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Steelers’ Future Outlook Without Ben Roethlisberger

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Ben Roethlisberger announced that he’s officially retiring following the 2021 season. What does that mean for his current weapons in dynasty leagues?


Future Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, announced that he’s officially retiring from the NFL, so what’s next for the Steelers? Without going too deep on overall options, it’s worth going through what this means for players still in Pittsburgh as well as which of Big Ben’s potential replacements make sense.

The End of an Era

Roethlisberger had one of the greatest careers in the history of the NFL, currently sitting fifth all-time in passing yards (64,088) and eighth all-time in passing touchdowns (418). While his overall legacy no doubt includes a discussion of off-the-field allegations, his on-field prowess has been mostly steady up until the last few years.

Since the 2019 injury when Roethlisberger tore three flexor tendons off the bone of his right elbow, the Steelers’ offense has taken a dramatic shift. Over his career, Roethlisberger has averaged 7.6 yards per pass attempt, but that number in 2020 was a meager 6.3 and fell to 6.2 in 2021— the lowest of his career. It’s important to put this into context before diving into his former teammates’ outlook.

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Current Steelers players – Buy, Sell, or Hold?

Hold

Najee Harris, RB (Age 23)

Harris is a bell-cow who saw 401 opportunities (307 rushes, 94 targets) in 2021. Don’t expect another 94 targets, as so much of that is likely a part of Roethlisberger’s inability to drive the ball downfield. Harris will also likely be a less efficient runner without a seasoned veteran QB getting full autonomy to change plays at the line.

That being said, when you are talking about starting Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins at QB, expect a healthy dose of Harris and ball control. Whichever QB is there next year, 300 plus attempts and 50 plus targets are bankable with health. Enjoy the young stud RB.

Diontae Johnson, WR (Age 25)

Johnson’s role in the offense is secure, regardless of who is throwing the ball. Johnson was the safety valve for Roethlisberger and will be again in 2022 for whoever the Steelers have under center. Johnson has seen his role grow within the offense from slightly used rookie to his third year in 2021 where he averaged just shy of ten targets per game.

Ten-target-per-game wide receivers don’t grow on trees. Going into next year at 26 years old, Johnson still has years left in his prime. He will likely lose the high-end ceiling outcomes initially but should continue to be a high floor second WR for your team, with the potential to grow over time with a new QB.

Pat Freiermuth, TE (Age 23)

Freiermuth had one of the great fantasy rookie seasons for tight ends who are typically not fantasy relevant. Despite never exceeding 80% of the snaps in any week, Freiermuth finished strong with 60 catches, 497 yards, and 7 touchdowns. His role for the team should grow as he develops and has a really bright future, so why just a hold?

There are two main concerns with Freiermuth — starting price and TDs. He’s already a top eight asset according to FantasyPros Dynasty ECR (expert consensus ranking), so he’s going to cost a lot. Without Roethlisberger, his touchdown rate might go down. If he goes from seven to two, he becomes a borderline top 20 tight end. I’ll wait for the down year — if the QB isn’t a veteran, then buy-in.

Buy

Chase Claypool, WR (Age 23)

Claypool has been frustrating to roster in dynasty at the start of his career. Early last year he felt like a steal when he quickly surpassed James Washington as the deep threat with all the physical tools you want in a WR. With all the good, there also came some really boneheaded moves that cost his team and probably cost him playing time and targets.

Plays like the one above get over publicized and lead to managers getting down on a player. They also may see a guy put up similar targets, catches, yards, and lose seven touchdowns from his rookie year and think he plateaued. This situation screams buy. Touchdowns are not a stat that’s consistent and a quarterback with a stronger arm will hit on more deep balls. Get him now while the window is open.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (Age 25)

Normally, I wouldn’t bring up a pending free agent, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is an interesting name. Everyone saw what a talent he was when Roethlisberger had him and Antonio Brown. The right spot could absolutely rejuvenate that hype and this is an opportunity to buy into that. if you believe.

