At one point, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the last undefeated team left in 2020. After 11 straight wins, they played absolutely terrible in a loss to the Washington Football Team and their season unraveled after that. They finished 12-4 and were bounced by their rival Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs. A good portion of this offense returns with two key exceptions. They added arguably the best running back in the draft back in May and their offensive line has been downgraded by injuries and cap casualties. How will this addition and subtraction affect the team in 2021? I’m glad you asked.
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Ben Roethlisberger returns yet again to lead the Steelers into battle. If you’ve watched him play recently, it’s easy to tell he is heading into his 18th season. Yes, he’s old. Yes, he’s slow. But he was still the QB14 last season and threw 33 touchdowns. His yardage, 3803, certainly left something to be desired, especially on 608 attempts, but come on, he’s old and slow!
The Steelers routinely finish near the top of the league in passing attempts and that alone makes Roethlisberger an intriguing late-round option. He’s being drafted as the QB19 after the 11th round of fantasy drafts. If he throws the ball over 600 times again, he is very likely to beat that ADP. Roethlisberger is not a player you should target heading into your draft but if you go QB late, and other teams have started snagging backups (like idiots), then Big Ben is a decent consolation prize. He has weapons all around him to keep him dangerous in 2021.
Roethlisberger will either be backed up by Dwayne Haskins, Mason Rudolph, or Joshua Dobbs. All of which were given new contracts this offseason. Why in the world they have three backup quarterbacks, who are all kind of terrible, makes no sense to anyone. If Ben gets hurt, you don’t want any of them and probably no Steelers’ players at all.
Before the NFL Draft, if you asked just about any fantasy player their dream RB scenario, they would have said “Najee Harris to Pittsburgh”. In a weird twist, it happened. Then, everyone started crying about how bad the Steelers’ offensive line is and that Harris would not be able to do much as a rookie. There really is no pleasing you people. While the Steelers line is bad, the team tends to feed their “main back” and that will undoubtedly be Harris in 2021. Efficiency might be an issue, but volume will not. Another issue might be ADP.
As of this writing, Harris is going off the board as the RB12, according to FantasyPros. Putting in bluntly “It’s too damn high!” While Harris is certainly more talented than any back on the roster last season, James Conner only paced as the RB28 based on fantasy points per game. Harris could outperform him–but he could also falter behind a worse line than Conner. That risk is not reflected in his ADP. Harris is being drafted at his ceiling and that is rarely the right move in fantasy football.
Backing Harris up will be a roster of nightmares for fantasy managers. Benny Snell has been a running joke over the last two seasons. Kalen Ballage has been a thorn in the side of fantasy managers since he entered the league. Even last year’s 4th Round pick, Anthony McFarland, is already looking like a wasted draft pick. If Harris goes down, Snell or Ballage will get the first crack at the job, and they could be a decent weekly play, but you are not drafting any of them.
If there is one fantasy position where the Steelers will shine in 2021, it’s wide receiver. Last year, all three of their top wideouts finished in the top-24, despite Roethlisberger missing the top-12. JuJu Smith-Schuster led the way, finishing as the WR16 and catching 97 balls for 831 yards and nine TDs. The yardage is not quite where you’d like it to be, but as mentioned before, that could fall on his QB. Second-year man, and Josh’s man-crush, Diontae Johnson led the team in targets with 144 and turned that into a respectable 88/923/7 stat line. Good enough for a WR21 finish in fantasy while missing one game. Finally, rookie Chase Claypool finished as the WR22 with 11 total TDs scored. All three will be assets once again in 2021.
Diontae Johnson is likely to lead the team in targets yet again and his WR20 ADP reflects that. He has top-12 upside but certainly needs to get his infamous “drops” problem under control. Claypool is being drafted as the WR28 and feels like the riskiest pick of the bunch. He caught just 62 balls last year and relying on touchdowns is a dangerous game in fantasy football. He is built for the red zone, but he could give you headaches at this ADP if he stays at 3rd in the pecking order.
Smith-Schuster is basically screaming value and fantasy managers are ignoring him. He is going off the board as the WR31, despite almost cracking the top-15 last season. He has the best rapport with Roethlisberger of any player on the team and will continue to be leaned on. JuJu will give Johnson a run for the target’s lead and will almost certainly outplay his ADP.
One narrative that has haunted the Steelers in fantasy football is that “They don’t use their TE, so don’t draft them”. Sometimes these cliches are exactly right. Eric Ebron was targeted 91 times last season, the 8th most among all TEs. He still finished as the TE14 in fantasy. The emergence of three solid wide receivers and the addition of a potentially great RB makes 2021 look even worse.
The Steelers also drafted Pat Freiermuth in the 2nd Round of the NFL Draft. Freiermuth was regarded as the 2nd best TE in the draft and his presence will not help Ebron in any way. The Steelers will not run many two-TE sets and Ebron could be looking at a 50/50 snap split. You can safely avoid all Steelers TEs until further notice.