2019 Steelers fantasy preview: Can Pittsburgh make up for departed stars?

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Next up, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The much-publicized fracture between the Pittsburgh Steelers and All-World talents Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell finally ended, as each player found new homes and new teams in the offseason. Now, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner (the latter of whom already increased his fantasy value by taking over during Bell’s holdout) are officially WR1 and RB1 in Pittsburgh, respectively.

This has long been a team with valuable fantasy assets, but can the holes left behind by Brown and Bell be filled completely?

Steelers fantasy impact players
Steelers fantasy impact players


Without Antonio Brown to shield him from double teams, will prolific bicycle rider and social media juggernaut JuJu Smith-Schuster BOOM or BUST at his current 16.4 ADP (WR6)?

Liz: BUST. My PIT #takes are all over the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast so go ahead and smash the subscribe button wherever you listen to audio content for the extended version of this opinion. The short of it is that JuJu will be taking on a whole new role as the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver ... and that’s no small task.

In fact, Keenan Allen recently described the leap (and what it would mean for JuJu) in an interview on UNDISPUTED. The Chargers WR said he believed that JuJu’s transition was going to be “life changing.” He explained, “It’s gonna be hard to sleep at night trying to find ways to get open. Different routes, different coverages you’ve got to look at. Double teams, double pressures, just everything, man. The whole game changes.”

The #ReceptionPerception data is clear. Without an obvious outside option in Pittsburgh, JuJu will have to completely retool his game. And even if the Steelers do decide on an X and keep Smith-Schuster in the slot, the talent dip from AB to whoever isn’t going to allow JuJu to get open as easily as has in the past. Admittedly, this may all be moot. But I’d prefer to roll with safer options like Michael Thomas and maybe even Antonio Brown around in the same spot.

Brad: BOOM. The narrative that JuJu will suddenly face more stringent coverage and will fail massively as a result is next-level dumb. He’s been in this situation before. Five times to be exact. In those contests, he averaged an elite 21.2 fantasy points per game in PPR formats. His 57 percent success rate led the team a season ago. He also baffled defenses in congested areas, posting the 11th-best contested catch rate of any wideout. Pull head from keister — JuJu is good, really good.

With Brown’s 169 targets up for grabs, every fantasy manager should be asking JuJu to the prom. Yes, the expectation is to spread those looks among various options, but it’s quite conceivable that the slot man could set the targets pace this season. At a minimum, he’s a 100-1400-10 option who is sure to outpace his former teammate.

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In early May, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert openly embraced the idea of his club implementing a committee approach at RB. With that in mind, do you BUY or SELL James Conner (13.5 ADP, RB9) as a trustworthy RB1 in 12-team .5 PPR formats?

Liz: SELL. You looking for Benny Snell takes? Then you’ve come to the right place! A determined powerhouse with a compact frame (5’10” and 224 lbs) Snell has the girth and grit to dominate at the goal line, as evidenced by his 48 scores in just three collegiate campaigns. Also in possession of advanced vision and an abundance of patience, the rookie RB knows how to stick with his blocks.

That last bit figures to be particularly handy given Snell’s landing spot. Selected by the Steelers in the fourth round (No. 122 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ohio native has a skillset that fits well with Pittsburgh’s scheme and personnel. Working behind an offensive line that Football Outsiders ranked among the top-five run-blocking units in power success, Snell’s ability to spot holes in tandem with his restraint should lead to some impressive gains.

The question, of course, is how Snell gets on the field with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels ahead of him. The answer may not be pleasant, but it is simple: Conner has to get hurt. While no one is rooting for that outcome, there’s no denying the ferocity of the sport, the volatility of the position, and the durability concerns surrounding the player (12 starts in 2018).

Even if the haters are right and Snell’s lack of speed keeps him from achieving workhorse status, his short-yardage prowess could eat into Conner’s value just enough to depress the third-year back’s stock. It’s foolhardy to assume the Steelers are going to copy and paste their offense from previous seasons. Give me Nick Chubb instead.

