The Steelers have been one of the best franchises in the NFL since 2001 while having elite success since 1972. Over the last 17 seasons, Pittsburgh has 179-92-1 record with 12 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl wins. They have ten wins or more in each of their last four seasons while posting a 13-3 season in 2017.
Mike Tomlin returns for his 12th season as head coach. He has a 116-60 record with eight playoff berths and one Super Bowl title. Tomlin has an 8-7 record in the postseason, but only 3-5 over his last five appearances. His path to the Super Bowl would be much easier if he didn’t have to deal with the New England Patriots in most seasons.
Just like the Patriots, Pittsburgh’s ability to win a high level of games is due to a top QB. Over the last 14 years, Ben Roethlisberger has been behind center in 200 of 224 games leading to a 135-63 record.
In 2018, Randy Fichtner takes over as offensive coordinator after spending the last 11 seasons in the Steelers’ system as a wide receiver and quarterback coach. Over the last four years, Pittsburgh ranked in the top three offensive yards in three seasons. They success in yards hasn’t translated as well in points scored. The Steelers ranked 7th (436), 4th (423), 10th (399), and 8th (406) over the last four years in points scored.
Keith Butler will run the defense for the fourth straight season after working as their linebackers’ coach for 12 years. The Steelers’ defense improved to fifth in the NFL in yards allowed in 2017 and seventh in points allowed (308).
The Steelers tend to stay in-house with their team development. They lost S William Gay and OT Chris Hubbard. Gay struggled in 2017 at age 32 leading to minimal snaps. Over the four previous seasons, William played at the league average or better. Hubbard has never been an asset on the offensive line in his four years in the league.
Pittsburgh signed LB Jon Bostic and S Morgan Burnett. Bostic is a former second-round draft pick (2013) who offers upside in run support with risk in coverage and minimal value in sacks. Burnett played well over the last four seasons with the Packers. He’ll upgrade the Steelers’ pass coverage while holding his own in the run game.
In the first round, the Steelers added S Terrell Edmunds. His best asset will be his cover skills helped by his quickness and speed. Edmunds has enough size (6’1” and 217 lbs.) to add value in the run game while needing to improve his tackling technique in the open field. Terrell needs to improve his reads in the deep secondary while avoiding missed steps on ball fakes.
Despite talent at WR, Pittsburgh continues to throw early draft picks at the position. In the second round, the Steelers took a swing with WR James Washington. He lacks NFL route running, but his release gives him an early edge off the line of scrimmage. Washington needs to add more strength while his best value will come in the deep passing game on the outside.
Sensing the lifeline of Ben Roethlisberger is ending in the next couple of seasons, the Steelers drafted QB Mason Rudolph in the third round. He’s a pocket passer with a good feel for the pass rush. Rudolph offers size (6’5” and 235 Lbs.) while his arm strength isn’t NFL caliber. He needs better passing techniques to improve his accuracy under duress. Mason has the feet speed to widen his passing window and add value in TDs at the goal. Rudolph shows the ability to read defenses while offering big play ability.
With their second pick in the third round, Pittsburgh drafted OT Chuks Okorafor. He has NFL size (6’6” and 320 Lbs.) while lacking strength in his upper. His best value early in his career will come in pass protection, but he’ll have risk vs. power rushers while offering a small range of coverage in his blocking game due to slow foot speed. His hands will be an edge, but Okorafor doesn’t play with enough fire.
In the fifth round, the Steelers invested in S Marcus Allen and RB Jaylen Samuels. Allen is an attacking safety who plays his best when moving forward defending the run. Marcus has risk in coverage while tending to be a looker when viewing play development. Samuel has a full backfield who has enough quickness to fill in as a lad runners. His hands grade well, and Jaylen can make plays in the slots if asked to line up against linebackers.
Pittsburgh grabbed a piece of the Crimson Tide with the addition of DT Joshua Frazier. He’ll be asked to be early down run stopper in the pros. His resume in college was short due to a talented roster at Alabama. Frazier needs to get stronger to earn starting snaps in the NFL while having limited range rushing the QB.
