The Pittsburgh offense left a lot to be desired in 2019, as the team limped to a 8-8 record. The fact that Ben Roethlisberger went down early in the year with an elbow injury was damning. You add in injuries to star wide out JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner at various points of the season and it was too much to overcome. The team enters 2020 ready to look ahead but there are still two glaring concerns when it comes to this team. The first concern is the lack of a quality back up to Big Ben. It was shocking that the team didn’t address this in the 2020 draft or free agency. The fact that they didn’t is puzzling, but the organization has recently came out and said they have no interest in signing a backup, as they are good with whom they have rostered. The other area of concern for this team is the fact that the offensive line is beginning to get up there in age. We are entering an age where we will begin to see signs of production start to drop off. The Steelers will look to continue playing that Steeler style of football, which on offense is going with that lead back approach in the backfield. Then when looking at the passing attack the Steelers like to deploy a vertical offense closely resembling the Air Coryell scheme.
Ben Roethlisberger (QB) - Big Ben enters 2020 with some question marks surrounding him and his surgically repaired elbow. Ben has begun throwing to teammates over the off season in private workouts which is promising. The knock on Ben over recent seasons is his inability to stay healthy, as over the last 5 seasons he was only able to play a full season once (2018). Here is a look at the games missed by Ben over that span: 4 games in 2015, 2 games in 2016, 1 game in 2017, and then 14 games in 2019. There is no question that when Ben is on the field he is one of the league’s best under center, and Kevin Colbert has said Ben will be better than ever in 2020. The offensive line concerns also doesn’t help to taper our fears as they are getting older which could mean they will lose a step, which could put Ben at risk of another injury, as he is not as mobile as he was in the past.
*Fantasy Spin: Big Ben, when right, can be a borderline QB1. However, the concerns upfront coupled with injury history, we can’t view him more than a backend QB2 in redraft leagues in 2020.
James Conner/Anthony McFarland Jr./Benny Snell/Jaylen Samuels (RB) – the Steelers have one of the deepest stables of backs in the league which is led by James Conner. In his first year as the guy in Pittsburgh Conner looked like he was hands down going to be the back of the future in Pittsburgh. In 2019 he disappeared due to injuries, prompting Pittsburgh to start thinking about his future in the steel city. Mike Tomlin has recently went on record to say that he is all about the idea of a lead back approach, which has been evident for years. Tomlin also said if Conner is healthy he will be that lead guy. Behind Conner we find three very capable backs who offer different skillsets. Benny Snell is a grinder who is made for running up the gut. Jaylen Samuels is that pass catching back who does his business out in space. Then we have the rookie from Maryland who is very interesting. McFarland offers that big play ability that you really don’t get with Snell and Samuels. If you go and watch the tape from the Ohio State game from last season you see McFarland break a 75+ yard run, not once, but twice illustrating that game breaking upside. In terms of this year’s rookie class McFarland led the class in yards created per attempt, and was ranked closely to fellow rookie Cam Akers in elusiveness. We think the Steelers kind of view McFarland as a guy that can handle 6 to 8 carries a game but primarily be used in the passing attack, ala Austin Ekeler. McFarland is most dangerous in the open field. If you watch the tape on McFarland you will see a back who looks small, but he isn’t. You will also see a back that is a hard inside runner who also possesses that juice to be dangerous on outside runs.
*Fantasy Spin: James Conner currently has an ADP where he is being taken as the 23rd back. Injury concerns no doubt are playing a role in this lower ADP. We have to be careful though because with Tomlin saying he is their guy “if” healthy then we must expect that heavy workload which we saw in 2018, where Conner was very productive as a fantasy asset putting up 19+ fantasy points a week. So if Conner slides like the ADP suggests he will, don’t hesitate taking him. We view Conner as a mid to backend RB2 with upside. Behind Conner is where it gets tricky for redraft, as of now we have Jaylen Samuels highest in redraft over Snell in McFarland. In Dynasty however McFarland is the add after Conner, as he is ranked as our 48th RB.
