by Big O's Fantasy Guidance
Mitch Trubisky: Mitch Trubisky is projected to be the Steelers starting quarterback for the 2022 season. However, Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph will look to challenge Trubisky for the starting job. Trubisky is the only quarterback that has a track record in the NFL as a starter and even has a QB15 finish in 2018. When you look at his week to week performances in 2018, the numbers are quite startling. He scored 8 points or less in three separate weeks while also recording three 30+ point performances including a 43.46 point week! That type of variance is honestly difficult to do and made Trubisky very difficult to assess that season. Fast forward to the 2022 season and the UNC product is being handed the keys (for now) to an offense with talented weapons surrounding him. Diontae Johnson will be his chain-mover and security blanket, Pat Freiermuth, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens are all big-bodied pass-catchers and red zone threats, and Najee Harris is one of the league's most talented young running backs who is physically imposing. Will Trubisky be able to take advantage of his weapons or will he be the one who holds back the Steelers offense? I believe Trubisky will have some streaming value, especially in two QB leagues and deeper leagues.
Kenny Pickett: Not only did the Steelers use their one and only first round pick on Kenny Pickett, but made the former Pittsburgh Panther the first quarterback off the board. The Steelers obviously believed in Pickett enough to spend that draft capital on him. The question is whether or not Pickett can supplant Trubisky on the depth chart at some point during the season. In his senior year at Pittsburgh, Pickett showed off his mobility and ability to escape pressure and throw on the run. In the NFL as a young quarterback this skill will be extremely valuable and will allow Pickett to extend plays. The 24-year-old’s 42 passing touchdowns at Pitt were the fourth most in the FBS last season. Furthermore, out of the top 10 passing touchdown leaders in the FBS, Pickett recorded the second most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns at 241 and 5 respectively. We all remember his filthy fake slide en route to a 58-yard touchdown scamper in the ACC Championship game. Pickett also takes good care of the football with only 7 interceptions last season. Pickett doesn’t have any draft value in fantasy but could wind up being a sneaky streaming option in deeper leagues if he steals the starting job away from Trubisky at some point.
Najee Harris: Najee Harris was a volume monster last season leading all running backs in touches (381), snaps (980), receptions (74), tied for 1st in targets with Austin Ekeler (94), and 2nd in carries (307). The 24-year-old recorded 213 more snaps than Johnathan Taylor! At 6’2” / 244 lbs, Najee is a freak of nature and a special talent that will only get better with more NFL experience. Derrick Henry, who has a very similar build as Najee at 6’3” / 247 lbs, didn’t record his best season until his fifth year in the league. Efficiency, in an offense that struggled to move the ball down the field last season, was a big problem for Najee. At only 3.9 yards per carry, the Alabama product was the only back that was sub 4.0 Y/A in the top 12 leaders in rushing yards. However, Najee was only second to Javonte Williams ( 31) in broken tackles by a RB with 30 on the season. Volume and his involvement in the passing game completely made up for his inefficiency and resulted in a RB4 finish in half point PPR. With Ben Roethlisberger retired, the ridiculous amount of dump off passes to Najee will certainly plummet. However, the rushing ability of both Trubisky and Pickett will not only open up running lanes for the strong running back, but extend drives and keep defenses honest. Yes, Najee’s usage will likely decrease as his marks from last season are unsustainable if the Steelers want to keep their star back healthy. Nevertheless, in 12 of Mike Tomlin’s 15 seasons as the Steelers head coach, his top RB has carried the ball 200 times or more with four RBs topping 300 total carries. Tomlin loves a bell-cow back and Najee will remain that guy. Expect Najee’s efficiency to increase and make up for any decrease in volume. Najee Harris is locked and loaded as a high-end RB1.
