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Michael Fabiano's Comeback Player of the Year: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Senior Fantasy expert Michael Fabiano foresees a comeback season for Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger


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Injuries aren't a new thing for Ben Roethlisberger. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, he's had more than his share of bumps and bruises (ask him, he'll tell you). Big Ben has been able to gut it out most of the time and play through the pain. He had played in at least 12 games in every season of his NFL career until 2019.

In Week 2 in a game against the Seattle Seahawks, Roethlisberger twice clutched his right elbow during a late second-quarter drive. He stayed in the game but didn't return after halftime. A short time later, it was announced that Roethlisberger would need season-ending elbow surgery. It would be the shortest season (62 pass attempts) of his illustrious career.

In the previous season, Big Ben produced the best fantasy season of his career. He led the league in pass attempts (675), completions (452), and passing yards (5,129), and his 34 touchdown passes were a personal best. All that success in the stat sheets led to a QB3 finish, behind just Patrick Mahomes and Matt Ryan. Of course, in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fantasy world we live in, that season seems like ages ago.

Let's fast forward to the here and now: We're in a pandemic that caused the NFL to cancel OTAs and the preseason, so all we've had are reports on how injured players like Roethlisberger have progressed. Thus far, most of the reports have been positive. He came to training camp slimmed down ahead of his age-38 season, and Steelers tight end Vance McDonald told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Roethlisberger looks like “he’s all the way back for sure” and that “he was making some insane throws.”

That's good news because a healthy Big Ben makes the Steelers offense a major threat, and it makes the veteran a huge fantasy comeback candidate.

While Antonio Brown is no longer on the roster, JuJu Smith-Schuster remains. The Southern California alum caught 111 passes for over 1,400 yards and was the WR9 with Big Ben slinging him the rock back in 2018. The Steelers also have a potential breakout candidate in fellow wideout Dionate Johnson. He flashed major skills late last season, scoring 19-plus fantasy points in two of his three games during the fantasy football postseason. He did it while catching passes from mediocre (or worse) backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. Johnson also caught 91 percent of the catchable targets thrown in his direction, per our friends over at Pro Football Focus.

Pittsburgh's offense also boasts James Washington, free-agent addition Eric Ebron, and second-round selection Chase Claypool. Oh, and let’s not forget about James Conner, who caught 55 passes for 497 yards in 13 games with Big Ben at the helm in 2018.

With all of that upside in the passing attack, you know Pittsburgh will continue to throw the football a ton. That's been a staple of the offense, as Roethlisberger is tied for second-most pass attempts (1745) in the three years before his elbow injury. During that time, Big Ben also ranked fifth in passing yards, fourth in touchdown passes and fifth in fantasy points (853.8, 18.97 PPG) among all NFL quarterbacks.

Is there risk in Big Ben? Of course. Heck, he's 38 years old, coming off major surgery on his throwing arm. But that's all baked into his draft position. At this point, he's being picked at 186.4 on average based on current ADP data from the Fantasy Football World Championships. On Fantasy Football Calculator, he’s an 11th-round selection.

That's not much draft capital to invest in a player who could be a regular fantasy starter. If I can land the veteran gunslinger as a QB2 well outside of the top 100 picks, well, that’s a minimal risk move with a whole lot of possible reward if Ben goes big in 2020.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for the latest fantasy football news and analysis!