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Fantasy Forecast: Pittsburgh Steelers

With an aging quarterback at the helm, the Steelers still have one of the ripest offenses for fantasy football. Woo Lee breaks down all the stars and players to own in Steel City.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a disappointing ending to what seemed like a dominant 12-4 season. The team struggled towards the end of the season due to injuries and lack of a run game. Ben Roethlisberger looked like an aging QB and the entire offense looked like they were thrown off their rhythm. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t look like the dominant team they were to start the season, yet they still showed a lot of potential in 2020.

The Steelers are not the same team heading into the 2021 season. They lost most of their entire offensive line in free agency and could only keep Zach Banner from 2020. Then they added rookies Kendrick Green and Dan Moore in the 2021 NFL draft to help bolster the offensive line. The Steelers also added 2 studs in Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth to the offense via the draft. Pittsburgh has completely revamped the offensive line and is hopeful of creating a more effective rushing attack.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have potential fantasy goldmines in 2021. Though there were a lot of WRs that produced Flex-WR2 numbers in fantasy, it should be more concentrated in 2021. Meaning, fewer players will be fantasy-relevant, but those select few should produce better numbers. Dionte Johnson will look to lead the Steelers WRs once again in targets and receptions while Chase Claypool will look to take a second-year leap. Harris will look to assume the workhorse role for the Steelers and Big Ben will look to prove he still has something left in the tank. The Steelers are capable of producing elite fantasy players in 2021.

Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger

Credit: behindthesteelcurtain.com

Roethlisberger will return for his eighteenth season as a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2021. He didn’t look like his old self in 2020 coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the rest of the 2019 season. Though he didn’t look like himself, he still was able to produce 3,803 passing yards on 399 attempts. Roethlisberger doesn’t have the strongest of arms anymore, but he wasn’t afraid to air it out in 2020. The Steelers didn’t have an effective rushing attack, and Roethlisberger was forced to air it out most of the time. Though the Steelers needed to draft a replacement for Ben, they decided to run it back again one last time with the Steelers.

The 2021 season will most likely be his last season, if not his second from last. The prolific Steelers QB is far away from the QB1 status in 2018 and should continue to decline in 2021. This is not to be mistaken that Roethlisberger is not serviceable in fantasy, but he should be considered more of a QB2 rather than a QB1. Because it is unknown how much longer he will play, he should be a good QB2 for a year for teams that drafted rookies that won’t start right away, such as Trey Lance and Justin Fields. Roethlisberger currently has an ADP of 147 and is the QB30 in dynasty Superflex formats on Sleeper. He no longer is a locked-in starter for fantasy, but he should be a nice one-year rental for many dynasty managers in 2021.

The Backup QBs

With Big Ben coming back for the 2021 season, the starting QB slot has been filled. The backup QB position however is still unknown. The Steelers signed Dwayne Haskins to a one-year deal after he was let go by the Washington Football Team. Then they extended Mason Rudolph to a one-year deal that will keep him in the Steel city through 2022. While it is unclear who will be the backup, it looks like Dwayne Haskins is solely due to his draft capital. Haskins may get his opportunity, but he may completely lose his backup job if he continues to have off-field issues. Either way, both QBs shouldn’t be rostered until the Steelers release their official depth charts for 2021.

Running Backs

Najee Harris

Credit: news.yahoo.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected the star running back out of Alabama with the twenty-fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Harris was an essential piece for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2020, as he produced 1,466 rushing yards on 251 attempts. He also had 26 rushing touchdowns. Not only was Harris effective on the ground, but he was also effective in the passing attack. Harris hauled in 43 receptions and produced 425 yards with four TDs. Now Harris has a golden opportunity to lead a Steelers backfield and take over a similar workhorse role.

Harris landed in a great situation with the Steelers. With the departure of James Connor in the offseason, Harris has no competition for snaps. With Harris assuming a full workhorse workload, he has tremendous upside in fantasy. Though the offensive line concerns being questionable going into the 2021 season, the sheer opportunity alone should allow him to produce high-end RB2 to low-end RB1 numbers. With the consideration of his talent, Harris has a chance to produce like a top-10 fantasy RB in his rookie year. His current ADP is around 24 in SF dynasty rankings on Sleeper, going as the RB14. With his talent and opportunity, Harris should be targeted in the early to mid-second round picks.

The Backup RBs

The backup role for the RB position is uncertain like the QB position. Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland, and Benny Snell will be battling in training camps to compete for the number two RB position for the Steelers. McFarland’s former head coach from Maryland is now the offensive coordinator for the Steelers, but there’s no indication on whether that will make a difference. Snell has the most experience out of the 3 RBs being in the Steelers’ offense. Ballage seemed like the best RB out of the three in his limited playing time on the Steelers. It’s hard to tell who the backup RB for the Steelers will be. It could be worthwhile to stash one of the backups RBs to play the lottery, but it’s best to leave all of them alone until the official depth chart comes out.

Wide Receivers

Diontae Johnson

Credit: steelerswire.usatoday.com

The former third-round pick of the 2019 NFL draft led all Steelers receivers with targets in 2020. Johnson finished with 923 receiving yards on 88 receptions along with 7 TDs. Johnson, by far, was the most targeted receiver on the Steelers. He was targeted 144 times in 2020. Though he was targeted a lot, he also dropped a lot of passes. Johnson will look to improve his drop percentage and take another leap in what seems like a breakout year for him.

