Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
Ben Roethlisberger (Jan ADP: 164, QB20)
Roethlisberger had arguably his best season as a pro in 2018, eclipsing the 5,000 yard passing mark in a season for the first time in his career, and becoming one of only seven quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a single season. Roethlisberger’s 5,129 yards is also the seventh-most passing yards thrown by a quarterback in a single season. In addition to leading the NFL in passing yards, he posted personal bests in passing attempts (675), completions (452), and touchdown passes (34) while leading the Steelers to a 9-6-1 record. While that record wasn’t enough to get the Steelers to the postseason, Roethlisberger finished 2018 as the fantasy QB3.
Certainly, the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster player a roll in helping Roethlisberger post a career year. Having an option 1B across from longtime go-to wide receiver Antonio Brown’s 1A, Roethlisberger had potent weapons at the wide receiver position. Add a healthy Vance McDonald at tight end and James Conner coming out of the backfield, and it’s easy to see why Roethlisberger had the year that he did.
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Unfortunately, there are some question marks heading into the 2019 NFL season for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
First and foremost, the status of All-Pro wide receiver Brown is in question after a dispute between the receiver and Roethlisberger late in the 2018 season. The dust-up led to Brown missing the team’s crucial week 17 matchup and has led to speculation that Brown’s time with the Steelers may be nearing an end, and may result in a trade to another team. Obviously losing a player of Brown’s caliber could have a major impact on the offense, and on Roethlisberger’s fantasy value moving forward. While Smith-Schuster proved to be an elite target himself, and there are plenty of weapons still at Big Ben’s disposal, the impact of Brown’s potential departure won’t truly be known until we see the Steelers offense without him.
Roethlisberger is also 37 years old and will be entering his 16th NFL season as the Steelers starting quarterback, a career that has been filled with a lot of wins, but also a lot of injuries. He has only played a full 16-game slate four times in his 15 year NFL career.
Joshua Dobbs (Jan ADP: N/A)
Dobbs played in five games during the 2018 season, completing six of 12 passes for 43 yards and one interception. While the team felt good enough about Dobbs to release longtime backup quarterback Landry Jones, they can’t be overly impressed with his performance in the games he has played in. By almost all accounts, Dobbs is a great guy and is super intelligent, but his role as an NFL quarterback is most likely “career backup”.
Mason Rudolph (Jan ADP: N/A)
Rudolph was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, as a potential successor to Roethlisberger somewhere down the line. While he served as the Steelers third QB in 2018 and didn’t see a single snap, it seems likely he will move into the backup role in Pittsburgh sooner than later, and may eventually replace Roethlisberger as the team’s starter. The Steelers took the Patrick Mahomes/Aaron Rodgers approach with Rudolph, asking him to watch and learn this season. He’ll likely do a lot of watching until Roethlisberger retires. If Rudolph can eventually become a solid NFL starter, the Steelers will be thrilled. Rudolph is a stash in superflex leagues.
James Conner (Jan ADP: 18, RB10)
If you thought Conner was going to step into the starting running back role for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 and make All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell seem remarkably expendable, pat yourself on the back. Conner had a fantastic first year as a starter in Pittsburgh, running for 973 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games. In addition, he added 55 receptions for 497 yards and a touchdown to the offense as well and looked like a different, more explosive and powerful player than he had during his rookie campaign. He was rewarded at the end of the season with a trip to his first Pro Bowl.
After a monster week one game that saw him post 192 total yards and two touchdowns in Cleveland, Conner had three mediocre games that caused some to question if the week one performance was a fluke and if he could be ‘the guy’. He responded by ripping off four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and became a fantasy life-saver to Bell owners who had handcuffed him with Conner, or those lucky enough to own Conner in their leagues.
As long as the Steelers don’t re-sign Bell (extremely unlikely), draft a running back in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft (also unlikely), and don’t add a marquee running back via free agency (historically unlikely), I definitely think Conner has top-ten upside as the starting running back in Pittsburgh. In addition to getting the majority of the rushing work, his already relevant role in the passing game could increase significantly if Antonio Brown and his 168 targets aren’t in Pittsburgh moving forward.
Le’Veon Bell (Jan ADP: 20, RB11)
The situation between Bell and the Steelers is well documented. Bell is an All-Pro running back with the talent to be one of the best ever. He’s produced three seasons of more than 1,800 total yards in his first five years in the NFL. The production in Pittsburgh is unquestioned, however, Bell has missed time due to significant injury in two of his five NFL seasons. He’s also been suspended on two separate occasions that prevented him from playing in six games over two seasons.