The Steelers fell to 20th in rushing yards (1,667) in 2017 despite an elite RB. They gained only 3.8 yards per carry with 12 rushing TDs. Pittsburgh had no runs over 40 yards while ranking 28th in runs over 20 yards.
Their offensive line allowed only 24 sacks and 65 QB hits. The Steeler gained the third most yards passing (4,380) with 29 TDs and 15 Ints.
LT Alejandro Villanueva went from unknown to one of the better offensive linemen in 2016. He allowed minimal sacks with high value as a run blocker. At age 28, he’s only started 42 games in his career with all coming over the last three years.
LG Ramon Foster had a huge step back in play in 2017 after having his best seasons in 2016. Foster has a long resume of success in the NFL with his best value coming as a run blocker, which wasn’t the case last year. Last season Ramon missed two games with a back injury and a concussion.
C Maurkice Pouncey is a former first-round draft pick (2010). Pittsburgh played the 2015 season without Pouncey due to an ankle injury that required surgery, and he missed a game and a half in 2016 due to a thumb injury that required surgery. Pouncey is one of the better centers in the league, and the Steelers will be helped by having him in the starting lineup. He tends to offer more upside as run blocker while minimizing the damage in the pass rush. He missed almost the entire 2013 season after tearing both ACLs and MCLs. Maurkice played the worst ball of his career in 2017 with most of the failure coming in run blocking.
RG David DeCastro is one of the top players at his position in both run and passing blocking while ranking second in the league in 2017. The Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2012.
RT Marcus Gilbert plays at a high level when healthy, but he missed nine game in 2017 with a hamstring issue and a four-game suspension due to failing a drug test. Pittsburgh signed him to a five-year $30 million contract in 2014.
This offensive line has talent with one elite option, but the average age of all starters is over 28. If Pittsburgh can squeeze one more year out of this group, they should have strength in both run and pass blocking while ranking in the top 25 percent in the league. The success is helped by an elite RB and strong QB play.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
Pittsburgh has a neutral schedule for their rushing attack with two tough games (CAR and DEN) and three favorable games (CIN X 2 and LAC).
The Steelers have three poor matchups (@JAX, @DEN, and LAC) for their passing game over the second half of the seasons. Their best success should come against TB and NE. Overall, Pittsburgh has a below-par pass schedule.
Pittsburgh ran the ball 42.6 percent of the time in 2017 while doing most of the damage in the passing game. They have a winning veteran QB plus an elite RB and WR. Fantasy owners hope JuJu Smith-Schuster develops into a top second WR option in the passing game.
QB Ben Roethlisberger – A slow start to the season (11 TDs and two games with 300+ yards passing over his first nine games) due a tougher than expected schedule led to Ben underperforming his expected value in 2017. His game was much higher over his last six games (16 TDs and 325.5 passing yards per game) highlighted by three strong games (299/4, 351/, and 506/2). Over his last 57 games, Roethlisberger threw 110 TDs while averaging 298 passing yards per game. His lack of a strong fourth and fifth option in the passing hurts his upside in TDs, especially in the red zone. JuJu Smith-Schuster proved to be a nice addition last year (58/917/7), which will be key to the upside of the Steelers’ offense in 2018. Roethlisberger has a floor of 4,500 yards passing with 30+ TDs.
QB Mason Rudolph – Over the last three seasons at Oklahoma State, Rudolph passed for 12,765 yards with 86 TDs and 22 Ints. He scored 16 rushing TDs over the last two seasons despite gaining only 96 yards rushing on 144 carries. Mason will need time develop as the backup QB for the Steelers.
Other Options: Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs
RB Le’Veon Bell – The Steelers won’t give Bell a new contract, which may turn into a problem this summer. There is no doubt Bell will out touch Gurley if he plays a full season, but he may not offer the upside in yards per touch (4.8 in 2017 and 5.6 in 2016 compared to 6.1 by Gurley in 2017) or elite TD production. Over 62 games in his career, Le’Veon has 42 TDs while never scoring more than 11 TDs in any season. Bell is a great NFL back who can do it all. In his NFL career, he’s averaged 24.9 touches and 129 combined yards per game. Pittsburgh has offensive talent, but Fantasy owners want more explosive scoring from a team that has the top WR in the league and one of the best RBs in the game. His slight injury risk and the fragile nature of Ben Roethlisberger pushes Bell to number two in my early 2018 draft rankings. Workhorse back with a chance at 375+ touches for 2,000+ yards with double-digit TDs and 75+ catches. Last year Pittsburgh’s RB ran the 401 times for 1,630 yards and 11 TDs plus 89 catches for 670 yards and three TDs on 112 targets. Bell has the best opportunity in the game as far as playing time, but he needs to add more TDs to his resume to be considered the top RB in the game in 2018.
