The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t started a rookie quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger’s 2004 rookie season. This franchise has a long history of success. Head coach Mike Tomlin has proven time and time again that he can drag any team to a winning record. Rookie Kenny Pickett wound up starting for the better half of last season. Is there something to build on as he goes into year two? And what does that mean for the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers? Let’s look at it in the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers Fantasy Forecast.
2022 Season Recap
The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers finished with a 9 – 8 record and third in the AFC North. They wound up barely missing the playoffs, which is quite a feat considering they switched to a rookie quarterback about a quarter of the way through the season. According to PFF metrics, the Steelers had a top-ten passing attack and a top-fifteen rushing attack. Despite this efficiency, they only scored the 26th most points in the league. A lack of touchdowns will affect the value of numerous players that we will touch on in this article. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was retained despite the pleas of many Steelers fans, so expect the offense to look mostly the same.
Quarterbacks: Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
Kenny Pickett started the 2022 season on the bench behind Mitch Trubisky. 2023 will not be the same as Pickett took over during his rookie season and didn’t give the job back. Pickett led the Steelers to a winning record, extending an active streak since 2003. Pickett finished at QB28 overall last season but was only QB37 in points per game.
The offense will look very similar for Pickett in 2023 as offensive coordinator Matt Canada returns for another season. We should expect roughly 550 pass attempts for the Steelers in 2023. If we project an improved efficiency for a second-year quarterback, we can project Pickett to have about 370 completions for 3,400 yards. As stated earlier, the big sticking point for this offense last year was scoring points. If Pickett continues his touchdown rate from last season, he will only have ten passing touchdowns in 2023. Even if he improves in that area, I can’t see him having more than 20.
Pickett may be the perfect QB2/QB3 in a Superflex dynasty league. Despite the poor passing performance, Pickett does possess a rushing upside. He could easily have 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns on the ground in 2023. The value insulation comes from his job security. I cannot see a world where Pickett losses his job to Trubisky again. Add to that fact that the roster is good enough, and Tomlin is a great enough coach to prevent them from picking in the top of the 2024 draft class. Pickett is going for the current values based on our DynastyGM trade browser.
Running Backs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland
Najee Harris has been a bell cow running back since he was drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. He had over 300 carries his rookie season, and last year eclipsed 272 rushing attempts. One of the big knocks on Najee over that time is the need for more efficiency. His 3.9 yards per attempt ranked 43rd in the league; last year, he ranked 52nd with only 3.8 yards per attempt. However, volume is king at the running back position, and based on volume alone, he has finished as RB3 and RB14 in the past two years. I fully expect this volume-based play to continue in 2023, and he makes an excellent option for contenders. However, if I weren’t making a title run this year, Harris would be an easy dynasty sell, as his relevance would disappear if he loses the volume.
One of the reasons that Najee Harris could lose some volume this year is because of Jaylen Warren. Warren is entering his second season with the Steelers and was highly efficient with a small workload in his rookie year. On 77 attempts, he averaged 4.9 yards per attempt. Obviously, with an increase in volume, there will be a decrease in efficiency, but even a 25% decline would keep him in line with the efficiency Najee has shown over the past two seasons. I will pay close attention to the snap share over the first few weeks of the 2023 season to analyze if Matt Canada is going with more of a shared backfield. Jaylen Warren can currently be had RB52 in startups, according to Dynasty Nerds ADP.
Wide Receivers: Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin, Miles Boykin, Hakeem Butler
One of the great strengths of the Steelers franchise has been their ability to draft wide receivers. Year after year, they select wide receivers on day two and even day three that turn into Pro Bowl-caliber players. It is one of the many reasons the team has succeeded since 2004. The 2023 Steelers wide receiver room is the same as in past renditions. Diontae Johnson and George Pickens were both day two picks poised for big seasons. Allen Robinson was brought in for a cheap veteran presence to help round out one of the better trios in the league.
Diontae Johnson was highly disappointing for fantasy managers last season. Despite having over 140 targets, he finished the season with less than a thousand yards and exactly zero touchdowns. His yards per reception ranked 42nd in the league. His 2022 campaign was the perfect example of volume not always being king at the wide receiver position. However, it does present a great buying opportunity for dynasty. He is extremely talented and still only 27 years old. Here are some recent trades from the DynastyGM trade browser.
George Pickens was considered the WR1 of the 2022 NFL Draft class at one point. During his true freshman season at Georgia, he put up over 700 receiving yards. For an 18-year-old kid against SEC cornerbacks, this is a remarkable feat. However, injury-plagued sophomore and junior years led to him falling to the second round of last year’s draft class. The Steelers bounced on the opportunity to bring in such a talented young player, and that investment is paying off so far. Pickens will build on his rookie campaign, where he had over 800 yards on 84 targets. It would not surprise me if he eclipsed the 100-target mark in his second year in the league.
Tight Ends: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Zach Gentry
The Steelers once again let value fall to them in the draft when they selected Georgia tight-end Darnell Washington with the 93rd overall pick in this past year’s draft. Injury concerns and a questionable role at the next level were two factors that led to him falling. Washington is a huge player, 6 foot 7 inches and 270 pounds. He could easily be used as a blocking tight-end exclusively and may have a limited pass-catching ceiling. For this reason, he has been highly volatile in rookie drafts and is on my do-not draft list for 2023.
The tight end to roster for fantasy football has to be Pat Freiermuth. Pat Freiermuth will be entering his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He saw 79 targets his rookie year, which jumped to 98 last year. He is an integral part of the offense and, with Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, form most of Kenny Pickett’s targets. Freiermuth is a great buy, especially in tight-end premium leagues. He is currently going as TE8 in startups according to our NerdsADP, but can be acquired via trade for much less.
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I hope you enjoyed this fantasy forecast. Be sure to check back often, as I will cover all fantasy-relevant positions. For more content like this, follow me on Twitter @DanT_NFL. DMs are always open for questions, comments, or craft beer recommendations!