The bottom line is that Bell and the Steelers have tried working out a long term contract in each of the last two off-seasons, and have been unable to come to terms. The relationship between the player and the team and teammates is also strained at this point, with Bell commenting negatively about the team on social media, and several of the players voicing their opinions on the Bell’s contract situation. Add to this Conner’s emergence, and it is almost a certainty (even if the Steelers use the transition tag this offseason), that Bell’s time in Pittsburgh is over.
The questions about Bell’s fantasy value are warranted. As stated above, he is an ultra-talented player and his combination of running and receiving skills are incredible. His value will most likely come down to where he lands as a free agent or via trade if the Steelers use the transition tag. Given the uncertainty, his ADP seems a bit high currently, however, should he land in a great spot, I can see him having elite seasons for a few more years.
Jaylen Samuels (Jan ADP: 135, RB51)
Samuels was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The rookie saw 12 carries over the first eleven weeks of the season, before getting an increased workload because of an injury suffered by Conner in week 13. His biggest contribution came in a win against the New England Patriots in week 15 that saw Samuels generate 172 total yards on 21 touches. Samuels has some value in dynasty leagues moving forward as a handcuff to Conner, and should also hold some stand-alone value as a complement to Conner in the Steelers passing attack.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (Jan ADP: 12, WR6)
Smith-Schuster is a star. After a rookie season that saw him post a 58-917-7 line, JuJu exploded for a monster 2018 season. In a season where he turned just 22 years old in November, Smith-Schuster finished with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. It was evident watching games that Roethlisberger has developed the same type of trust with Smith-Schuster as he has historically had with Brown, often looking to Smith-Schuster on key third downs, or at crucial moments during games.
Smith-Schuster’s ADP has risen drastically (almost three full rounds) since the end of the 2017 season and is at it’s highest point to date, and rightfully so. While there are questions about how he and the passing game as a whole will be affected if the Steelers move on from Brown, Smith-Schuster has shown that he can produce with Brown out of the lineup as well.
If Brown does leave the team, Smith-Schuster could increase his target share, which is already quite large (he had 166 targets in 2018). Smith-Schuster is a first-round startup pick for me and should be an elite dynasty asset for years to come.
Antonio Brown (Jan ADP: 13, WR7)
He is an All-Pro wide receiver and one of the best to ever play the game. There were concerns prior to the 2018 season about his age and whether we’d see a dropoff in production. All Brown did was catch 104 passes for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns at 30 years of age. If Brown stays in Pittsburgh, his value should remain similar to previous seasons for as long a Roethlisberger is the quarterback there.
However, as mentioned above, there was a reported rift between Brown and his quarterback late in the year that caused Brown to miss an important week 17 game. There have also been reports since that indicate that Brown has demanded, or would prefer to be traded to another NFL team. If Brown does end up elsewhere, his situation may not be as clear until we see how he gels with a new quarterback and system. Having said that, I’d imagine Brown will be motivated to produce for his new team if a trade does indeed take place.
James Washington (Jan ADP: 94, WR42)
Washington was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He finished his rookie season with 16 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown. While Washington’s rookie season may seem like a disappointment to some, he showed some flashes throughout the year. He also finished the year with three catches and more than 60 yards in two of his final three games.
Washington’s value really comes down to Antonio Brown’s situation in Pittsburgh. If Brown stays, Washington will spend another year mixing in as a third wide receiver and big-play specialist. If Brown leaves, however, expect Washington’s value to rise significantly due to the opportunity that should be available to him.
Vance McDonald (Jan ADP: 177, TE22)
After an injury-plagued 2017 season that limited his production, McDonald was finally healthy and available for the Steelers in 2018. McDonald finished the 2018 season with career bests in receptions (50), receiving yards (610), and touchdowns (4), including a memorable 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Tampa Bay where he delivered a devastating stiff-arm to a Bucs defender on his way to the end zone.
McDonald will enter the 2019 season as the starter at tight end for the Steelers and should at least have similar opportunity and production in 2019. With the likely departure of fellow tight end Jesse James and the possibility of Antonio Brown leaving, McDonald may have even more opportunity in terms of targets moving forward.
Jesse James (Jan ADP: N/A)
James has been a solid contributor for the Steelers during his tenure with the team. He’s caught 120 passes for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns for the Steelers in his four years in the NFL. He will be a free agent as his rookie contract expired at the end of the 2018 season. The Steelers are unlikely to re-sign James.
Xavier Grimble (Jan ADP: N/A)
Grimble has contributed sparingly during his first three seasons in Pittsburgh. With the likely departure of James, he should move into the backup tight end role in Pittsburgh behind McDonald.