWJJSSD status.

Opposing defenders might want to know What Would JuJu Smith-Schuster Do when preparing to face the Steelers.

He could be the No. 2 receiver the Steelers have been looking for since Bryant’s career was sidetracked by his 2016 suspension.

He leads the team with four receiving touchdowns and his 24 catches are third on the team behind Brown’s 57 and Bell’s 35.

Drafting receivers in the third round seems to be a thing for the Steelers. They’ve done it five times since 2009. No other team has drafted more than three receivers in the third round during that time.

Smith-Schuster is starting to show why the Steelers weren’t going to wait until the third round to take him.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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