JuJu Smith-Schuster/Diontae Johnson/Chase Claypool/James Washington (WR) – JuJu underwhelmed in year one as the guy in Pittsburgh post Antonio Brown. A lot of factors contributed to this failure, injury being the main component, as JuJu was injured early and never was able to fully get back to 100%. The other contributing factors to his failure was a lack of quality quarterback play and an effective run game. JuJu has promise and has the talent to play inside in the slot and outside as a perimeter threat, despite those who argue JuJu is only equipped to man the slot. Many felt that the Steelers would add a receiver in this year’s deep class and they did in Chase Claypool. By taking Claypool, who the team plans to play outside, in a sense helps JuJu in the fact that we see him playing more from the slot in 2020, where he excelled in seasons prior to last. The Claypool pick is a bit of a head scratcher for us as his tape doesn’t suggest he has the ability to be a talented NFL receiver. Claypool blew up the combine in his drills and ran a 4.42 40, but his film suggests he doesn’t possess that in game speed. The knock on Claypool is NFL tight ends move better than him, as he profiles more of a big slot who needs to be schemed open. Claypool’s film also tells us he has trouble separating at the top of his routes which isn’t good on the pro level. Diontae Johnson is an explosive receiver who was impressive in 2019 despite the poor quarterback play. Johnson has upside in 2020 playing on the outside because Big Ben loves to target those fast perimeter guys who can beat one on one coverage deep. James Washington will be the WR3 on this depth chart.
*Fantasy Spin: JuJu comes into 2020 as our 14th ranked wide receiver making him a high end WR2. With a healthy Ben under center we feel a bounce back is instore for young JuJu. Diontae Johnson is our 29th ranked wide receiver in redraft making him a WR3. Johnson has upside that could have him break WR2 numbers by the time the season concludes. James Washington comes in as our 87th ranked wide receiver in redraft, and is more of a late round bench filler. Claypool is raw and was added to the Steelers in a depth move until he can develop. Claypool is a dynasty add only as he ranks as our 66th wide receiver in that format.
Eric Ebron/Vance McDonald (TE) – this Steeler fantasy guide has a certain theme to it as the word injury keeps creeping into it, and there is no better word to describe the state of the this position for Pittsburgh over the last few years. Vance McDonald is a talented beast at the position when healthy, but he seems to never be healthy. So it’s no surprise that Pittsburgh addressed the position this off season. The problem is they addressed it with a player who also has a laundry list of injuries to his name. Eric Ebron has been beat up over his career and as a result has had many surgeries. Now to his credit he has played through a lot of these injuries. Big Ben likes to target the position on the field especially in the red zone. This bodes well for Ebron who showed a few seasons ago as a Colt he can be a touchdown monster.
*Fantasy Spin: Ebron is the tight end to own in Pittsburgh for 2020. We don’t foresee a lot of targets between the twenties but could be used heavily inside the twenties. Ebron likely will be very touchdown dependent most weeks which pushes him down our rankings as we have him ranked as our 15th tight end making him a TE2. McDonald can be drafted by someone else, stay clear.
Defense – last season this defense proved to be one of the best in the league. They were top five in terms of points allowed, first in sacks with 54, and top 2 in turnovers created. This team is young and mean on all levels of the defensive unit and will disrupt any offense it faces.
*Fantasy Spin: This Steeler defense is our #1 ranked defense entering 2020. They are an elite unit who will be consistent scorers for your fantasy team.
Strength of Schedule
The Steelers wide receiver corps will face the 10th easiest schedule this season. Their playoff schedule is just as easy as they are projected with the 9th easiest during weeks 14-16. Conner and company will be looking at the 3rd easiest schedule during the fantasy regular season. The backs will have the projected 12th toughest schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Big Ben will face the 3rd easiest schedule during the fantasy regular season, and the 7th easiest during weeks 14-16. Ebron will face the 5th easiest fantasy regular season schedule, but will face the 5th easiest playoff schedule from weeks 14-16.