Ben Roethlisberger stayed healthy and the offense bounced back in 2020, but it wasn't the same offense we've been used to. It was all short passes designed to get the ball out quickly, and there were some hard to watch stretches as a result. The Steelers invested heavily in the offense in the draft, but will it be enough?
Record: 12 - 4 (4)
PPG: 26.0 (12)
YPG: 334.6 (24)
Pass YPG: 250.2 (15)
Rush YPG: 84.4 (32)
PAPG: 41.0 (1)
RAPG: 23.3 (28)
2020 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 2.17
That was Roethlisberger's average time to throw last season, the lowest in the NFL by 0.21 seconds. I don't want to paint the picture like Roethlisberger was completely unwilling to push the ball down the field as much as that he was just atypically passive. If the situation was perfect, Roethlisberger was willing to take his deep shots. But if he felt a whiff of pressure, he was getting rid of the ball. And that happened a lot more often than not, as he got rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds on a whopping 73% of his dropbacks; the median qualifying quarterback was at 49%. His average intended air yards fell to 7.1 yards in 2020 compared to 7.7 in 2018, 9.2 in 2017, and 9.4 in 2016. Roethlisberger seemed like he was doing everything he could to avoid getting sacked, and you can't play like that and be successful. The question is whether he'll play a bit more loose and free now that he's another year removed from an elbow injury.
1. (24) Najee Harris, RB
2. (55) Pat Freiermuth, TE
3. (87) Kendrick Green, C
4. (128) Dan Moore Jr., OT
4. (140) Buddy Johnson, LB
5. (156) Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE
6. (216) Quincy Roche, OLB
7. (245) Tre Norwood, CB
7. (254) Pressley Harvin III, P
169 carries, 43 RB targets, 35 WR targets, 20 TE targets
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Ben Roethlisberger||PA: 625, YD: 4436, TD: 30, INT: 16; RUSH -- ATT: 20, YD: 54, TD: 1|
|RB||Najee Harris||CAR: 261, YD: 1126, TD: 9; TAR: 69, REC: 52, YD: 412, TD: 3|
|RB||Benny Snell||CAR: 81, YD: 346, TD: 2; TAR: 13, REC: 9, YD: 66, TD: 0|
|WR||Diontae Johnson||TAR: 135, REC: 91, YD: 1024, TD: 6|
|WR||JuJu Smith-Schuster||TAR: 118, REC: 82, YD: 906, TD: 5|
|WR||Chase Claypool||TAR: 94, REC: 56, YD: 790, TD: 6|
|TE||Eric Ebron||TAR: 69, REC: 44, YD: 476, TD: 5|
Is Ben Roethlisberger just washed up?
Weird question to ask about a guy coming off a 33-touchdown season, but Roethlisberger just wasn't very good last season. He posted a career-low 6.3 yards per attempt, either because of an offensive game plan that prioritized short passes over everything or from an unwillingness to hang on to the ball and take chances. Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool could be the best WR group in the NFL, but their collective upside is capped if Roethlisberger doesn't play more aggressively in 2021.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
As much as I have my doubts about Roethlisberger, I can't deny that this is set up for him to have a very, very good season. As poorly as he played in 2020, he finished as QB14 and had 12 multi-touchdown games. He has so much talent around him at receiver, plus an upgrade at running back, that if he's even a little bit more confident in his ability to hit the deep ball, Roethlisberger could be excellent. In a 2QB league, he's a fine second option, and if you don't want to spend up at the position, he could get off to a great start against the Bills, Raiders and Bengals to open the season.
Johnson took a lot of flak -- not to mention a brief benching -- for his issues with drops last season. He dropped a whopping 13 passes, including six in a three-game stretch, and it's hard not to hold that against him. But here's the thing: His team didn't, so you shouldn't. Sure, Johnson was benched in Week 14 after his sixth drop in three games. But he came back out in Week 15 and earned 13 targets, and had a whopping 47 in the final four games of the season after that benching. That's a 200-target pace over 17 games. The relevant information here is not the drops, it's the fact that Johnson was so consistently open that he kept earning those targets. The drops were mostly not Johnson's fault, anyway -- he was working mostly in the middle of the field in the short range, where drops happen most often. I'm not sure Johnson is good enough to warrant the amount of attention he gets from Roethlisberger, but you can't deny the role he has had. If he has that same role, he's got top-12 upside in PPR.
If Roethlisberger does improve in his second season removed from elbow surgery, Claypool figures to be the biggest beneficiary as the best downfield option on the team. But, if I'm going to be skeptical of Roethlisberger, it naturally follows I would also be pretty skeptical of Claypool. There's no denying the talent here -- Claypool is going to be a force in the NFL. But if the Steelers still have a timid Roethlisberger under center, Claypool is going to remain frustratingly inconsistent. I can't justify Claypool at his 69.8 ADP.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.