RB James Conner – When watching the highlights of Conner, he looked to have the movements of a quarterback running the ball (Steve McNair was my thought) with a fullback’s mentality yet he has deceiving long speed. His footwork is choppy but driving while running with a high style. Over about three seasons at Pitt in college, James rushed for 3,733 yards on 668 carries with 56 TDs and minimal value in the passing game (30/412/4). He missed most of the 2015 season due to a successful battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer. In his rookie season, Conner has 32 rushes for 144 yards. His season ended in Week 15 with a right knee injury that required surgery. The Steelers will give Conner the top backup role in 2018, which is a minimal opportunity unless Le’Veon Bell has an injury.
Update: 8/17/2018 > James Conner ran the ball well (5/57/1) in the second preseason game for the Steelers to further solidify his handcuff value behind Le’Veon Bell. Jaylen Samuel has a steady game (51 combined yards on 12 touches with three catches and one TD). If Bell had an injury, Samuel would be the top passing catching option while Connor would seize the early down role.
Jaylen Samuels (RB) – Over four seasons at NC State, Samuels gained 2,958 combined yards with 201 catches and 47 TDs. He split time at RB and WR while even getting some chances to run the ball in wildcat formations. He’s more than a flashy player in the passing game. Samuel comes to the NFL at 6’0” and 225 lbs., which give him a chance to get on the field at the same time as Le’Veon Bell out of the backfield. His route running isn’t elite at this point of his career and his hands will be downgraded when ask to play out of the slot vs. cornerbacks or safeties. More of an insurance policy in the passing game at RB if Bell ever had an injury. Overall, his quickness and explosiveness don’t rank in the difference maker mode.
Other Options: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Stevan Ridley, Jarvion Franklin, James Summers
WR Antonio Brown – Over the last five seasons, Brown has 582 catches for 7,848 yards and 52 TDs over 77 games which breaks down to 7.6 catches for 101.9 yards and 0.67 TDs per game or 21.8 Fantasy points per game. Over this span, he’s been the best Fantasy player in the game while offering explosiveness to the WR position. His floor must be 320 Fantasy points with much higher upside if the Steelers ever put together an impactful offensive season. The debate and challenge for a Fantasy owner are finding the outs at RB by starting with a WR in the first round. In the past, the top end RB pool hasn’t been as deep making Brown a huge edge at WR early in the first round. Great player and well worth an early piece to a Fantasy team in the first round. Last year the Steelers’ WRs caught 233 passes for 3,272 yards and 21 TDs on 371 targets. Possible 120 catches for 1,800 yards and double-digit TDs.
Update: 8/14/2018 > Brown has already missed some time in training camp with an undisclosed issue. He left practice on Monday with another issue in the leg area. The Steelers and Brown maintain that each issue is minor. Either way, Antonio has fallen some in the drafts in early August. This thoroughbred can’t be a stud forever, so his minor injuries may be just enough of a sign to avoid his possible down season. Tough call overall as Brown does have special talent and impact upside.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – Over three seasons at USC, JuJu caught 213 passes for 3,092 yards and 25 TDs with his best success coming in his sophomore year (89/1454/10). Smith-Schuster adds more power than finesse to the wide receiver position. His size (6’1” and 215 Lbs.) gives him scoring ability, and his game worked well out of the slot in 2017. Over 14 games in his rookie season, JuJu caught 58 of his 79 targets for 917 yards and seven TDs with 12 catches going for 20 yards or more and six catches for longer than 40 yards. His first impact game came in Week 8 (7/193/1) while stepping up big time over the last three weeks (6/114, 6/75/1, and 9/143/1) after Antonio Brown went down with an injury. Smith-Schuster outplayed Martavis Bryant who was shipped out of town in the offseason. His high catch rate (73.4) paired with a WR2 opportunity in 2018, I expect 110+ targets leading to 75+ catches for 1,100+ yards and a chance at double-digit TDs.
