While it took 24 hours, another big domino in wide receiver free agency has fallen. After a Super Bowl year in Kansas City, JuJu Smith-Schuster capitalized on his one-year prove-it deal and signed on as New England's new No. 1 receiver.
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The Patriots gave Smith-Schuster a 3-year deal worth $33 million. Notably, this is the same deal that Jakobi Meyers got in Las Vegas and the same average annual value that Allen Lazard got from the Jets.
After losing Meyers, or possibly just letting him go, considering they gave Smith-Schuster the same deal, the Patriots needed wide receiver help. Without this signing, they were going to rely on DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton. However, Smith-Schuster is a very different player than all of those guys. While he can't separate, he should provide the possession dump-off routes needed to help Mac Jones' efficiency.
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Smith-Schuster is likely to step right into the role that Jakobi Meyers vacates. Meyers was targeted a team-high 96 times in 14 games last year. He turned those targets into 67 receptions, 804 yards, and six touchdowns. The volume almost matches what Smith-Schuster saw in Kansas City, but Smith-Schuster was far more efficient. That discrepancy can be squarely pinned on the differences between Patrick Mahomes II and Mac Jones. It should not be hard to replicate Meyers' WR29 finish, and there might be room for improvement.
With Smith-Schuster poised to lead the team in targets, that pushes everyone else into similar roles to last season. Parker and Bourne will play outside and likely end up between 50-60 targets each. Thornton was raw last year but showed his speed could be useful by the season's end. He is expected to challenge Bourne for a role but will probably start the season as the team's fourth wide receiver.
Adding Smith-Schuster isn't going to change anyone's opinion of Mac Jones. Unless the return of offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien pays immediate dividends, there will not be a giant leap for Jones. Smith-Schuster is a reliable short-yardage option, so we should expect an improvement on Jones' 65% completion rate but no significant change to his fantasy value.
Kansas City has spent most of its money this offseason on its offensive line. Clearly, they value keeping Patrick Mahomes II upright more than giving him weapons. Right now, they are riding with Travis Kelce, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, and last year's draft pick Skyy Moore as their primary receivers.
In 2022, Mahomes proved he could lose receivers and move on just fine. He did it with Tyreek Hill and will do it again with Smith-Schuster. This move brings some intrigue for Toney and Moore. They are young and were just learning this offense last year. They now have an opportunity to step into a primary role for the best quarterback in the league.
As mentioned, Smith-Schuster should have no problem replicating Jakobi Meyers' top-30 season from 2022. Last year, Smith-Schuster was the WR27, so his stock feels flat. However, in no world is going from Patrick Mahomes II to Mac Jones a good thing, so we'll say his stock is slightly down. But that could end up making him a value in your draft.