2022 Steelers Fantasy Football Preview: Can life get any better in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era?

The last few seasons of the Ben Roethlisberger era have been hard to watch, but the Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett combo isn’t necessarily that much better. There are still talents in the skill positions here, but the QB question hangs over everything.

Review 2021

Recording: 9 – 7 – 1 (13)
PPG: 20.2 (21)
YPG: 315.4 (23)
YPG exist: 222.2 (15)
Rush YPG: 93.1 (29)
PAPG: 39.1 (4)
RAPG: 24.2 (28)

2021 fantasy ends

QB: Ben Rothlisberger* QB21
RB: Najee Harris RB3
WR: Diontae Johnson WR8, Chase Claypool WR38
TE: Pat Freiermuth TE13

Index: 2.26

That was Röthlisberger’s average throwing time in 2021, the fastest in the league. Well, it’s obviously not inherently bad to let go of the ball quickly – Tom Brady, for example, had the second-fastest average time to throw – but in Roethlisberger’s case, it wasn’t necessarily because he had the right preparation – quick decisions and that Finding holes in defenses. Most of the time it was simply because he just didn’t want to face a pass rush. Here is an illustrative example:

The Steelers had to get to the 1-yard line as a fourth down, two points down, with 3:09 on the clock, and Roethlisberger threw it to the flat with a 1.5-second snap on Harris, leaving plenty of time for four Bengals to turn hitting him just before the line to win. You can see what the play call was trying to achieve – the receivers on the right are cleaning up, so they’re trying to put Harris the ball into space with a man to beat – but with Roethlisberger throwing it off so quickly, Harris just doesn’t stand a chance.

But the thing is…it wasn’t a bad game for Harris’ fantasy value! He got a point in PPR leagues. And there were plenty of those situations where Harris and Johnson picked up essentially meaningless receptions for a few yards because Roethlisberger wasn’t willing or able to sit in the pocket and let the plays progress. But those games were pretty important to Johnson and Harris’ value.

That’s not to say Harris or Johnson aren’t good players and didn’t achieve their goals. But they saw an enormous number of goals, at least in part due to offensive dysfunction with Roethlisberger at the helm. Roethlisberger’s limitations naturally held the offense back, and I think the fact that the defense knew they didn’t have to worry about him shooting over the top made it particularly difficult for Harris as both receiver and runner. But would have had the kind of volume they would have done with a guy like Trubisky, who’s a capable scrambler, or even Kenny Pickett, who’s proving to be more mobile than late-period Roethlisberger, if nothing else.

Johnson and Harris can both succeed without Roethlisberger, and you can argue that both might even be in a better position to succeed if the offense as a whole is better. Of course, that’s no guarantee with Trubisky and a rookie QB, which makes them a little more questionable than their gaudy stats from last season would suggest.

2021 low season

draft picks

1. (20) Kenny Pickett, QB
2. (52) George Pickens, WR
3. (84) DeMarvin Leal, DT
4. (138) Calvin Austin, WR
6. (208) Connor Heyward, TE
7. (225) Mark Robinson, LB
7. (241) Chris Oladokun, QB

additions

OL James Daniels, LB Myles Jack, DL Larry Ogunjobi, OL Mason Cole, CB Levi Wallace

Important Departures

QB Ben Roethlisberger, CB Joe Haden, LB Joe Schobert, TE Eric Ebron, OL Zach Banner, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, OL Trai Turner, WR James Washington

Opportunity available

12 carries, 7 RB targets, 138 WR targets, 18 TE targets

2022 preview

rankings

Projections by Chris Towers

QB Mitch Trubisky PA: 575, YD: 3968, TD: 23, INT: 14; RUSH – ATT: 67, YD: 267, TD: 2
RB Najee Harris AUTO: 289, YD: 1156, TD: 9, TAR: 86, REC: 65, YD: 485, TD: 3
RB Benny Swift AUTO: 67 YD: 267 TD: 2 TAR: 23 REC: 17 YD: 86 TD: 1
WR Diontae Johnson TAR: 138, REC: 97, YD: 1118, TD: 8
WR Chase Claypool TAR: 113, REC: 55, YD: 769, TD: 5
WR George Pickens TAR: 71, REC: 49, YD: 560, TD: 3
TE Pat Freiermuth TAR: 86, REC: 65, YD: 647, TD: 4

biggest question

How does the QB switch change the offense?

Roethlisberger’s unwillingness to stay on the ball and let it develop made for a pretty ugly game — he’s averaged 6.2 yards per attempt over the past two seasons — but it also resulted in some pretty hefty goal counts for Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris. It’s not unreasonable to think that combining Trubisky and Pickett could make the Steelers’ overall offense more functional, but the goals may be spread out in a way that makes it harder for those two in particular to stand out.

A sleeper, a breakout and a bust

I don’t think a year with Brian Daboll and the Bills organization magically made Trubisky that much better just because Josh Allen took a big step forward with them – I think that suggestion is too much for Allen and his work He takes credit for doing it to get better. That being said, we’ve seen Trubisky put together a solid lineup of fantasy players in the past, including as recently as the last six games of 2020 when he averaged 20.1 PPR points per game. Trubisky can rush for more than 400 yards in a season, and the Steelers character still has plenty of short, easy throws to give Trubisky decent ground. He’ll have to hold Pickett back, but I would imagine Trubisky is a viable low-end starting option.

I’m less worried about Harris than I am about Johnson because this Steelers offense has created so much value for running backs in the past. Harris might talk about getting a few more plays than he did as a rookie, but when push comes to shove, Pittsburgh will do what they always do, which is lean on their No. 1 running back. I expect his efficiency to improve as a sophomore, and Harris should still play a solid role in the passing game — especially if the less-mobile Pickett wins the job ahead of Trubisky. Harris has the overall No. 1 advantage in RB, even if that offense is pretty good with the amount of work he’s expected to do in both facets of the game, and I expect a step up.

It’s a lot riskier drafting Johnson given the dramatic cost gap – Claypool walks off the board at 108.61 in NFC ADP – but I think there’s a non-zero chance Claypool will be more or less a non-entity. Claypool stumbled down the stretch when he had more chances, clinching 15 of 31 goals for 132 yards and a touchdown in his last five games, and the addition of Pickens with a second-round pick shows the team may not be entirely comfortable with what they have come from Claypool so far. I could see him finishing third on the team in WR snaps soon and coming off the field in two WR sets, and unless offense generates deeper opportunities he could be pretty much useless for Fantasy.

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