JuJu Smith-Schuster was expected to be the centerpiece of the Patriots’ passing game when he signed this offseason.

That role has yet to materialize for New England’s top free agent addition.

In three games for the Patriots, Smith-Schuster had just 10 catches on 16 targets for 66 yards and no touchdowns. From a yardage standpoint, it was his worst three-week stint since early in the 2021 season, when he had 36 yards over three games before leaving the third with an injury.

Sunday’s performance was Smith-Schuster’s least impressive to date. He finished the Patriots’ 15-10 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium with as many illegal blindside block penalties (one) as receptions (one on three targets for 5 yards) in 53 offensive snaps.

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Mac Jones went to the ex-Chief and Steeler twice on third down in the fourth quarter, and both passes were incomplete, with Smith-Schuster falling down at the top of his route on one. It was just the fourth time in 82 career games that the 26-year-old failed to catch more than one pass.

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It’s been a highly disappointing start for a player New England signed to be an upgrade over former top receiver Jakobi Meyers. But head coach Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for Smith-Schuster when asked about his struggles Monday.

“Yeah, Ju’s been great,” Belichick said on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show.” “I love working with him. Tough kid, really smart. He does a good job for us. He does a lot of things well.”

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That might be true, but it hasn’t translated on the field thus far. Smith-Schuster ranks seventh among Patriots pass-catchers in receiving yards despite the team playing one full game without DeVante Parker (Week 1, injury) and most of another without rookie Demario Douglas (Week 2, benching).

Among the 53 NFL wideouts with at least 15 targets this season, only the New York Giants’ Parris Campbell is averaging fewer yards per reception than Smith-Schuster’s 6.6. His connection with Jones still looks like a work in progress, and he hasn’t come close to even matching what Meyers did for this Patriots offense (and currently is doing for the Las Vegas Raiders).

The Patriots need more from their highest-paid receiver.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images