Johnson should still retain his role on the Steelers’ offense. He was Roethlisberger’s favorite target and should be heading into the 2021 season. With Smith-Schuster on a one-year deal, the Steelers seem comfortable moving forward as Johnson being the number one option for the Steelers in 2021. The Steelers made no actual changes to the WR core and Johnson will look to build on his strong 2020 season with more efficiency. With the sheer volume, Johnson should have a healthy floor of a WR2 with an upside to produce WR1 numbers. In Sleeper, his current ADP is near 75 and is currently ranked as the WR29 in SF dynasty rankings. Diontae Johnson is a solid WR2 option for dynasty managers looking to solidify their WR group.

Chase Claypool

Credit: NFL.com

Claypool came out nowhere in his rookie year as he finished with 873 yards on 62 receptions and nine TDs. The former second-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft showed flashes of potential that could elevate him into the WR1 spot for the Steelers. He had the size, athleticism, and speed to become a mismatch for many defenders. Claypool will look to take a leap in his second year and position himself to take the WR1 job from Diontae Johnson.

Claypool exploded onto the scene in week five against the Eagles as he put up 110 yards on seven receptions and scored four total TDs. His potential to be an elite WR in fantasy is there; Claypool needs the targets and opportunity. He is in a great position to take the number 1 job, but will need to be efficient and assert himself as a more dominant threat on the field. Claypool should be considered a low-end WR2 with the upside of WR1 in dynasty.

With Johnson, Smith-Schuster, and James Washington all returning for the 2021 season, Claypool will still have to earn his targets. Big Ben is once again at the helm in 2021, so deep balls may not be prominent again in 2021. Claypool’s ADP on sleeper is 72 and is currently going as the WR33. Claypool is riskier, but the upside is much higher than any WR on the Steelers roster.

Juju Smith-Schuster

Credit: steelerswire.usatoday.com

Juju resigned with the Steelers on a one-year deal in the offseason. He had better offers to go play on different teams, but ultimately chose to stay with the Steelers. The former 2017 second-round pick has never been the same ever since Antonio Brown left town. Smith-Schuster has not produced a 1,000-yard season since 2018. Smith-Schuster finished with 831 yards on 97 receptions along with nine TDs in 2020. He has earned another opportunity with the Steelers in 2021, but without his usual role.

Juju was underwhelming, to say the least, for fantasy in 2020. It is safe to say that the expectation for Smith-Schuster producing WR1 numbers in fantasy is in the past. Juju can still be a viable option for fantasy for dynasty managers. Though his role in the offense is projected to decrease with the emergence of Johnson and Claypool, he should still be able to provide Flex-WR3 type of production. His ADP is currently sitting at 84 and is ranked as the WR28 in SF dynasty rankings. At his current ADP, Juju could be at a great WR3 or Flex for dynasty managers.

Tight Ends

Eric Ebron

Credit: dknation.draftkings.com

Eric Ebron will be heading into his last year in his contract in 2021. He was productive last year with the Steelers, raking in 558 yards on 56 receptions along with five TDs. Though he was the fourth option on the Steelers, Ebron still drew 91 targets. This was mainly because the Steelers had a horrendous ground game. In 2021, Ebron’s production should face the most dip and may even take a back seat to Pat Freiermuth at some point in the 2021 season.

Ebron finished as the TE16 in 2020. With the Steelers trying to establish a more balanced attack in both running and passing the football, the opportunities for Ebron will dip. Ebron and Juju may look to battle for targets, but the likelihood of Ebron beating out Juju are slim. Ebron shouldn’t have much fantasy value unless a drastic change is made. He is most likely a non-factor for fantasy at this point, as he is ranked as the TE29. Ebron is droppable in most dynasty leagues.

Pat Freiermuth

Credit: theathletic.com

The Steelers drafted the former Penn State TE in the second round with the 55th overall pick. Freiermuth was productive in school, tallying 1185 yards on 92 receptions in his three years. Though his statistics seem underwhelming, he was a focal point for the Lions’ offense. The big body tight end was nicknamed “mini-Gronk” and was projected to be the first tight end off the board until Kyle Pitts emerged. Overall, Freiermuth is a big-body tight end that can be effective as a receiver and a blocker.

The Steelers selecting Freiermuth in the second round came as a surprise because of other needs on the team. Nonetheless, the former Lion will now have a great opportunity to learn and eventually take over as the starting TE in the Steel City. Freiermuth in his rookie year shouldn’t be considered a starting option, but will eventually develop into a good TE in the future. With Ebron on the last year of his contract, Freiermuth may become relevant sooner than later. In Sleeper, Freiermuth’s current ADP is around 135 and is considered the TE24 in SF dynasty rankings. In dynasty, he is a great late-round pick-up that dynasty managers can stash away on the Taxi squad. Freiermuth has the potential and is worth waiting on.

Conclusion

Though the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a lot of key players in free agency, it isn’t over for them. This team still has a lot to work with and should be able to compete at a high level. With the addition of Harris and Freiermuth, this offense has a lot of optimism heading into the 2021 season. The Steelers shouldn’t be counted out and should be considered a strong option in the future for fantasy.

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