The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. Having covered all of 2017’s non-playoff NFL teams, it’s time to review the rest, with the next squad being:
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Ben Roethlisberger posted a 7:9 touchdown to interception ratio over his first six games of 2017, and some even doubted his commitment to the game after some post-game comments following a disastrous five interception performance in the Steelers’ Week 5 blowout loss to the Jaguars. However, Roethlisberger managed to get his act together between Weeks 10 and 16, a span in which he averaged 312.7 passing yards per game and threw eighteen touchdown passes (including back-to-back four score performances during Weeks 11 and 12). While Big Ben may be approaching the twilight of his career (having turned 36-years old this past March) he cannot be ignored, due to his primary role in an offense featuring arguably the best wide receiver/running back combo in the NFL. That said, Roethlisberger always has the threat of injury looming over his head due to the big hits he absorbs, which is something that needs to be considered when constructing your fantasy roster. As for Landry Jones, his three-year tenure as the Steelers’ backup quarterback could be coming to an end after the team spent a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph this past weekend.
Le’Veon Bell is just about the only story in the Pittsburgh backfield, who finished as the NFL’s 2017 touch leader with 406 and now has back-to-back seasons of 1,800-plus total yards. Additionally, Bell’s 85 receptions were tops among running backs with his 129.8 total yards per game ranking him second behind only Todd Gurley. While Bell is one of those rare NFL running backs that hardly ever comes off the field with one of the most secure workloads at the position, wear and tear (29.0 touches per game over 27 games the past two seasons) and a dip in efficiency last season (a career low 4.0 yards-per-carry average) are minor concerns. Still just 26 years old despite going into his sixth NFL season, Le’Veon Bell is someone you can safely build your fantasy team around as a top-three overall choice this summer. James Conner, a third-round pick last year, operated most of the season as Bell’s sparingly used backup until an MCL tear knocked him out for the remainder of the season. Former Patriots star Stevan Ridley was scooped up as a replacement and actually started the Steelers meaningless Week 17 matchup against the Browns putting up 80 rushing yards and a score on 17 carries. Despite Ridley’s heroics, Conner should slot back in as the Steelers second-string running back assuming all goes well with his knee recovery.
Antonio Brown got back over the century mark in terms of his receiving yards-per-game average after a “down” 2016 that resulted in “just” 85.6 yards per game. Brown seemingly did whatever he wanted during the 2017 season, leading the NFL in receiving yards, and 100-yard games (8) despite missing two whole games and the majority of a third due to a calf injury. Turning 30 years old in July, Brown remains in his prime and there are few arguments against making him the top wide receiver off the board in summer fantasy drafts. JuJu Smith-Schuster, a second-round draft pick in 2017, was elevated to the Steelers’ starting lineup in Week 8 as a result of fellow wideout Martavis’ Bryant’s team imposed suspension and never looked back. From Week 8 onward, Smith-Schuster amassed 686-4 in seven games (including a 7-193-1 line in his first game as a starter) as he went on to lead all rookies in receiving yardage. In Smith-Schuster, the Steelers appear to have finally found a Robin to Brown’s Batman, and the former should be able to eclipse 1,000 yards in a full season as a member of the starting offense. Martavis Bryant spent all of 2016 out of football due to a PED suspension and his return to the field was anything but triumphant. Bryant finished 2017 with a career low single season yards-per-game average, zero 100-yard games (he only had one contest in 2017 with more than 65 receiving yards) and a paltry three scores, after finding the end zone a combined 15 times across the 2014/2015 seasons. Adding insult to injury, Bryant was bumped down the depth chart due to his poor on-field performance and attitude issues and ultimately was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a 2018 third-round draft pick just last week. At 26-years old, Bryant still possesses theoretical upside, and will play out his contract year in Oakland. Eli Rogers was once thought to be an ascending talent in the Steelers offense after posting a 48-594-3 line in 2016 as a rookie, though with Bryant and Smith-Schuster ahead of him on the depth chart last season, Rogers’ services were simply not needed. Rogers is currently a free agent, as the Steelers decided not to renew his contract last March (a decision in which a torn ACL Rogers suffered in the team’s divisional round playoff loss to Jacksonville likely played a role.)
With the Steelers having cut their losses on the Ladarius Green experiment, Jesse James won the Steeler’s starting tight end role in training camp — though was largely unusable from a fantasy perspective. James finished with 41 receiving yards or fewer in all but one 2017 contest, including four zero-catch performances. The Steelers must not have felt too comfortable moving forward with Jesse James as their no. 1 tight end, as the team orchestrated a trade with the San Francisco 49ers last August which netted former 2013 second-round pick Vance McDonald. Unfortunately, McDonald never solidified himself as a consistent contributor in the Pittsburgh offense due to lower body injuries suffered throughout the season, which resulted in numerous missed practices and six missed games. With a full off-season to train in Pittsburgh, the fragile but talented McDonald will be afforded every opportunity to ascend to the top of Pittsburgh’s tight end depth chart (that was not addressed via the 2018 Draft or free agency) but his health cannot be taken for granted.