Pittsburgh Steelers Team Preview
Well, I started to pull this article together last week. At the time I was thinking that there wouldn’t be too much exciting to write about for the Steelers in 2018. The Steelers are riding high after finishing 13-3 in the regular season, their best finish since 2004. There was going to be great continuity between last season and the upcoming one. Most of the big names were coming back, aside from an Offensive Coordinator who needed to move on and a big talented distraction at Wide Receiver. They’ll have a top 10 offensive line again this season. Everyone expects this offense to produce and for the team to have another solid outing. No major surprises.
All that changed with the confirmation on 07/16 that star running back Le’Veon Bell and the team were unable to reach an agreement on a long term deal for last year’s overall RB2. Bell is the best running back in football, without the drama around his relationship to his team (and propensity for getting suspended.) We’ll get into the running backs in a bit, but with this development there certainly is more intrigue and attention needed in Pittsburgh when navigating their roster for your fantasy plans.
Let’s start at the quarterback. Big Ben Roethlisberger was the QB9 last year, with 28 touchdowns vs. 14 interceptions while throwing for 4,251 yards. He did that over 15 games, so throw an additional game in there with average production and his season was even better. Fantasy players don’t seem to give the guy enough love though, and he’s looking like he’ll end up the QB10 or 11 in drafts, which in my mind is an absolute steal. He has most of his major weapons returning, with arguably the best WR duo in the league. We’ve said it before, he’s one of the best examples out there on why you should wait on drafting a QB. Ben is getting up there in years (36) and he’s toyed with the idea of retiring, but seems to want to chase down another Super Bowl ring first.
Back to the Offensive Coordinator, Todd Haley has moved on from the team and you’d think this has to be a signal that Big Ben is in the driver’s seat in a way that he hasn’t been for a few seasons. The promotion of Randy Fitchner, Ben’s QB coach and best bro, feels like they’ll start doing the things he’s been vocal about: quicker pace and more no huddle. I expect them to open up this already powerful offense.
Antonio Brown is the best in the business at WR. The guy has established the highest floor for touchdowns, receptions, and yards over the past 5 seasons. He consistently gets it done and finished as the WR1 for fantasy again last season. There is no question he’s worthy of his first round price tag, and depending on your format he could probably be the first off the board overall. If you’re in a league that drafts Running Backs first, he’d be my first pick behind the top four or so RB’s.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is an absolute stud, primed to take on an even bigger role with the departure of Martavis Bryant. In 14 games last season he finished with 917 yards and 7 touchdowns, making him the overall WR18. We expect both those numbers to go up slightly this season as he assumes the WR2 role for the Steelers. JuJu is going off the boards in the middle of the 4th round in 12 team leagues as the WR15. There is a good chance he can produce at that level and even end up on the edge of a WR1.
James Washington is an intriguing player to watch as the WR3 on this team, a role that Martavis Bryant had 84 targets (with good depth percentage) in last year. Washington is poised to absorb those targets and we could see another Stealers 3rd receiver deliver big time for fantasy. The rookie was a star at Oklahoma State and he’s been touted as the most complete of the rookie WR’s this season. We believe him to be a steal at the overall draft position of 284 in half point leagues. Very low risk with the potential for high rewards.
Le’Veon Bell is going to remain a Steeler for at least (and likely just) one more season. With the two sides failing to reach a long term agreement, it’s a virtual guarantee that Bell won’t report to OTA’s, minicamp, or training camp. There’s nothing new here, since that’s exactly what happened last season and he finished the overall RB2 despite getting a slow start. More concerning are the rumors that Bell may hold out for the first 8 weeks of the regular season. If that is the case, fantasy players will need to avoid drafting him until late in the draft or take a big risk on drafting him earlier in hopes that the situation changes. Should Bell play a full season the sky is the limit. No other RB in the game is more involved in the overall offense of their team as Bell lead all RB’s in snaps and percent of total plays on the field. Playing on a one year deal may actually help Bell owners in this situation as the Steelers are likely to feed him the rock similarly and not have to worry about long term health for a guy that won’t likely be on their roster next year.
Jaylen Samuels is really the only other player we’re keeping an eye on in the backfield for the Steelers. The Former NC State talent played just about every position in college and might take some passing downs targets away from Bell. He’s starting the season at RB and rumors have it that he will challenge James Conner for the RB2 role on the team. He may also end up as a Tight End officially, so fantasy owners will need to watch how this situation develops.
Vance McDonald was brought in from the San Francisco 49ers last season in what seemed to be a sign that the Steelers would feature him heavily in the offense. Things didn’t exactly work out that way last year , but he’s still getting preseason breakout hype. McDonald is more of a receiving TE and should play that role in this offense, leaving Jesse James to fill the more traditional blocking TE position. Expect to see a fairly equal snap count split between the two and for the Steelers to move McDonald around a bit to try to force mismatches. Between the two, McDonald is your best bet to produce fantasy value and he’s going at the 186 spot overall in drafts presenting a good value at the position.
Big Ben is a value in this draft and you can expect him to produce low-end QB1 results
Le’Veon Bell presents a huge risk if he does not confirm that he will play Wk1. He’s a top 3 pick if he does.
Get one of either Brown or Smith-Schuster on your team, depending on your draft position, if possible.