The Pittsburgh Steelers began the season as an unstoppable, 11-0 juggernaut. Then the Washington Football Team made a god bleed, and people ceased believing in them anymore. The Steelers finished 12-4, with losses to WFT, Buffalo, Cincinnati and two losses to Cleveland, and people ceased believing in the god. The second Cleveland loss came in the playoffs, and they ended the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers’ season. With so much in the air, and a high profile retirement (just kidding), what should we remember from the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers for 2021 fantasy football leagues?
What to Remember from the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers Season
- Big Ben Roethlisberger played with a surgically-reconstructed elbow for this season. He missed almost all of 2019 due to it, and it seemed to be a success at first. But, the elbow seemed to wane as the season progressed. He ended the year with 501 passing yards, and four touchdowns in the playoffs. They all came in garbage time, as his four picks sealed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fate in their Wild Card round game. His passing yard splits starting around week twelve, when he began stumbling, don’t look that different, but his touchdowns and picks took a sharp decline: 4,054 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and eight picks before week twelve, and 4,061 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and 16 picks. His yards per attempt dropped precipitously, as well, going from 6.67 to 5.57 yards per attempt. That’s mirrored in his average depth of target: from 7.15 yards downfield to 6.66.
- James Conner startled us right off the bat, getting 15 snaps in week one. Granted, he had 10 opportunities in those 15 snaps, but we feared the injury-prone RB was hurt again. We all blasted FAB cannons at Benny Snell, to no avail. After weeke one, Conner still averaged 16.3 touches per game, for 77 yards per contest. He stumbled down the stretch. Unfortunately, these came bunched at the beginning of the season: he passed 62 total yards just once after week seven’s 111 yards. He battled a quad injury that seems to have lingered in the second half of the season. Things didn’t go well for Conner, but he still averaged the twentieth-most running back opportunities on the season. That speaks to the Steelers’ predilection for giving one running back all the touches and opportunities.
- If I were the Pittsburgh Steelers, I still would have given Conner a ton of opportunities. Have you seen the other guys on this team? Benny Snell was Conner’s heir apparent going into the year, but mostly did nothing when Conner was around. With Conner available, he averaged 5.4 opportunities per game, for 16.9 yards per game. Without James Conner, he averaged 70 yards per contest, on 17.7 opportunities. This speaks to Mike Tomlin’s love for giving one running back a ton of touches when available. If Anthony McFarland steals the spotlight from Benny Snell, lean into him. If the Steelers get a running back who isn’t Benny Snell, lean into him. And, if Benny Snell gets the RB1 nod, lean into him. He’s not great, but the Steelers’ RB1 gets a ton of opportunities every game.
- If you spent any amount of time on fantasy football twitter during a Steelers game, you saw people screaming past each other about Diontae Johnson. Johnson is a great route runner, but his hands leave a ton to be desired. He’s always open, but the ball clangs off his hands at the sixteenth-highest rate among wide receivers. Among wide receivers with at least 60 targets, he had the eighth-highest drop rate. Johnson had the most raw drops, but it didn’t matter, as Big Ben targeted him at least ten times in ten-of-fifteen games. In three of those five games where he didn’t have at least ten targets, he played fewer than 50% of snaps. Don’t forget weeks three and five, where he left after a combined 25 snaps. Ultimately, the Steelers don’t care about the drops, and that means neither should we.
- I had JuJu Smith-Schuster on my fantasy football squads, banking on a bounce back. His usage was… weird. He would get mostly ignored for a large portion of the game, then Ben Roethlisberger would pepper him with a bunch of targets on a couple of drives; this is where he had most of his production this season. JuJu ended up with the second-most targets and catches (128 and 97, respectively), a career-high in touchdowns (9), but ended with just 831 receiving yards. JuJu actually had a historic wide receiver season… but not in the way you would want. Three wide receiers ad at least 90 receptions in a season with fewer than 900 yards: 2002 Troy Brown, 2015 Golden Tate, and 2020 JuJu Smith-Schuster. Great for a PPR fantasy football league, but not so great for overall production.