U.S. Markets closed

Fantasy Football Booms/Busts 2018: The Pittsburgh Steelers

Will Le’Veon Bell’s absence from OTA’s impact his fantasy stock this fall? (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)

As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Salty Steelers.  

With a talent-rich roster, the Steelers fantasy steals are less than obvious. So, which of Pittsburgh’s players has the most BOOM (return on investment) potential this fall?

Brad – JAMES WASHINGTON. Admittedly, this is a Javy Baez-like swing from the heels, but in a violent game, roster turnover is inevitable. If a depth-chart shakeup were to occur, Washington would instantly become a player of fantasy interest.

In a prolific Oklahoma State pass attack spearheaded by former and current teammate Mason Rudolph, the wideout was a model of efficiency on downfield connections. Last year in Stillwater, he ranked No. 1 among all FBS pass catchers in deep-pass receptions (20) and No. 2 in yards per route (3.59) according to Pro Football Focus. His 62.0 catch percentage  in ’17 and 6.3 YAC per completion in his three-year collegiate career also stood out.

Yes, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Le’Veon Bell are slated to be volume receivers, but Washington is a perfect fit for the void left by new Raider Martavis Bryant. His success on slants/posts, consistent conversions deep and separation gained against press coverage are very attractive characteristics. Already drawing positive reviews for his work ethic, Washington is a rookie to monitor this Preseason. If he splashes, he could develop into a stream-worthy option at some point this season, especially with defenses focused on containing Pittsburgh’s superstars.

[Yahoo Fantasy Football leagues are open: Sign up now for free]

Liz – VANCE MCDONALD. Two years removed from Heath Miller’s retirement, Pittsburgh continues to try to fill the void left by the Pro Bowl talent. While Jesse James outlasted the Ladarius Green experiment, his usage waned towards the end of 2017. When on the field with McDonald, Big Ben chose to target the former 49er over the incumbent James.

With a full offseason under his belt (he was acquired by the Steelers in late August) and back to health, I fully expect McDonald to win the starting job by the fall. A solid run blocker and natural pass-catcher (he was used like a slot receiver in college), McDonald has the tools to become the Steelers newest “lunch pail” tight end.

On the flipside, which player should owners avoid like a RHONY trip to the #Berserkshires?

Liz – BEN ROETHLISBERGER. Quarterback is astonishingly deep this year and given the weapons at Roethlisberger’s disposal, he’s fine to snag late. But there are top-of-rank options that offer more upside and consistency than the 15-season vet. While he averaged an impressive 163 air yards per game (#3) in 2017, he also managed a wholly average true completion percentage (68.8%) and struggled in the red zone, completing just 52 percent of passes (#30).

At thirty-six-years-old, Roethlisberger has flirted with the retirement while also scoffing at the addition of Mason Rudolph. Whether or not he plays for another “three to five years,” is immaterial because the Steelers are clearly making plans for life after Big Ben. His play has diminished over the past three years and his home/road splits continue to infuriate the anti-crutch argument set. If a bargain basement grey beard is what you’re chasing, consider Philip Rivers who has outperformed Roethlisberger for three consecutive seasons and is being selected behind his 2004 draft classmate.

Brad – JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER. This is going to be an unpopular opinion. JuJu is arguably the best follow on social media. He’s lovable, lighthearted and extremely talented. What he achieved last year was nothing shy of brilliant. In fact, his 162.7 accumulated fantasy points (.5 PPR) ranks behind only Randy Moss, Mike Evans, Keenan Allen and Amari Cooper all-time among Age 21 players. His 2.31 fantasy points per target (WR1), 11.6 yards per target (WR1) and Big Ben’s 130.6 QB rating when targeting him (WR1) were also otherworldly. Is it sustainable? He’s very worth it … at the right price.

And that’s what this argument boils down to, price. If his 22.6 percent target share he recorded over the final seven games of ’17 carries over along with his elite peripherals, his 46.5 ADP (WR22) is quite affordable. However, if Vance McDonald’s reported role does indeed expand, defenses start keying on JuJu, Randy Fitchner’s play-calling goes sideways or a significant injury fells Roethlisberger, the second-year receiver could fall short of expectations.

Again, I’m not dogging the guy, but at a similar ADP I prefer Demaryius Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald or Josh Gordon.

Unless you’re burning tweets harder than Bryan Colangelo, Le’Veon Bell is a consensus top-three pick. But where does he stand among the elite? OVER or UNDER 2.5 Bell overall selection in .5 PPR (Under = inside the top-two. Over = outside)?  

Brad – OVER. Similar to my JuJu sentiment above, my stance on Bell isn’t a dig, it’s simply a matter of preference. Bell is a jack of all trades and a very safe top-three pick, despite holdout concerns. Over the years, I’ve unapologetically thrown support behind him when others wrote him off. He’s the epitome of versatility, a true-to-form three-down Clydesdale (89.3% opportunity share in ’17) in an era when RB teams are often deployed. Love the guy, but in my ranks, Todd Gurley and Zeke Elliott are ranked every so slightly higher. All are set for vigorous workloads. All have a No. 1 overall pick argument. All are trustworthy picks.

Liz – UNDER. Elite patience. Eagle-eye vision. Deft hands. And top-four fantasy production over three of the past four years (and top-two numbers in two of those campaigns). Bell can do it all… and has done it all year-after-year. He’s my No. 1 RB, hands down. Take the summer off and stay healthy, No. 26!

Bring the blitz on Twitter. Follow Brad (@YahooNoise) and Liz (@LizLoza_FF).