Big Ben is back for another year and the Steelers retooled the offense with the hope they can make one more run with their franchise QB.
The Steelers started off 2020 with 11 straight wins, then limped to the finish, losing five of the last six, including a home playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns. The defense was dominant through the first 11 games, ranking first in opponents’ points per game, but then injuries hit and the offense was not able to pick up the slack.
To help protect Big Ben, the Steelers implemented a quick passing game and was successful in allowing the least amount of sacks, but also finished in the bottom five in yards per pass attempt. The Steelers consistently struggled in running the ball, finishing 29th in rush attempts and 32nd in rushing yards per game.
Improvements in the Offseason
The Steelers moved on from Randy Fichtner after three years and promoted QBs coach Matt Canada. Canada has recently had experience running offenses for Wisconsin, NC State, Pittsburgh, LSU, and Maryland. At those stops, his offenses averaged running the ball at 60% and yards per attempt 7.68 (well over a yard more than Big Ben in 2020).
Canada never had a QB as good as Ben in college, but there will most likely be more emphasis on having a balanced offense and trying to run the ball.
Two of the biggest acquisitions were the re-signings of WR Juju Smith-Schuster and OT Zach Banner. This gives Big Ben back his three dynamic WRs and helps with reinforcing the offensive line. The Steelers made a surprising move and did not sign a big free agent to help at running back.
They also let James Connor walk in free agency and only signed backup Kalen Ballage. Everyone’s eyes were on the draft, as these signings helped the Steelers’ status quo, but not upgrade the offense.
NFL Draft goes Offensive
The Steelers saw the need for offense and used their first four first draft picks on the offensive side of the ball. Before the NFL Draft, many were eyeing an RB for the Steelers in the first round.
I admit, I was skeptical and thought they would address the offensive line and then look for an RB later in the draft. My thinking was that the Steelers do not normally draft skill positions in the first round and RBs have fallen in value as of late with not many going in the first round.
Round 1, Number 24 overall: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
I was wrong, and the Steelers selected Najee Harris out of Alabama, which immediately improved their running game. Harris is very agile for his size and is the type of back that the Steelers are known for having in the past.
In his last season in college, Harris averaged over 3 yards after contact and caused over 71 missed tackles while also catching over 50 passes. The pick of Harris gives the Steelers a lead back like they had with Le’Veon Bell and should immediately garner 60% or more of the RB touches.
Round 2, Number 55 overall: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Another area of need for the Steelers was TE as, in his career, Eric Ebron has shown flashes but is inconsistent. This was a surprise to me again, as I thought if they passed on O Line in the first they would go for it in the second round.
Freiermuth was hurt by his injury-shortened season in 2020. He is a big target that can block, and only allowed one sack in three years. Freiermuth’s average depth of target was over nine yards at Penn State, and his skill set will allow for more two-tight end sets and hopefully improve the poor running game in 2020.
Round 3, Number 87 overall: Kendrick Green, G, Illinois
Round 4, Number 128 overall: Dan Moore, OT, Texas A&M
The Steelers finally addressed O Line in the third round with Green, who was a three-year player for Illinois where he improved on his run and pass blocking every year, per PFF. Green’s best year was in 2020, where he did not allow a sack and provided versatility, as he played at both LG and C at Illinois.
The Steelers addressed their line again in round four with OT Dan Moore who played four years at LT and was ranked the 12th best OT by ESPN. Green looks more likely to play early, on but Moore provides good depth and a developmental tackle for the future.
Steelers in 2021 and Fantasy Impact
The Steelers are in an interesting dilemma — they are a good team, but probably aren’t good enough to challenge for the Super Bowl. After Big Ben is done, they will be in a tough spot without a legitimate QB to be ready to take over. With a feature back, this should take pressure off and allow for more play-action, which the Steelers have done well with in the past. With the injury in 2020, it is unknown if Freiermuth will provide that much help this year, but it does provide more depth for the offense and a playmaker for the future.
Let’s look at fantasy value for the Pittsburgh Offensive Pieces:
- Najee Harris – IDP GUYS SF ADP 37 -RB 15
- Going as the first RB in Dynasty rookie drafts and has the easiest path to a large amount of work with little resistance in the backfield. Harris is someone who definitely should be stashed for Dynasty, as he will be used early in his career and throughout his career in Pittsburgh.
- Juju Smith Schuster – IDP GUYS SF ADP 81 -WR 28
- Juju comes back for another year and should again be a security blanket for Ben. Similar to Johnson, Juju’s value will depend on some of the types of passing attacks. Juju doesn’t rely on short passes as much but is not used as a deep threat consistently. For this year he would be second of the WRs I would want and third for long-term in Dynasty Format.
- Chase Claypool – IDP GUYS SF ADP 85 -WR 30
- Claypool will be used in the run game and to stretch the field. If the offense changes to a more down-the-field passing game, he would be the one I like the most because of his skill set. If the offense is like last year, then Claypool would be third for who I want this year, but first for long-term Dynasty format. Once the offense changes philosophies and more experience, I think Claypool could be a borderline WR 1 for years to come
- Diontae Johnson – IDP GUYS SF ADP 96 -WR 36
- Johnson was a target monster last year and, if he can work on concentration, could have another big year. His status will depend on whether or not the offense changes from the short passing game. Personally, for this next year, I would want him the most of the three WRs and second if looking at long-term in Dynasty format.
- Big Ben – IDP GUYS SF ADP 108.5 -QB 28
- Ben might be in his last year, so I would not be going out to get him. If you are a contender this year, he is worth keeping and a solid QB2 in Superflex leagues.
- Pat Freiermuth – IDP GUYS SF ADP 143 -TE 11
- Pat will be more of an asset in future years than his rookie year. Currently, he is going somewhere in the 2nd round and is ranked 23rd for rookies by IDP Guys Rookie Rankings. He is really the only other rookie TE outside
It looks as though the Ravens are the front runners in the division, and the Steelers will be fighting with the up-and-coming Browns for a wildcard playoff spot. The Steelers did address some needs on offense, but will it be enough in possibly Ben’s last season? That remains to be seen.