Andy: Fully BUY. Simply put, there’s no other back on the roster with Conner’s talent and proven featured potential. Jaylen Samuels had a single good game last season; Conner had many. That said, I do think it’s entirely possible we’ll see Samuels and Conner on the field at the same time, with Jaylen used as a receiver (similar to his collegiate usage). And maybe we’ll see fourth-rounder Benny Snell used as a rotational player in short-yardage situations. Conner, however, is the guy you want in this backfield. He’s a solid top-15 overall fantasy option.


Given Pittsburgh’s evolving offensive makeup and his advanced age, will Ben Roethlisberger’s final numbers be GOOD, BAD or UGLY relative to his price point (127.1 ADP, QB13)?

Andy: I actually think the fantasy community has done a decent job factoring Brown’s departure into Big Ben’s price, so I’ll say GOOD. Brown is simply a huge loss, but let’s recall that Roethlisberger put the ball in the air a ridiculous 675 times last season, leading the NFL. He should finish as a playable QB1 when healthy on volume alone. Even without AB, he has a few notable weapons at his disposal. No one should be surprised if he delivers 4500 yards and 30-plus touchdown passes.

Brad: BAD. By the context of the statement above this isn’t a disparaging stance. Not at all. Big Ben should again finish at or near 600 attempts this season. Still, going from Brown to Moncrief or Washington is akin to trading in your luxury import vehicle for a grocery getter. The latter can get you from point A to point B, but sans the flair of the former. Regression seems inevitable, especially for a passer who ranked outside the top-25 in red-zone and deep-ball completion percentages last year. Mark me down for 4300 yards with 27-29 TDs. He’s my QB15.

Best Ball Bargain Bin

Liz: DONTE MONCRIEF. The Steelers need a big body who can high-point and work as a legit red zone threat. That is what Moncrief does best. Heck, it may be all he does. Throw away last year in Jacksonville. Throw away his last year with the Colts, but without Andrew Luck. Remember the 7 TD season he had in 2016 when T.Y. Hilton was doing the dirty work in the slot. Earning praise from Big Ben and looking like a “slam-dunk No. 2 receiver” the buzz surrounding Moncrief is already mounting. He’s an exceptional value at his current ADP (WR63) and figures to draw plenty of high-value targets as the season unfolds.

Brad: DONTE MONCRIEF. If the well-traveled veteran indeed locks in the No. 2 spot, which he reportedly has a leg up on doing, he’ll turn a considerable profit at his 163.2 ADP (WR63). Remember, he’s still just 26 and owns all the physical tools needed to succeed. Don’t knock him for his past two uneventful seasons catching passes from Jacoby Brissett and Blake Bortles. Recall in 2016 with Andrew Luck, he tallied WR3 per game production in 12-team leagues over nine contests. With a reliable QB again throwing him the rock and entrenched in a pass-heavy offense, a WR top-40 finish seems likely.

Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook): Pittsburgh 9 wins OVER (-120) or UNDER (+100)

Liz: Without AB it’s hard to imagine this team matching their 2018 record. Even if they do hit a midseason stride, early season kinks will need to be worked out. A push is probable, but in wanting to be definitive, I’ll take the UNDER.

Andy: Nine sounds just about right, perhaps because it’s what the team did last season. The ascendance of the Browns is a huge divisional problem for Pittsburgh. Also, this team’s early season road schedule is a minefield (at NE, at SF, at LAC). If I had to bet, I’d take the UNDER.

More Fantasy Team Previews

AFC East: Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots

NFC East: Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Washington

AFC South: Colts | Texans | Jaguars | Titans

NFC South: Buccaneers | Saints | Panthers | Falcons

AFC North: Bengals | Steelers | Ravens | Browns

NFC North: Lions | Vikings | Packers | Bears

AFC West: Chiefs | Chargers | Raiders | Broncos

NFC West: Rams | Cardinals | 49ers | Seahawks

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