Juggernaut Index, No. 1: If you only drafted Steelers, you might win a fantasy title

Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are the marquee players in a stacked Pittsburgh Steelers offense.
Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are the marquee players in a stacked Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

Historically, it’s extremely rare for two players from the same NFL team to be consensus top-five fantasy picks. Prior to this season, it had not happened since Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James of the Colts were selected third and fifth overall in 2005. Before that, Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner each had top-five ADPs for three straight seasons (2000-02), during the prime years of the Greatest Show on Turf.

This year, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are the consensus No. 2 and No. 3 players selected in fantasy drafts, which is remarkably high placement for a pair of teammates. In fact, for as far back as I can find reliable ADP data (expending minimal effort in my search), this appears to be the first time two players from the same team have been consensus top-three fantasy selections.

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It should go without saying that Bell and Brown deserve their spots. Bell actually outscored David Johnson last season on a per-game basis in full-point PPR leagues, 26.5 to 25.7. He gained 1884 scrimmage yards in just 12 weeks, which of course is absurd. His combination of vision, patience and explosion is unique in today’s game, and he does his running behind an excellent offensive line. Bell had at least five receptions in nine of his 12 games last season, and he gained at least 120 total yards ten times. If you took him first overall in your draft, ahead of DJ, no one can fault you. Bell is a machine. His injury and suspension history is a small concern — enough for me to slot him behind Johnson — but there’s no arguing against his talent or situation.

Bell is a foundational back, both in reality and fantasy. And he’s healthy at the moment, post-holdout.

If you’re handcuffing … well, don’t do that. Seriously, you should not handcuff so early in the season, unless you think the ‘cuff in question has either exceptional ability or stand alone value. Rookie James Conner is behind Bell on the team’s depth chart, and he’s coming off a decent preseason. But Conner would not approach Bell-like production if he were to take over featured duties. Le’Veon is a rare player who cannot be adequately replaced when absent.

How does the return of Martavis Bryant impact Brown?

Brown has been helped substantially by the presence of Bryant, not hurt. AB delivered his two most productive seasons, 2014 and 2015, with Bryant in the mix. Martavis is a 6-foot-4 receiver with separation speed an a 39-inch vertical. He’s a nightmare coverage assignment for any corner, and he and Brown force impossible choices for opposing coordinators. Bryant has been reinstated fully by the league, and, if he can remain suspension-free, he’s a clear every-week fantasy starter. He finished as the No. 15 fantasy receiver on a per-game basis in each of his two seasons.

As for Brown, he finished eighth at his position in fantasy scoring in 2013, first in both 2014 and 2015, then third last year. Here are his seasonal averages over the past four years: 120 receptions, 174 targets, 1579 receiving yards, 11 TDs. He, like Bell, is a machine. Brown just turned 29, so there’s no obvious reason to expect a dip in production. Again, he benefits from Bryant’s presence. Martavis has the sort of on-field gravity that creates space for everyone.

Martavis Bryant is back in our fantasy lives. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Martavis Bryant is back in our fantasy lives. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Eli Rogers served as an effective slot option last season, finishing with a 48-594-3 fantasy line over 13 games. He’s a trusted target for Big Ben and he delivered a quietly impressive preseason for Pittsburgh. Rogers is going to have his moments this year for PPR purposes. Justin Hunter and USC rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster are in the mix for fourth receiver status, but neither has an easy path to redraft value. Smith-Schuster is a fair dynasty hold, though he battled injuries in August.

The Steelers added tight end Vance McDonald via trade with the Niners last week, which essentially killed any chance that Jesse James would have fantasy value in 2017. Head coach produced this gem of a quote on his team’s tight ends, following the McDonald deal…

He’s not wrong. McDonald can certainly help, though he’s nowhere near the top of the receiving hierarchy for his new team.

Reminder: Ben Roethlisberger is great at football.

One of the under-discussed stories of this fantasy preseason is the treatment Big Ben has received from experts across the industry. Roethlisberger came in at QB11 in the consensus draft ranks at Fantasy Pros. While I can understand a certain level of concern for Ben’s health, it’s almost impossible to reconcile his rank with our collective enthusiasm for Bell, Brown and Bryant. That is, if we’re right about our projections for each member of the Steelers receiving corps, then we’re going to be outrageously wrong about Roethlisberger.

Ben Roethlisberger is a near-lock to earn a profit on his ADP. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Ben Roethlisberger is a near-lock to earn a profit on his ADP. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Ben has averaged 302.6 passing yards and 2.0 touchdowns per game over the past three seasons, completing 66.5 percent of his throws at 8.0 yards per attempt. His per-16 averages are fantastic: 4842 passing yards, 31 TDs, 14 INTs. This is an upper-tier quarterback, gamers.

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Everyone no doubt knows that Roethlisberger has been much better at home than on the road in recent seasons, but that’s hardly a reason to avoid him in our game. It’s not as if he’s been consistently unplayable away from home, and I’m also not convinced those splits have serious predictive value.

The split that interests me more is actually Ben’s production with Bryant on the field. Over the past three seasons, when Martavis plays, Roethlisberger’s passing total jumps by 60.9 yards per game and Pittsburgh scores an additional 5.5 points. That’s just silly. If Ben’s receiving corps remains relatively healthy and suspension-free in 2017, there’s no chance he finishes outside the top-six fantasy QBs in per-game scoring. No chance. Book it.

Let’s not sleep on Pittsburgh’s D.

The Steelers open the season with a string of not-so-intimidating matchups — at Cle, Min, at Chi, at Bal, Jac — so this defense is a recommended hold into October. The team ranked in the top-third of the league in both yards and points-against last year, totaling 38 sacks. The signing of Joe Haden was a boost to the secondary, and linebackers Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams are both of interest in IDP leagues. This D is likely to start strong. Don’t let it go unowned.

In summary, Pittsburgh provides the fantasy community with a rock-solid QB1 (Ben), an elite RB1 (Bell), the top overall WR (Brown), a high-ceiling WR2 (Bryant) and an ownable defense. Just be glad you don’t have to face this roster in your home league.

2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 24.9 (10)
Pass YPG – 262.6 (5)
Rush YPG – 110.0 (14)
Yards per play – 5.8 (7)
Plays per game – 63.8 (14)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco, 30) Cleveland, 29) LA Rams, 28) Baltimore, 27) Chicago, 26) Minnesota, 25) Detroit, 24) Denver, 23) Jacksonville, 22) Buffalo, 21) Philadelphia, 20) Miami, 19) Indianapolis, 18) Kansas City, 17) Washington, 16) NY Giants, 15) Tennessee, 14) LA Chargers, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Arizona, 10) Oakland, 9) Tampa Bay, 8) Cincinnati, 7) New Orleans, 6) New England, 5) Seattle, 4) Dallas, 3) Green Bay, 2) Atlanta, 1) Pittsburgh