2019 Summer Sleeper: Pittsburgh Steelers

Michael Zingone

In our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series, DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.

To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:

Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.

Because we aren’t going to give you the likes of mainstream sleepers, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Adam Thielen is going to spring up. Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the more fascinating offenses in the league. Dynasty owners are counting on JuJu Smith-Schuster to continue his rocket trajectory towards WR1 overall in dynasty startups. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels make up one of the potential best backfields in the NFL. Vance McDonald has massive upside in an offense with over 200 vacated targets. Plus, James Washington and Donte Moncrief are both being selected in the mid-rounds of redraft leagues as high-upside plays.

So, where on earth is the value on this team? You’ll have to go far down on the depth chart, but one name stands out.

Ryan Switzer, WR

Category: Deep Sleeper

While it’s hard to call a third-year player a journeyman, that’s the best word to describe Switzer’s career to this point. After being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, Switzer has been traded twice in two years. Ultimately, he found himself on the Pittsburgh Steelers with just weeks left before the 2018 season began.

Learning a playbook can be difficult, especially as a rookie. The NFL game is often so much different from college. Imagine, though, learning your rookie year playbook, being traded after one season, learning another new playbook, being traded again, and learning another one in three weeks before the regular season starts. Talk about a nightmare. Luckily for Switzer, this year is different. He is on the Steelers roster once again heading into training camp, and that comes with plenty of opportunity in 2019.

Switzer was a good prospect coming out of UNC, playing all four years and recording at least 50 catches for 650 yards in three of those seasons. In his senior season, he put himself firmly on the NFL’s radar with a massive 96 catch season for over 1,100 yards and six touchdowns. Based on data and analysis from Peter Howard (@pahowdy) and Zeno James (@theDude_Z), Switzer’s performance was only slightly below what successful NFL wide receivers tend to produce in college.

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Data from Sports-Reference.com.

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Chart from Data Viz.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Switzer showed elite agility numbers. While many of his other measurables fail to impress, he wins in the slot with elite level burst and agility. This is where he wins on the field and would make an impact for the Steelers in 2019. Smith-Schuster played a lot in the slot over the past two seasons, but his role is largely unknown – in terms of where he will line up – in 2019. Switzer has the skill-set and measurements to thrive in the slot.

Let’s transition away from hypotheticals and dig into the data we have. Last season, Switzer was the fifth-leading target on the Steelers, earning 44 of the team’s 689 targets (6.4% target share). On those targets, he recorded 36 catches for a very low 7.0 yards per reception with only one touchdown. While his catch rate was very good (81%), his per target yardage efficiency was low compared to others on the team.

However, digging further into Switzer’s more advanced statistics, it’s easy to see that he was a playmaker in his role. One of the primary reasons for Switzer’s low yards per reception was his 3.4 aDOT (per AirYards.com). This number is very low for wide receivers, even slot wide receivers, who usually find themselves in the 7.0 to 9.0 range for aDOT. Cole Beasley, for example, recorded an aDOT of 7.4 in 2018. Naturally, Switzer’s aDOT is likely to increase simply based on positive regression in 2019.

Furthermore, Switzer was one of the better players on the Steelers last year in regards to Expected Points Added (EPA) per target. In looking at his performance compared to others on the 2018 Steelers roster, Switzer bested James Washington and Eli Rogers, both of whom Switzer is competing with for targets again this season.

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Let’s take this one step further. Switzer’s role for the Steelers, if any, will be playing from the slot. This would involve many of his routes to be over the middle of the field to potentially move the chains for Big Ben and the rest of the offense. So how did Switzer perform specifically in this part of the field? The answer is very, very well.

Looking at Switzer’s EPA/Target specifically on passes in the middle of the field, he stands out as one of the best on the team. He caught a whopping 88% of his targets for over 10 yards per reception in this area of the field, showing significant improvement from his statistics overall. While others on the Steelers performed well in this area of the field as well, Switzer has the biggest difference between his performance here as compared to other parts of the field. If the Steelers want a player who will specialize over the middle of the field, he can be that guy.

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Ryan Switzer is one of those players whose measurable skill-set lines up with his on-the-field skill-set. If given the opportunity, he can shine in a role the Steelers may need someone to fill this year. While the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers seem like a team that has its skill position players figured out, there is plenty of opportunity on the table for someone to perform and step into a well-defined role. While Switzer might not be a player you ever consistently start from week to week for fantasy football, he has stash appeal in dynasty leagues as a deep sleeper who could emerge in one of the league’s most pass-heavy offenses.

michael zingone
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