2020 Fantasy Previews Part 27: Pittsburgh Steelers

In 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers were decimated by injuries. Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger only played in 2 games and backup quarterback Mason Rudolph played in 10 games. Starting running back James Conner only played in 10 games. Top receiver Juju Smith-Schuster only played in 12 games. Throughout all this, the Steelers finished the season 8-8 and were pretty close to getting into the playoffs. Through Week 14, the Steelers were 8-5 but then lost their final 3 games of the season. The reason the Steelers were able to stay in the playoff hunt was because of their defense. The Steelers finished with the 5th ranked total defense, 3rd ranked pass defense, 14th ranked rush defense, and 6th ranked scoring defense. Despite being t5th in the NFL with 30 giveaways, the Steelers were still able to maintain a +8 turnover margin. This was due to them leading the NFL in takeaways at 38. That +8 turnover margin ranked t7th. Look for the fully healthy Steelers to have a bounce-back year this season with a top-ranked defense and an underrated offense.

Projected Depth Chart:

Quarterback: 1. Ben Roethlisberger 2. Mason Rudolph

Running back: 1. James Conner 2. Jaylen Samuels

Wide receiver: 1. Juju Smith-Schuster 2. Diontae Johnson 3. Chase Claypool 4. Ryan Switzer

Slot receiver: 1. James Washington 2. Quadree Henderson

Tight end: 1. Eric Ebron 2. Vance McDonald

Quarterbacks - This was the messiest position for the Steelers last year due to injuries. Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger started in 2 games and finished 1. Mason Rudolph started 8 games and finished 7 of those. Devlin Hodges started 6 games and finished 5 of those games. Both Rudolph and Hodges were terrible and running back Jaylen Samuels had to take some snaps at quarterback.

In 2019, Mason Rudolph ranked 35th in fantasy points per game amongst quarterbacks with 10.9. Devlin Hodges ranked 47th with 6.7 points, tied with Ben Roethlisberger who also had 6.7. None of these quarterbacks were ownable in fantasy, with the best performance coming from Mason Rudolph where he had 16.86 fantasy points. In that game, he had 229 passing yards and 2 passing touchdowns.

Ben Roethlisberger will be a comeback player of the year candidate in 2020. While he is a bit injury prone, he will still put up some of the best stats in the NFL. He is going in the 12th round in fantasy and I am looking to target him in all of my leagues as a backup or maybe even starting quarterback. He is being slept on a ton as in 2018 he had over 5000 passing yards on 675 attempts.

Running backs - The Pittsburgh Steelers will always ride one running back, no matter who it is. When James Conner was out, it was Benny Snell who picked up the workload as he had 16 or more carries in 5 games. Snell was not at all a threat in the receiving game, but still had 73.6 rushing yards per game. Receiving the ball was Jaylen Samuels' job as he had 47 receptions for 305 yards and a touchdown in 14 games.

James Conner finished the season as the RB35, with 464 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns on the ground and 34 receptions for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. All of this was despite playing only 10 games and receiving a decent amount of volume in 7 of those games. In those 7 games, Conner averaged 17.8 fantasy points per game. He only had 116 rush attempts, which shows how banged up Conner really was last year.

Conner is being heavily slept on this year as he is going in the 4th-5th round. James Conner is a lot like Dalvin Cook, where when he plays, he will dominate. If you can get a player who will average 17.8 fantasy points as an RB3 in the 4th-5th round. While I am not extremely high on Conner, I do expect him to bounce back next year. If Conner doesn't get injured, he could reach the 300 point plateau.

Wide receivers - The Steelers' receivers struggled because of poor quarterback play in 2019. James Washington finished as the WR54 with 133.5 fantasy points. He had 44 receptions on 80 targets, 735 yards, and 3 touchdowns in 15 games. Juju Smith-Schuster finished as the WR65 with 113.2 fantasy points. He had 42 receptions on 71 targets for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns in 10 games.

Diontae Johnson was the only Steelers receiver to play in all 16 games and finished as the WR41 with 157.1 fantasy points. He had 59 receptions on 92 targets for 680 yards and 5 touchdowns. Johnson never had a game over 100 receiving yards. Johnson had 6 games where he received 7 or more targets and in those games, he averaged 14.6 fantasy points per game. If he did that over a 16 game season, that would've been 233.1 fantasy points.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Chase Claypool in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. Claypool is built like a tight end but runs like a receiver with his 4.4 speed. There are questions about his route-running, but I like him as a deep sleeper at the end of drafts because of his physical abilities. Juju Smith-Schuster is going in the 3rd round and I think that is good value for a player that has some risk associated with him. Diontae Johnson is going in the 8th-9th round and I love him as a sleeper this year. If Roethlisberger is back, the Steelers will be passing a lot more and they should get him 7 targets a game. James Washington sucks and should be phased out of the offense this year as he had every opportunity to impress the Steelers but haven't yet.

Tight ends - Vance McDonald was the starting tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and caught 38 receptions on 55 targets for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns. This was good for 83.5 fantasy points, which was good for the TE30. His best game came in Week 2 against the Seahawks with 7 receptions for 38 yards and 2 touchdowns.

In free agency, the Steelers signed Eric Ebron from the Indianapolis Colts. He showed a lot of potential after his 2018 season where he had 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns but regressed a lot in 2019. In 2019, Ebron had 31 receptions on 52 targets for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns. His best game came against the Raiders in Week 4 with 1 reception for 48 yards and 1 touchdown.

I am not targeting either of these two tight ends in 2020. The Steelers have not been using their tight ends a lot recently. But with a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger, that should leave room for one of these tight ends to score 125 fantasy points. Eric Ebron is good value as a streaming option, but shouldn't be anything special.

Fantasy analysis:

Bounce back: Ben Roethlisberger

Sleepers: James Conner, Diontae Johnson

Deep Sleeper: Chase Claypool

Good Value: Juju Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron

Bust: James Washington

Handcuffs: Mason Rudolph, Jaylen Samuels, Chase Claypool, Vance McDonald

I hope you liked 2020 Fantasy Previews Part 27: Pittsburgh Steelers. Next up is 2020 Fantasy Previews Part 28: San Francisco 49ers. Who do you like on the Steelers' offense for 2020? Let me know in the comments!

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