WR James Washington – In each season at Oklahoma State, Washington showed growth in his production (28/456/6, 53/1087/10, 71/1380/10, and 74/1549/13). He scored 33 TDs over his last 39 games with ten or more TDs in each of his last three years. Over four seasons at college, James caught 226 passes for 4,472 yards and 39 TDs while gaining an amazing 19.8 yards per catch. Washington is a high cut WR with long legs, which leads to him having deceptive deep speed. He catches the ball with his hands while offering a plus release off the line. His opportunity won’t be high out of the gate in his rookie season, but he’ll be a better fit on the outside than Martavis Bryant was in 2017. The Steelers passing game runs through Antonio Brown, but they need/want a deep burner on the opposite side of him on the field. Last year Bryant caught 50 passes for 603 yards and three TDs on 84 targets for Pittsburgh, but he caught only seven passes for yards or more and one pass over 40 yards. I expect James to double that output in the deep passing game. Washington needs to improve his route running to develop into a complete WR. I’ll set his bar at 50+ catches for 750+ yards and 5+ TDs.
Update: 8/17/2018 > I’m sure there are times when a Fantasy owner contemplates his decisions on which Fantasy site to invest in to help build a Fantasy roster. I point no further than James Washington for the Steelers. He broke out with a big game (five catches for 114 yards and two TDs on seven targets) vs. the Packers while showing great hands on both plays. Back in mid-May, ScoutFantasySports gave Fantasy owners great insight on the direction and opportunity in the Steelers’ offense, which was supported by his great game.
Other Options: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, Quandree Henderson, Justin Thomas
TE Jesse James – Over the last two seasons, James has 123 combined targets leading to two poor seasons (39/338/3 and 43/372/3) from a Fantasy perspective. Last year he had two games of value (6/41/2 and 10/97) while coming up with no catches four other games. Overall, TEs in the Steelers’ offense caught 62 of 96 targets for 592 yards and four TDs. At age 24, James should show growth, but he projects as the fifth option in Pittsburgh’s passing game. Only a bye week fill in or short-term injury cover.
TE Vance McDonald – After showing a spark multiple times (4/65/1, 6/71/1, 5/61/1, 1/75/1, and 3/84/1) in 2015 and 2016 with San Fran, McDonald struggled to stay healthy last year (shoulder, ankle, and knee). Over ten games, he caught 14 of 24 targets for 188 yards and one TD. Vance will come off the bench again with minimal value in the season-long games.
Other Options: Xavier Grimble, Jake McGee
K Chris Boswell – Over three seasons in the NFL, Boswell made 89.5 percent of his field goal chances. He was perfect from 50 yards or more in 2015 (2-for-2) and last season (4-for-4), but he whiffed on both chances in 2016. Chris has three missed extra point in 102 tries. The Steelers will be a high scoring team, but they do score TDs in the red zone. Last year Boswell set a career high in FGs (35) and FG attempts (38) thanks to fade in the run game in the red zone while connecting on 92.1 percent of his kicks. Excellent kicker with a developing opportunity from long range. I expect him to be a top 12 Fantasy option in 2018.
The Steelers defense has three tough matchups (CAR, @JAX, and @NO) for their run defense. They have three games (TB and CIN X 2) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball last year. Overall, Pittsburgh has about a league average schedule against the run.
Their pass defense will get challenged by TB, LAC, and NE while KC, ATL, and NO rank as tough games. Based on last year, Pittsburgh has seven games (CLE X 2, CIN X 2, BAL X 2, and CAR) vs. teams with weakness in their passing game. All three of their division opponents should be better than 2017.
Pittsburgh allowed 4.4 yards per rush on defense in 2017, but they finished 10th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,693) thanks to only 24.1 rushes per game against them. Ball carriers scored 14 TDs with ten runs over 20 yards and three runs over 40 yards.
The Steelers ranked 5th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,217) with QBs tossing 20 TD and 16 Ints. Their success was helped greatly by 56 sacks. When QBs had time to throw, they did complete 13 passes for 40 yards or more.
