Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 Fantasy Outlook
On the outside looking in, one could make an argument that the long lasting Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty aka the Big Ben era is coming to a end. The 2018-2019 seasons marked the first time since the 2012-2013 seasons, that the black and yellow failed to appear in the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Most importantly, injuries derailed the 2019 season before it even began, hurting the fantasy stock of most every player not named Minkah Fitzpatrick on the roster. Stay tuned to find out why Ben Roethlisberger and the gang aren’t going down without a fight.
Quarterback: It’s always the non contact injuries that knock out these players am I right? There’s so many interesting facts about Roethlisberger, but this one in particular sums up the fantasy football aspect perfectly, it’s a long one so follow along closely. In 2019, the Steelers threw for 3,214 yards as a team which does include 351 yards from Big Ben and 35 yards from running back Jaylen Samuels. Throughout his 16 year career, Roethlisberger has only thrown for LESS than 3,214 yards four times, the last coming in the 2010 season,(which was the result of injury). What does this mean? Barring injury and regression due to old age we EASILY should see Roethlisberger reach 4,200 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, his eight year average from the 2011-2018 seasons. Now fantasy wise, are you really going to pass up on a player who chained together five straight seasons as a top ten quarterback in points per game. Currently being drafted as the QB17, you really have no risk or worry when drafting Roethlisberger to be your backup quarterback. Lastly, I leave you with one stat that’ll be helpful for the abundance of receivers on the team as well. The league average for pass attempts per game in 2019 was 36, now the Steelers are an offense that loves to pass, as they averaged 39 pass attempts per game from the 2016-2018 seasons. Yet they hit a low of just under 32 pass attempts per game in 2019 (keep in mind Roethlisberger threw 47 times in week 1). The numbers will be there for the Steelers in 2019, which will trickle down to help the entire team offensively.
Running Back: James Conner, Benny Snell Jr, and Jaylen Samuels proved to the fantasy football community in 2019 that they need a passing game to get going. There were definitely high points of the season, such as week 4 when the versatility of Samuels was on display, but the good is outweighed by the bad. Did you know there were six running backs in 2019 to register over 100 touches, but failed to score more than two times? Snell and Samuels led the pack with 111 and 113 carries respectively while both only scoring two rushing touchdowns. Knock knock who’s there? Anthony McFarland, a running back that has a little bit of everything in his game, showing it off in back to back productive seasons at the University of Maryland. Go ahead and stash him on Dynasty rosters for 2021 and beyond. Couple of points here to understand in this backfield for 2020. James Conner is absolutely the starter and with the volume he’s bound to get from simply being a Steelers running back (over 400 rushing attempts per season since 2015) you should consider him a steal with his ADP of RB22. It’s almost embarrassing that he’s going around players like Kerryon Johnson and Devin Singletary, both of those players rightfully have fallen due to the team spending substantial draft capital on rookies. Additionally, Conner’s two-year, 16-game pace is 1,500+ total yards and 14 touchdowns which is simply elite. Keep in mind this is also a contract year for Conner and so with those numbers and the Steelers history of not signing running backs, the only thing stopping Conner from producing this season is injuries. I do love the co-sign that McFarland received from former Heisman winner Reggie Bush, but if you factor in the COVID-19 pandemic which has changed the rookie minicamp and training camp process with the fact that the Steelers only used a fourth on him, then you can see that McFarland will have a slow start to success.
Wide Receiver: This is where we get to the meat and potatoes of the fantasy football outlook, where most fantasy football players will be hanging their hat on for the Steelers. The industry is completely divided in their opinion on which wideout will become Roethlisberger’s favorite in 2020. Let’s look at the facts! Fact #1: Juju Smith-Schuster has never played a full season with Roethlisberger as his quarterback without having Antonio Brown. Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that Brown was simply the best fantasy wide receiver where in 2017 he recorded 1,500 receiving yards and in 2018 went for 15 touchdowns. The hate for Juju is real and you can literally flip the coin to shine on both sides if you really wanted to. I bring up Brown to say this; even he struggled with no Roethlisberger. Check this out: From 2011-2017, Brown played in seven games without NO Roethlisberger and in those games he scored ZERO times, in total only recorded 32 catches for 433 yards. Depending on how you build your team, Juju could either become your WR1 or WR3 which is exactly where I feel comfortable drafting him knowing he’s got that big game ability, 12 100+ receiving yard games since 2017. Now if you’re like me, you wanna find the value wide receivers after drafting plenty of elite starting running backs and both an elite tight end/quarterback. Diontae Johnson is that player you’re going to want for numerous reasons. First off, I believe that he is quarterback proof which is a term I’m starting to learn more and more from players like Kenny Golladay. Being quarterback proof just means that you can compete at a high level with any quarterback and any situation. Johnson was not only the teams reception leader and receiving touchdown leader in 2019, but he did it all as a rookie. This is probably the only thing that may hold back fantasy football owners because technically he’s never got to play with Roethlisberger, but check the numbers, James Washington has hardly more experience. During the 2018 season Washington only caught one touchdown from Big Ben and had two unexceptional late games in 2018, both going for over 60 receiving yards. Now remember the whole quarterback proof bit? How many of y’all reading this would say that Mason Rudolph and Washington have a better connection with each because they played college football together? Let’s look at the facts! Fact #2: Diontae Johnson scored more touchdowns from Mason Rudolph than James Washington did in 2019. Easy research to find the sole touchdown that Washington caught from Rudolph. The three yard touchdown came in week 10 against the LA Rams at home on a corner fade. Surely by then though the “Oklahoma State connection” script was out the window because by week 10 Johnson had tripled the amount of touchdowns that he caught from Rudolph. Add in another touchdown for Johnson from Rudolph in week 16 against the Jets and you’ll notice that 80% of Johnson’s touchdowns came from Rudolph and game script wise they came late when the team was pushing for a win. Ultimately, my point is if you’re feeling uncomfortable drafting Juju in the mid second/early third round of your drafts then you you’ve got to lock in Johnson during the ninth/tenth round.
Tight End: I purposely decided to spend most of my time on the other skill positions because historically the Steelers do not utilize the tight end position like they should. Everyone wants to look at the Steelers 2018 season as the foundation for tight ends, but it should instead be considered an outlier. First things first if you’re drafting Eric Ebron or Vance McDonald as the “next George Kittle or Mark Andrews” then you simply aren’t winning championships. Why? Head coach Mike Tomlin has already come out to say that even he doesn’t know what their usage will be like from week to week. Hmm so you’re telling me that the one position in fantasy football, that is already a dart throw becomes even more of a dart throw with split usage. Hard pass, it’s the same reason fantasy football players stay away from running back committees. I’m not sure why Steelers fans are even getting excited about Ebron in the first place, he’s a terrible run blocker which like I said above the Steelers love to run and Conner is going to want to show out this season. Ebron also has had 15 dropped passes since 2018, with five of them coming last season, do the math y’all. Last but not least, the Steelers haven’t allocated over 20% of the teams target share to the tight end position since 2006, which was a season that Heath Miller went for an unimpressive 34/393/5 stat line. Stash Ebron if you have deep dynasty rosters, but don’t expect him to top or even come close to his ceiling of 66/750/13. All in all, the team is trending towards more three receiver formations with the youth they have from Juju, Johnson, and Washington.