For the first time in almost 20 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers will enter 2022 with a quarterback who isn’t Ben Roethlisberger. The QB de facto retired after his 2019 elbow injury, never regaining his potent offensive prowess that helped carry the Steelers for 15 years. Now, they have no quarterback, which is infinitely preferable to whatever they had the last couple of seasons. With that in mind, what should we remember from the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers as we look forward to the 2022 season?
- The Pittsburgh Steelers gave rookie running back Najee Harris finished the year with a league-leading 381 Only five rookie running backs have ever touched the ball more times: Erick Dickerson, Edgerrin James, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, and George Rogers. On average, these guys lost 55 touches the next season. But, if you remove George Rogers’ injury from 1982, that number shifts to one touch lost, on average. Well, 1.25 touches. But it’s more dramatic to say one. Half of the remaining players gained touches their sophomore year (LT and Edge). Mike Tomlin will still be the head coach in 2022, so I don’t see this train slowing down outside of injuries.
- Ben Roethlisberger got his drama-filled curtain call season and good God, he really shouldn’t have begged the Steelers to bring him back in 2021. There are a lot of ways to parse out how and why Ben Roethlisberger was bad, but I’ll put it very simply with two stats: Ben Roethlisberger led the league in danger plays and ranked #34 in average depth of target (reminder: there are 32 starting quarterbacks). That means that he was throwing the ball for fewer yards per attempt than basically any other full-time quarterback, and he was also throwing extremely dangerous passes. I hate to say it, but even Mason Rudolph would be an improvement on that in 2022.
- If someone ever wants to tell you that drops are sticky from season to season and are an intrinsic part of a player’s profile, I would simply ask them to look at Diontae Johnson’s 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2020, Johnson earned the moniker “Diontae Dropson” because one-in-eleven targets that went Johnson’s way ended up clanging off of his hands. However, in 2021, his drop rate fell to one-third that rate, as Johnson dropped just 3% of his targets. This was a huge boon for him in 2021 but did not change his true catch rate (catch rate on catchable balls per playerprofiler.com), which stayed at about 81.5%.
- Speaking of Pittsburgh wide receivers, let’s talk about Chase Claypool. Poor Chase Claypool took a massive step back in 2021, finishing as the WR36 in PPR. But, was it really all that dreadful for Claypool? I mean, not really. He had nearly identical targets, receptions, yards per target, and yards per game. In fact, his yards per game increased ever so slightly. So what’s the falloff? Touchdowns. That’s it. Claypool went from nine touchdowns in 2020 to two touchdowns in 2021. He’s a fantastic bounce-back candidate, no matter who is under center in 2022.
- In an effort to free us from ordinal rankings, I wanted to look at functional rankings. This is the number of points a position usually scored, to free the player from getting buried in ranks For full-PPR tight ends in 2021, that came out to about 9.9 full-PPR points per game. For the sake of round numbers, let’s call that 10 PPR fantasy points for a top-12 TE week in 2021. Pat Freiermuth tied for the most games reaching this figure in the fantasy football era (post-1990), reaching it eight times. Unfortunately, this isn’t an indicator of future performance: he tied with perennial underachiever Evan Engram. He did this by being a direct beneficiary of the JuJu Smith-Schuster injury; Freiermuth averaged six targets, 4.5 receptions, 36 yards, and 0.5 touchdowns per game without JuJu and just 2.6 targets, 2.2 receptions, 20 yards, and 0.2 touchdowns per game with JuJu.
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