It’s the end of an era in Pittsburgh now that Ben Roethlisberger has officially announced his retirement.
From a fantasy impact: How will that affect the Steelers’ skill position players?
The easy answer is that it can’t hurt.
While Roethlisberger ranks fifth on the NFL’s all-time list in passing yards and eighth in touchdown passes, his 2021 numbers were mediocre at best. He was middle of the pack in yards and touchdowns, and his fantasy numbers placed him at a brutal QB26.
Now, if Steelers backup Mason Rudolph is elevated to the starting role, that’s bad news for all parties. Pittsburgh averaged 13 points scored in the two games this season with Rudolph under center. But the Steelers' front office is too good not to come up with a better plan than that.
Whether the Steelers draft a QB of the future (stay local with Pitt’s Kenny Pickett?) or acquire a veteran via trade or free agency, there will be an adjustment period.
From a fantasy standpoint, that’s good news for running back Najee Harris. With 1,667 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns as a rookie in 2021, Harris was the PPR RB3. Unless the Steelers manage to trade for Aaron Rodgers, expect them to at least be somewhat conservative next season, making Harris the centerpiece of the offense. And since the rebuilding o-line will only get better. Harris brings serious fantasy value.
Receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool were WR12 and WR36, respectively, last year. Johnson had the better numbers (1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns).
Claypool had the better average yards per catch (14.6), and his numbers could improve with a quarterback that can move better and buy more time than Roethlisberger could at the end of his career. Juju Smith-Schuster missed most of last season with an injury and will be a free agent. Roethlisberger’s departure may be a factor in Smith-Schuster deciding to move on somewhere else.
Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth was a pleasant surprise for fantasy managers, catching 60 passes for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. He developed a good rapport with Roethlisberger, who was looking to get the ball out of his hands as fast as possible at the end of his career. Freiermuth should continue to be a popular safety valve for whoever takes over at QB in Pittsburgh.
Again, given Roethlisberger’s average performance in 2021, his retirement shouldn’t hurt any of his former teammates’ fantasy value.
We’ll get a better picture once the team makes a decision on its quarterback future. For now, Harris and Freiermuth might be the best values.
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