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JuJu Smith-Schuster: playing with Patrick Mahomes is like playing Madden

The wide receiver said that in Kansas City, “we’re always in the lab.”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in March, he bet heavily on himself by agreeing to an incentive-laden contract.

His gamble appears to be paying off. Through 15 games teaming with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Smith-Schuster leads Kansas City wide receivers with 74 catches for 877 yards — his highest yardage total since 2018. Speaking after Friday’s practice, Smith-Schuster reflected on what he has learned from playing with the league’s best quarterback.

“With [Mahomes], we’re always in a lab, I feel like,” the sixth-year veteran explained. “He’s someone who’s always coming up with something new. You never know with him. I definitely would say a play’s never over until the whistle’s blown.”

His new quarterback’s mobility also stands out.

Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

“With him, his arm is one thing — but his legs are a whole other issue that teams have to worry about,” he declared. “Even with us, too, guys can’t drop out of coverage or leave their man to stop the quarterback because he’s still looking downfield even when he’s not. He’s a special individual.”

But for Smith-Schuster, it has been unexpectedly difficult to describe what playing with him is actually like.

“It’s hard to tell people — and for them not to relate by actually going out there and actually doing it with him,” he noted. “My family and friends are like, ‘Oh my gosh, how’s Patrick Mahomes?’

“He is just a special individual. For myself, it’s just like playing Madden — back when you had Michael Vick who [could] just run all over the field and launch it 80 yards down the field. It’s kind of like that. But for me, it’s ‘RL’ — it’s real life.”

If playing with Mahomes is like being in a lab, experiments come from the playbook — and this year’s deep group of receivers.

“The plays that we run, we tweak,” said the wideout. “It’s kind of set up for him to do what he has to do — and he has so many options. This playbook is [designed] to give so many guys opportunities to go out there and play.”

The modern NFL has many examples of high-powered offenses that were unable to satisfy competing egos. With the playoffs looming, Smith-Schuster isn’t worried about Kansas City having too many mouths to feed.

“In our room, there’s no selfishness,” he observed. “There’s only one ball and you’ve got all these playmakers. It’s just a matter of time that — when you’re number’s called — [you] just make your plays. We’re all here to win. We’re all here for one goal: that’s to chase the ring.”

While his season has been successful, that chase may come down to whether Smith-Schuster can connect with Mahomes during extended, out-of-structure plays — like tight end Travis Kelce has been doing for so long.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

“I would say I have a good feel,” he said of the unscripted routes. “Obviously, [he] and Travis have been playing for years now. But I think I’m working towards that. That’s where I want to be at — [the same as] where he feels he can go to Trav on broken-down plays and [find] Trav. I feel like we’re working towards that.”

While the team is gearing up for run toward what would be the second Lombardi Trophy of the Mahomes era, the business of the NFL never stops. Smith-Schuster is scheduled to return to unrestricted free agency in March — but he 26-year old reiterated that he hopes his tenure in Kansas City continues.

“I just feel welcomed here,” he said. “I think the fan base is unbelievable.

“For myself, I want to be in a place where I can play ball, show my personality — and just win.”

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