The strength of Pittsburgh defense starts with DE Cameron Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt. Heyward set a career high with 12 sacks while chipping in with 45 tackles. Heyward was very good against the run in 2017 with a resume of success in the NFL. Tuitt missed four games due to multiple injuries last year. He plays well vs. the run with minimal impact in sacks (14.5 in his 56 games played).
DT Javon Hargrove worked as a rotational player on the interior of the Steelers’ line over the last two seasons. He has four sacks in his career with 59 combined tackles in 31 games. Hargrove looks to be an asset in run support with some quickness and strength. Javon plays hard with underlying pass rushing skills, but he earned his way in college by matching up with weaker talent because of playing at a small school (South Carolina St.). His base needs to add more strength while offering more upside with improved technique and coaching.
LB T.J. Watt proved to be worth his first-round draft value in 2017 in his rookie season. He posted 54 tackles with seven sacks, seven defended passes, and one Int. Watt flashes short area quickness while his first step isn’t as explosive as the best disrupters in the game. His brother is an elite player with Houston, and T.J. offers a sound foundation of skills to make plays vs. the run and pass. He could use more strength while his speed isn’t elite. The injury to Ryan Shazier puts the pressure on T.J. to be more productive in 2018.
LB Bud Dupree is a former first-round draft pick (2015). He missed the first nine games of 2016 due to a groin injury that required surgery. Last year he set a career high in tackles (40) and sacks (6) while seeing a career high in snaps (799). LB Jon Bostic had a career-high 97 tackles in 2017 for the Colts with only one sack. His best asset comes against the run, but Bostic missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. LB Vince Williams had the best season of his career last year when he recorded 89 tackles and eight sacks. Even his success, Williams is a liability against the run while never grading as a top player at his position.
S Sean Davis saw plenty of action in his first season leading to solid value in tackles (70) plus 1.5 sacks, five passes defended, and one Int. He followed up with 92 tackles and one sack last year. Davis played CB in 2015 at Maryland, but he moved to safety in the NFL where he had college experience. His cover skills will work much better against RBs, TEs, and lower WRs while offering upside in run support. His best value will come when attacking the line of scrimmage. Sean has enough speed and strength to play corner, but his lack of quickness especially when changing direction invites risk in the NFL. Even with high value in stats, Sean is a below average safety in all areas at this point in his career.
S Morgan Burnett will compete with incoming rookie S Terrell Edmonds for the other starting position on the Steelers. Burnett brings a long resume of experience and success to the safety position. Last year he had 68 tackles and three defended passes, which is well below his best seasons in the NFL Edmond will improve the pass defense at safety with an aggressive style in run support. His open field tackling does have some failure risk, and Terrell needs to improve his reads in play development.
CB Artie Burns continues to improve after the Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2016. He posted four Ints and 26 defended passes while chipping in with 119 tackles over his first two seasons in the league. Burns appears to be an upside athlete with playmaking skills. His speed is an edge, but it isn’t elite. Artie needs to add more upper body strength while improving his technique in mirroring pass routes. At times, he will play soft leading to mistakes and penalties. Burns also takes plays off at times. Burns was a liability against the run last season.
CB Joe Haden isn’t close to the player he once was after the Browns drafted him in the first round in 2010. He’s missed 19 games over the last three seasons. Last year Haden only had 20 tackles with seven defended passes and one Int. His coverage skills graded above the league average in 2017, but it was helped by a small passing window created by a strong pass rush. CB Mike Hilton did a nice job in all areas off the bench last year after signing in 2017 as an undrafted free agent.
The Steelers’ defense has young upside talent in multiple positions. They have strength at three of their four positions in the secondary with some help off the bench. The linebacking core has two first-round draft pick with value rushing the QB. The interior of the linebacking core has some risk controlling the inside run game. The defensive line needs to stay healthy due to questionable depth. Overall, this defense should be productive in many games. They will miss LB Ryan Shazier for sure. I expect a step back in production in sacks from 2017 due to a tougher schedule, and many players coming off career seasons. Viable top 12 Fantasy defense, but I don’t view them as a plus in and play each week.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks