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AFC North Preview - The Pittsburgh Steelers



The Steelers may have more questions around their team entering the 2019 season but they also have some answers as well. The Steelers boasted one of the best passing attacks in the league last year, ranking #2 overall in passing for 2018. Part of that success was the tandem of Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster but Brown has been traded to the Oakland Raiders. The Steelers ground game has also gotten a facelift with Steelers also moving on from LeVeon Bell and going with James Conner.


All in all, the Steelers have a different team about to hit the field this season and I'm going to break down the team and let you know what assets are going to be fantasy relevant this season.


Ben Roethlisberger



Ben Roethlisberger finished the season as the 3rd best QB in fantasy for the 2018 season posting 341 fantasy points on 5,129 yards, 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. That kind of performance also landed him a 2yr extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben should also be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after what transpired between him and former Steelers turned Raider wide receiver Antonio Brown this offseason. Roethlisberger should be looking to quiet the haters and proving that his seasons have been legit because of his own talent and not of the receivers.


Currently, Ben Roethlisberger is being drafted in the middle of the 11th round and could fall even further because of the bigger and flashier names ahead of him at the QB position. If your strategy is to wait on a QB, Ben could be one to target. He still has plenty of weapons, as mentioned earlier, that can help him get the job done. For instance, at the wide receiver position…


Juju Smith-Schuster



Juju has been one of the many highlighted wide receivers mentioned this offseason and rightfully so. Juju was able to play alongside Antonio Brown and hold his own. On 166 targets, Juju finished 9th overall in fantasy among WRs and posted an impressive 111/1426/7 line in just his second year as a professional football receiver.


Juju now is the sole owner of the number 1 spot in the Steelers WR corp, which means his shares in the red-zone are sure to go up as well as a slight bump in his targets. Juju has a big opportunity to solidify himself as an elite wide receiver without living in the shadow of AB.


Donte Moncrief



Moncrief is a receiver that I would like to take a hold of the spot formerly owned by Juju Smith-Schuster. In an offense that likes to pass the ball and has a number of targets available for the taking, Moncrief can not only lend a hand in the passing attack, but can rebuild his own image if he takes the opportunity to do so.


Yes, Moncrief was bad last year but that had more to do with how bad Jaguars QB Blake Bortles was than his own talent as he was still the most targeted wide receiver in that group.

Moncrief’s ADP also makes him a prime sleeper candidate as he’s being drafted 11th round. With Bell, Brown, as well as former Tight End Jesse James in new homes, that’s about 242 targets still available to be spread out.


So far in ahead of training camp, Moncrief’s work ethic has impressed Ben and the Steelers coaches. That could mean something if Moncrief keeps up the work.


James Washington



While I’m personally not as high on him as others (I do want Moncrief to take that #2 spot), that doesn’t mean that James Washington doesn’t have a shot. Washington showed flashes of big play ability last season when he did hit the field. Able to play both the outside and the slot, he should also figure to see a bump in playing time from the 58.9% snap share he received for the 2018 season.


While Washington’s sample size is on the small side, he did average nearly 14 yards a catch. Washington is actually being drafted at the end of the 10th round ahead of Donte Moncrief so there’s some thinking that Washington has a shot to take that #2 WR spot over Donte Moncrief.


James Conner



During the offseason, Conner expressed that his role was going to be reduced in an effort to get playing time and reps for both Jaylen Samuels and rookie running back Benny Snell. That notion was later dismissed after James Conner came out later this offseason and stated that his role would be “similar” to the one he had last season. Everyone knows that Head Coach Mike Tomlin likes his leading bell-cow backs and even when a running back misses time, the next man up generally gets the most, if not all the workload.

While the Steelers running back group as a whole has some talent, James Conner will more than likely be the versatile bell-cow back that will operate for Mike Tomlin with Jaylen Samuels playing the backup role should anything happen to Conner during the season.


Conner was very efficient with his carries, getting 215 of them and gaining 4.5 yards per carry as well as his usage in the passing game netting 497 yards on 55 receptions (71 targets). Conner finished as the RB 7 in fantasy last season even while missing 3 games in 2018. If he can finish the entire season, that number could crack the Top 5.


Vance McDonald



Not to be left out of the conversation, Vance McDonald has also been talked about as a viable option to emerge in the Steelers offense. McDonald will no longer have to split time with Jesse James and will be the lead Tight End for Rothelisberger to target.


McDonald saw 71 targets last season and should also be in line to get a slice of that target pie mentioned earlier and a bit more scoring targets should come his way. We’ve seen what McDonald can do after the catch (that poor Bucs DB) and how tough he is as a big receiver as well as a blocker which means he should be on the field quite a bit.


Vance McDonald finished 12th overall among fantasy Tight Ends for 2018 and with an even bigger role in the offense, he could edge up even higher in 2019.


Going Deep


An intriguing piece that has gone rather cold in my opinion is Diontae Johnson, the rookie wide receiver the Steelers took with their 3rd round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and heralded as the “Antonio Brown replacement” because of his similar metrics and size. He’s an interesting piece to watch heading into camp.


Right now he’s listed with the 2nd string receivers on the Steelers depth chart per Ourlads.com and could be looking to push James Washington for the 3rd WR role. That will be position battle to keep an eye on as this kid as received some high praise as one of the future pieces for the Steelers wide receiver group.


That’s it for the Pittsburgh Steelers breakdown. Let us know what you think of the breakdown. Be sure to follow Fantasy Pilots on Twitter @FF_Pilots and be sure to follow me @IAmHyperion_FPH too. Looking forward to the discussion.

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