2020 Pittsburgh Steelers Fantasy Team Preview: Don't Call it a Comeback, They've Been Here For Years

SI Fantasy's Team Preview series from high-stakes legend Shawn Childs aims to break down the Pittsburgh Steelers to evaluate the offense, defense, coaches and everyone in between with a fantasy-slanted analysis.
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Coaching Staff

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the best franchises in the NFL since 2001 while having elite success since 1972. Over the last 19 seasons, Pittsburgh has a 196-106-2 record with 12 playoff appearances, and two Super Bowl wins. Last year they missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019.

Mike Tomlin returns for his 14th season as head coach. He has a 133-74-1 record with eight playoff berths and one Super Bowl title. Tomlin has an 8-7 record in the postseason, but only 3-5 over his last five appearances. Of all active coaches, he has the second-best winning percentage (.642) behind Bill Belichick (.683).

His road to the playoff lives or dies with the quarterback position. Pittsburgh hopes Ben Roethlisberger has a couple more good seasons in his holster.

Randy Fichtner took over as offensive coordinator for the Steelers in 2018 after spending the last 11 seasons in the Steelers’ system as a wide receiver and quarterback coach.

Before 2019, Pittsburgh ranked in the top four in offensive yards gained in four of five years. Their success in yards hasn’t translated as well in points scored. The Steelers ranked 7th (436), 4th (423), 10th (399), 8th (406), and 6th (428) from 2014 to 2018.

The loss of WR Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger led to the Steelers falling to 30th in yards allowed and 27th in point scored (289). They scored 139 fewer points than in 2018.

Keith Butler will run the defense for the sixth straight season after working as their linebackers’ coach for 12 years.

The Steelers’ defense finished fifth in the NFL in yards allowed in 2019 and fifth in points allowed (303). Pittsburgh has a rising defender, which will help them move back into playoff contention.

Quarterbacks

Ben Roethlisberger (RANK - ADP)

The value of the Steelers’ passing offense ended in Week 2 when Roethlisberger went down with a right elbow injury. On the positive side of his injury, WR Diontae Johnson (59/680/5) showed upside down the stretch, and WR James Washington (44/735/3) had growth. Pittsburgh ranked at the bottom of the league in passing, yet they remained in the playoff hunt late in the year thanks to a rising defense. Roethlisberger needs WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to regain his top tier WR form, and newly added TE Eric Ebron should add scoring value in the red zone. Pittsburgh even added another WR (Chase Claypool) in the second round of this year’s draft.

In 2018, Roethlisberger was the third-highest scoring fantasy quarterback (25.74 fantasy points per game in four-point touchdown leagues). He finished that season with 5,129 passing yards and 34 TDs.

At 38, I expect another competitive season. The sum of his parts added up to 4,168 combined yards with 26 TDs and 13 Ints in my projections.

Mason Rudolph (RANK - ADP)

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Running Backs

James Conner (RANK - ADP)

Over the first seven games, Conner scored six TDs with success in three contests (125 combined yards with one TD and eight catches, 119 combined yards with one TD and seven catches, and 150 combined yards with one TD, and three catches). Over his other four weeks, he struggled to make plays (222 yards with three TDs and 11 catches). Conner battled quad and shoulder injuries over the second half of the season. When healthy, he has three-down ability, and the Steelers like to ride one RB if possible. In the early draft season,

I’m torn between value and injury risk with Pittsburgh and having RB Benny Snell as a secondary option. With no setbacks, Conner is projected for 1,286 combined yards with nine touchdowns and 45 catches.

Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels & Anthony McFarland

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Wide Receivers

JuJu Smith-Schuster (RANK - ADP)

The new kid on the block at wide receiver ended up being a massive bust last year. His first leg was kicked out after the right elbow injury to QB Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2.

After the downgrade at QB, Pittsburgh finished 31st in passing yards (2,981) after finishing second in 2018 (5,008). Smith-Schuster suffered a toe injury in Week 1, followed by foot, concussion, and knee issues over the final two months of the year.

His only game of value came in Week 8 (5/103/1). Over his last five games, he caught only 12 of his 23 targets for 109 yards. With three missed games and a sketchy resume in 2019, fantasy owners need to look past his disaster and focus on his success the previous year.

Look for a rebound with a reasonable chance at 100+ catches with plenty of yards and TDs.

Diontae Johnson, James Washington & Chase Claypool

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Tight Ends

Eric Ebron (RANK - ADP)

Fantasy owners ran out of LUCK with Ebron in 2019. After leading the league in tight end touchdowns (13) in 2018, he delivered fewer than 50 percent of his production in catches (31) and yards (375) while falling well short in scoring (3 TDs).

His season started with five short games (1/8, 3/25, 3/47, 1/48, and 1/8 on four targets per game) with a pair of TDs. His only bump in opportunity came in Week 10 (12 targets – 5/56). Ebron missed the final five games with ankle injuries that required surgery.

The move to Pittsburgh should be a win with Ben Roethlisberger back behind center. Sneaky top ten option while being overlooked on draft day (ADP – 162). In the initial projection, Ebron looks to be on a path for 53 catches for 550 yards and five TDs.

Vance McDonald (RANK - ADP)

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Defense

Pittsburgh fell to 14th in the NFL vs. the run (1,753 yards) with seven TDs and six runs over 20 yards. Their regression came from allowing only 28.9 rushing attempts per game. The Steelers allowed 3.8 yards per carry.

They ranked third in passing yards allowed (3,113) with 23 TDs and 20 Ints. The Steelers’ defense had 54 sacks with QBs gaining only 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

In the premium outlook, on defense you'll find write-ups for DL Cameron Heyward, DE Stephon Tuitt, LB T.J. Watt, LB Devin Bush, LB Bud Dupree, LB Vince Williams, CB Joe Haden, CB Steven Nelson, S Minkah Fitzpatrick & S Terrell Edmunds

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Team Defense

Pittsburgh has two dynamic players at linebacker (Watt and Bush) with strength in their secondary. Heyward remains a top defensive lineman. This defense should get plenty of sacks while creating turnovers. They do need someone to step up at linebacker and on the defensive line if they want to be considered the top defense in the league. I have the Steelers ranked No. 1 in fantasy team defense.

Free Agency, Draft, Offensive Line, Offensive Schedule & Defensive Schedule

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