Diontae Johnson: Diontae Johnson is by far the best and safest receiving option with the highest floor on the Steelers. Incredibly enough, Johnson has the 4th most targets in the NFL since 2020. More than Keenan Allen, Tyreek Hill, and Justin Jefferson! The Toledo product’s targets, receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns, and longest reception have increased every single year of his 3 year career. That's difficult to do and is exactly what you want to see out of a young budding wide receiver. What is also important to note is that Johnson lowered his dropped passes from a league-leading 13 in 2020 to only 5 in 2021. The dropped passes were the biggest flaw in his game and that issue appears to be resolved from what we saw in 2021. Unfortunately, the change in quarterback adds a level of unpredictability making it very unlikely that the 25-year-old will make it 4 consecutive years of improving his stats. Johnson’s current ADP is the WR14 which is five spots lower than his finish last year. His price gives a slight cushion for the quarterback unpredictability but not enough to completely wipe away the risk of failing to return value.
Chase Claypool: Claypool was a big disappointment last season finishing as the WR37 in half point PPR while his ADP was the WR24. The Notre Dame product has been a boom or bust type of receiver throughout his first two seasons in the NFL. In 31 games played in his career, he has only recorded 121 receptions. That’s only 3.9 receptions per game which has inevitably resulted in touchdowns or long catches making up the large proportion of Mapletron’s fantasy points. Only 62.9% of Claypool’s targets last season were deemed catchable. Part of this was due to his deep ball play style and the other part was correlated to his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben finished 15th in total passing yards (3,740) while finishing 5th in total poor passes (109). Also, with only 3.4 air yards per attempt, only Sam Darnald (3.2) had a lower mark out of quarterbacks with at least 400 attempts than Big Ben. The long-time Steeler quarterback did not have the same arm in his final season that he once had in his prime. Will Mitch Trubisky be the upgraded arm that Claypool needs to find more success on deep passes? Trubisky will be an upgrade on the deep passes, but it will be a difficult connection to trust without established chemistry. Also, with so many mouths to feed on the Steeler offense, consistent targets for Claypool will be hard to come by. I recommend not reaching for Claypool in drafts. I would be comfortable drafting Mapletron as my WR4 if I load up early on RBs.
George Pickens: The Steelers used their second pick of the draft in the 2nd round on George Pickens making him the 11th wide receiver off the board. Even after tearing his right ACL in March 2021, Pickens ran a 4.47 in the 40 yard dash at the draft combine. At 6’3” / 195 lbs, the Georgia product has the speed and height to be very effective on the deep ball. The Steelers have 138 vacated wide receiver targets which is 13th most in the league. Pickens will eat up plenty of those vacated targets giving him the opportunity to be fantasy relevant as the Steelers’ WR3. Currently, the 21-year-old’s ADP is in the last round or even undrafted, presenting you with basically no cost in acquiring him.
Pat Freiermuth: Pat Freiermuth was 6th out of all tight ends in receiving touchdowns last season with 7. As a rookie tight end, Freiermuth had an impressive season. Of course, as a rookie, his consistency and receiving yards were low. The big and obvious change heading into this season will be the quarterback change. Say what you want about Ben Roethlisberger at the end of his career but Big Ben loved targeting Freiermuth and has loved targeting his primary tight end his whole career. Ask Heath Miller and his 9 500+ yard seasons and 45 career touchdowns over 11 seasons with Big Ben as his primary QB. It’s impossible not to compare Freiermuth to Miller as Pat is 6’5” / 258 lbs and Heath was 6’5” / 256 lbs! The reason for telling you this is that I believe the QB change from Big Ben to Mitch Trubisky will not benefit Freiermuth and might even hurt his value. Freiermuth is currently being drafted as the TE10 which is three spots higher than his TE finish in 2021. In order for the young TE to finish at least three spots higher than he did last season and return value, his targets, receptions, and yards will all have to considerably increase. This is because it will be extremely difficult for him to increase his TD total of 7 from last season with the other TD threats on the Steeler offense.
Owen Klukas is a fantasy-football enthusiast with over 10 years of experience playing the game. You can find more of his articles at Big O's Fantasy Guidance