This series provides a brief overview of the each NFL team’s 2018 season, and the state of their skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards the upcoming campaign and possibly beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final 2018 standings. Next up…Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Last season went down as the then 36-year old Ben Roethlisberger’s best statistical season ever, as he led the NFL in passing attempts, completions, yards, and finished tied for third with 36 total touchdowns (with all of those aforementioned statistics being career highs). Despite still playing the quarterback position at a high level through his late thirties, Roethlisberger’s fantasy stock took a huge hit this past Spring, as disgruntled star receiver Antonio Brown was shipped to the West Coast in a trade with the Raiders. Looking at Roethlisberger’s fantasy scoring prior to Brown’s breakout 2013 season versus after, it’s clear the veteran quarterback is going to miss his long-time favorite target. From 2004-2012, Roethlisberger averaged just over six fewer fantasy points per game (15.17) than he did between 2013 and 2018 (21.31). Nevertheless, Roethlisberger should remain a viable fantasy option many weeks, but he’s likely lost a lot of his luster.
Rather than see presumed starter Le’Veon Bell‘s contract dispute result in just a few missed games at worst, he ended up holding out for the entire season, leaving the Steelers’ ground game in the (more than capable) hands of backup James Conner. Likely either chosen late in fantasy drafts or plucked off the waiver wire as a rental for the brief time Bell was expected to be out, James Conner provided fantasy managers with a major unexpected boost, finishing as the RB7 in terms of PPR points scored per game. Between Weeks 1 and 13, Conner amassed at least 95 scrimmage yards or scored in all but one game, while also co-leading all running backs in broken tackles (57, tied with Saquon Barkley) during that span. However, what the fantasy gods giveth, they also taketh away, as Conner suffered an ankle sprain in Week 13, and missed the Steelers’ ensuing three contests (effectively ending his fantasy season considering most leagues don’t count the regular season finale). During the time Conner sat out, fifth-round rookie Jaylen Samuels (listed as a tight end in college, but drafted as a running back) generated 328 yards of total offense and a receiving score in three starts. Conner has done plenty to show he deserves to keep the lead role for 2019 and beyond, though the lower body injuries he’s endured through his first two NFL seasons are a concern (high-ankle sprain last season, MCL tear in 2017). Consensus ADP data (via FantasyPros) has Conner on average as the 11th player off the board, which puts him on the first/second round border depending on league size, which seems risky considering he’s yet to play a full 16-game NFL season. Samuels’ late season heroics should ensure that he starts 2019 as the primary handcuff in Pittsburgh, though fantasy manager’s will want to have the backup running back/utility player on speed-dial should another injury befall Conner.