NFL Team Preview: Can Steelers still go with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback?

·5-min read

We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 17th-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers.

1. Najee Harris seems like the ideal fit for the Steelers. However, QB play and a suspect line could limit his Year 1 potential. Are you buying the rookie as a top-10 RB, or do you think he’ll disappoint managers who draft him aggressively?

Scott: I'd be over the moon for Harris if the Steelers also upgraded the offensive line, the weakness of the team. But with the OL still a problem, optimism for Harris has to be somewhat muted. You could consider him in the Top 15-18 overall picks, but I'd rather look for him around the turn or in the third round, and if I miss him, I miss him. 

Dalton: I'm buying Harris as a top-10 RB right away. He enters the league with an impressive college resume and an immediate workhorse role in a Pittsburgh backfield with zero competition. There’s concern regarding the team’s offensive line, and there’s a chance Ben Roethlisberger is finished (defenses cheated and jammed the line of scrimmage toward the end of last season), but three-down backs are so rare these days. Just one year younger than Joe Mixon, Harris should immediately be among the league leaders in touches as a rookie. 

Matt: There’s no doubt the Steelers come with some questions this season. The offensive line has holes and it’s extremely difficult to have any kind of confidence in Ben Roethlisberger at this stage. So Harris could be the center of the offensive universe for a team slightly lost at sea. With that said, this is a situation where we need to just close our eyes and trust the volume. Harris could legitimately push to touch the ball 330 times this year. You just can’t often find that kind of volume intersecting with a talented back outside of Round 1 in fantasy. He’s a fringe RB1 for me.

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 11: Najee Harris #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after scoring a touchdown against The Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
The prospect of drafting rookie running back Najee Harris should excite fantasy football managers despite the Steelers' questions at quarterback. (Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

2. The three primary Steelers wide receivers all figured out a way to coexist in 2020. Who is your favorite draft target on this team among Diontae Johnson (WR23), JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR29) and Chase Claypool (WR30)?

Matt: Diontae Johnson is the best player here so I’ll be endorsing him as the WR1 in this offense. Targets aren’t random. The ball goes to the receiver the quarterback and the team believe is the best guy. There’s a reason Johnson was a target monster in 2020. If you’re dinging him for drops, I hope you’ll be bringing that same hammer of judgment to universally loved young players like DK Metcalf, D.J. Moore and A.J. Brown who also sported high drop rates. I don’t think I’ll be aggressively drafting anyone in this passing game because of the quarterback questions but Johnson should be the unquestioned top player.

Dalton: Claypool would be my preference among the three, given his age and coming off a rookie season in which he scored 11 touchdowns. But wide receiver is loaded more than ever in fantasy this year, and I’m worried enough about Roethlisberger that I’m likely to pass on the Steelers wideouts at ADP.

Scott: Give me the copout, the cheapest option in any draft room. Claypool's touchdown equity breaks the tie for me if I assume those ADPs stick in the middle of the summer. 

3. Do you believe Ben Roethlisberger will be an anchor to the 2021 fantasy ceilings of this offense — why or why not?

Dalton: In a pass-happy league, Roethlisberger managed an anemic 5.8 YPA over the second half of last season. Coming off elbow surgery, Big Ben showed a reluctance to run play-action and turn his back to the defense, which is a major hindrance (although maybe a new OC can change his mind). Roethlisberger is 39 years old and has played 16 games just once since 2014, so quarterback is a major worry for Pittsburgh entering 2021.

Scott: Despite all the receiver talent, it was frustrating to watch Ben Roethlisberger last year. That puny aDOT, the reluctance to run play-action. Roethlisberger no longer drives this offense, he's just a passenger on it; and the Steelers clearly recognize it, given their offseason personnel moves. Roethlisberger is no longer someone I can draft proactively. 

Matt: It’s not a good idea to draft a quarterback whose own team wanted to minimize this year and barely returned to the NFL as it is. All we’re asking for from Big Ben is to be competent enough to keep at least two of these receivers in starting range and give Harris enough touchdown opportunities. A guy like him with zero rushing upside just doesn’t move the needle individually anymore.

Pittsburgh Steelers projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Ben Roethlisberger

RB: Najee Harris

WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster / Chase Claypool / Diontae Johnson

TE: Eric Ebron

Pittsburgh Steelers O/U on 8.5 team win total from BetMGM

Dalton: UNDER. The Steelers have a very good defense, three big names at wide receiver and an exciting rookie back. But they also have a big question mark at the game’s most important position as well as a shaky offensive line. Projected for one of the hardest schedules in the NFL, I’d be more surprised if the Steelers finished first than I would last this season in an improving AFC North division. 

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

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