JuJu Smith-Schuster's Excuse for Struggles Makes 2024 a Make-or-Break Season

JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the more disappointing Patriots to watch in 2023. Now that the excuse behind his shortcomings has been revealed, the New England WR can't afford another dud next season.
Injuries are allegedly the main reason why JuJu Smith-Schuster struggled to perform in 2023.
Injuries are allegedly the main reason why JuJu Smith-Schuster struggled to perform in 2023. / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots fans thought they finally had a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver when JuJu Smith-Schuster joined the team on a three-year, $33 million contract last offseason. There was optimism surrounding the signing after the veteran WR played a key role in the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl LVII victory, leaving the fanbase to hope that he could make an impact in New England.

Unfortunately, Smith-Schuster wound up being one of the more disappointing Patriots to watch in 2023. His on-field productions didn't come close to matching his contract's value, making his outlook with the franchise less than secure going forward.

On Tuesday, the former USC Trojan revealed why he struggled to produce results in Year 1 with the Patriots.

Patriots News: Smith-Schuster was "60%" Healthy in 2023 OTAs

Following Monday's organized team activities (OTAs), Smith-Schuster told reporters that he's finally at 100% for the first time in a long time, per Boston Herald's Doug Kyed. The 27-year-old wideout added that he played most of the 2023 campaign at about "60%" during last year's OTAs due to a knee procedure he underwent after winning the Super Bowl with the Chiefs.

Smith-Schuster went on to say that how he feels this year compared to last summer is a "big difference." A lack of rest days under Bill Belichick was one of the main reasons why the talented WR was unable to get to 100%, however, that likely won't be an issue under head coach Jerod Mayo's guidance going forward.

"I had some injuries that I was dealing with and I just kept pushing through it and playing. That’s just the competitiveness in me. I don’t mind that. So this year it’s a lot different than how it was."

JuJu Smith-Schuster

A player's mindset can be his own worst enemy, so it's relieving to know that Smith-Schuster has realized that he might not want to push through injuries anymore. He won't be turning 30 for another three years and potentially has a ton of football left in his future, so taking injuries more seriously could add a lot of playing time to his career.

Hopefully, Smith-Schuster's knee issue is a thing of the past and he can return to form this fall. It'd be hard for him not to surpass last year's production after only turning 29 receptions on 47 targets into 260 yards with a touchdown in 11 games before prematurely ending the year on the injured reserve.

Outside of a potential bounce-back for Smith-Schuster, the Patriots' WR room is still filled with question marks. Can Kendrick Bourne rebound from his own season-ending injury? Will Demario Douglas avoid a sophomore slump? Is the newly acquired K.J. Osborn ready for a bigger role? How NFL-ready are rookies Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker?

Taking those questions into account, it's easy to see why the Patriots would be thrilled if Smith-Schuster is healthy enough to turn back the clock. He was nearly a 1,000-yard receiver just two years ago, leaving time to tell if he can be that playmaker at least one more time.

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