So much of what happens is tied to the landing spot. Either buy in advance if you’re a believer or hold him until he signs and hope to move to an excited manager. The only rumblings I’ve heard to date is a report that he wants to join Patrick Mahomes again this offseason, which would make an investment now absolutely worth it if pans out.

The Other Guys

I’m not sure any other offensive player is worth a buy. Backup RB Kalen Ballage is a free agent and not likely to see much role change. If he leaves, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland are still on rookie deals and likely to split work if Harris went down. Of those two, I’d rather speculate on McFarland who has yet to really see any opportunity and is the likely receiving back.

Smith-Schuster leaving would open up the slot role, but WRs James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud are also free agents, so this vacancy seems likely to increase via free agency and the draft. I’m not sure either of those guys gets bigger roles wherever they land. TE Eric Ebron is also a free agent, and is likely to be a backup or role player wherever he lands.

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The most important position in sports

What options are out there for Pittsburgh in 2022? Could the team really believe Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins are the answers? Will a rookie be available to them at pick 20 that solves all their problems? Do they find a veteran in free agency or via trade? Let’s dive in.

The current options

Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins are not exactly names that inspire confidence. Rudolph started one game in 2021, his tenth overall start. Back in Week 10, he threw the ball 50 times in a 16 -16 tie with the Lions. Overall, he has a winning record of 5-4-1 on a Steeler team that’s loyal to its players. I expect him to take the first snap under center in camp and their first preseason game.

Haskins, the former first-round pick for Washington, never got a fair shot there. He struggled as a rookie, coming in and out as the team struggled on offense around him. He didn’t show much improvement the following year and was cut following an off-the-field incident. In his year with Pittsburgh, he never saw the field and only dressed when Roethlisberger missed the Week 10 game.

The draft options

It’s still really early to speculate on who may or may not be around at pick 20 this year. That being said, I believe a couple of options stand out already as potential fits based on the scheme the Steelers have run with Roethlisberger.

Sam Howell out of North Carolina is already one of my favorite options if he falls this far. As a three-year starter for the Tar Heels, Howell played well as a freshman and showed growth as a sophomore, but then struggled this year after Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome all turned pro. Not sure if he’d start Week 1, but I imagine it’d be sooner rather than later if he’s the pick.

Carson Strong out of Nevada has one of the best arms in the class and would be the most seamless transition stylistically — he’s not the most mobile but has a strong arm that could really help Claypool. Strong needs to get checked out by the Steelers trainers, as he has a knee issue that will probably cause some concern in the draft process, but he could start early for Pittsburgh if all checks out.

Veteran options

First, let’s talk salary cap to set the table for realistic options. The Steelers, as it currently stands, have just over $32M in cap space. That doesn’t include UFAs CB Joe Haden, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, OG Trai Turner, S Terrell Edmunds, or ERFA C J.C.Hassenauer. The only way to add to that cap space is moving on from T Zach Banner or extending LB Joe Schobert. In total, that’s likely another $10M or so.

Assuming $42M in total cap space to fix the offensive line, add a top CB, resign a starting safety, and sign a QB, probably $20-25M is a best case for the QB. That means a deal for Kirk Cousins would require an extension. I believe Derek Carr (if available) is the better trade option with a smaller salary and still three years younger, though any trade for a high-end starter feels unlikely.

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Free agency is a weaker group, with options like Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Mitchell Trubisky at the head of the class. With Haskins already on the roster, the reclamation route of multiple former highly drafted QBs seems very unlikely.

The Steelers are pumping up Rudolph and Haskins, and it seems that might be the likeliest option, maybe with a rookie as well. The 2022 season likely won’t be drastically different than what Roethlisberger has been the last couple of seasons with either. If a rookie QB does come in and sit for a bit, it could present an opportunity for a manager willing to wait for them to develop and the offense to take off again.


If you plan to wager on the NFL this year, make sure you understand how sportsbook and casino withdrawal limits could affect your betting.
useful guide here.


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