In this series, the aim is to identify quarterbacks who appear underpriced at their current ADP’s in redraft and dynasty formats. The previous piece was written on Lions QB Matthew Stafford and can be read here for those interested https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/07/10/undervalued-qbs-matthew-stafford/.
In this edition of Undervalued QBs, we’ll be taking a closer look at Steelers aging gunslinger, Ben Roethlisberger. At present, Roethlisberger is tagged with an ADP of QB17 in redraft and QB29 in dynasty. Those ADPs ensure that Roethlisberger will be a cheap option at QB next season but will he outperform?
When it comes to fantasy fit, Roethlisberger is better suited to deeper formats of 1QB or 2QB and Superflex. For those playing in shallower 1QB leagues, Roethlisberger could serve as a nice complementary piece when targeting specific matchups.
Due to an elbow injury, we don’t have much data from last year to examine Roethlisberger’s performance. As a result, we’ll briefly cover his 2016-2018 seasons and see what tendencies, trends and theories we can extrapolate going forward.
From 2016-2018, Roethlisberger finished as the QB9, QB8 and QB3 (in order) on a fantasy points per game basis. Below are some of his passing statistics from those seasons.
|Season||Yards||Passer Rating||AY/A||NY/A||ANY/A||Passing TD||TD %||Fantasy Points per Game|
|2016||3819 (17th)||95.4 (11th)||7.5 (11th)||6.99 (6th)||6.98 (9th)||29 (6th)||5.7 (5th)||18.01 (9th)|
|2017||4251 (5th)||93.4 (13th)||7.5 (11th)||7.07 (7th)||6.95 (9th)||28 (6th)||5.0 (8th)||17.38 (8th)|
|2018||5129 (1st)||96.5 (15th)||7.5 (14th)||7.10 (9th)||7.04 (9th)||34 (5th)||5.0 (17th)||21.30 (3rd)|
Looking at those numbers, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that Roethlisberger has been quite consistent in terms of his efficiency. On top of that, he’s done a nice job of finishing among the top 12 QBs in most categories each of those seasons.
What can we attribute that success to? For starters, the Steelers had Antonio Brown in all of those seasons and Le’Veon Bell in 2016-2017. Neither is on the roster in 2020 (nor last year) and it will be very interesting to see how Roethlisberger (and the offense) fares in a full season without their dynamism. The Steelers offense slogged through last season without all 3 and things got very ugly, very fast.
Additionally, the Steelers had the 14th most pass attempts per game in 2016, the 2nd most in 2017 and the most in 2018. Understandably, volume is a big driver of fantasy performance and that’s no different when it comes to QBs. Will Roethlisberger see that kind of volume once again this season? Given their uninspiring stable of running backs, I’m inclined to think it will remain elevated.
Let’s take a look at what Big Ben will be working with in 2020.
Going through the Steelers offensive personnel and trying to make an accurate assessment of where they stand is no easy task. Undoubtedly, they’ll look much different from last year and feature several new faces. At present, their floor is likely around the league average while their ceiling is somewhere around the top 8 – 10. Understanding that QB production is intricately linked to that of WRs, we’ll begin there.
Entering 2020, the Steelers WR depth chart should look something like this:
|Name||Age||Y/G||Tgt/G||Snap Share||Slot %|
If forced to summarize that table in one word, disappointing would be an adequate choice. However, the one game Roethlisberger happened to play also took place in Foxboro against the Patriots vaunted defense. As a consequence, these receivers were forced to catch passes from the equally inept Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. For some added context, when Roethlisberger was healthy in 2018, JuJu exploded for 1426 receiving yards and an average of 89.1 per game.
From a talent perspective, there’s reason to be optimistic about this young group. We already know what JuJu can do with a healthy Roethlisberger and Johnson and Washington showed steady improvement over the course of last season. Washington, a former 2nd round pick in 2018 should play on the outside in 11 personnel groupings which comprises the Steelers base offense. Johnson, a 3rd rounder in 2019 will likely spend most of his time on the side opposite from Washington while JuJu handles slot duty. Earlier this offseason I wrote an article on Diontae Johnson which can be read here https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/06/26/cheap-receivers-diontae-johnson/. When it comes to Claypool, he’s a big, fast, 2nd round pick from 2020 who profiles as a bit of a project. Personally, I’m not high on Claypool as I believe he lacks polish in his route running, plays slower than his 40 time and will struggle to separate at the NFL level. Having said that, you’re likely to have better success trusting the Steelers scouting department than me.
At TE, the Steelers will bring back Vance McDonald and added Eric Ebron in free agency. Both are very capable pass catchers with Ebron being the more dynamic receiving threat.
The RB room features several very capable pass catching backs. Incumbent James Conner thrived catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger in 2018 and so long as he’s healthy should do so again in 2020. In addition to Conner, Jaylen Samuels is known for his receiving chops and 2020 4th round pick Anthony McFarland should contribute there as well.
Finally, the Steelers will once again enter the season with one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Currently, the fine folks at PFF have the Steelers line ranked 9th in the NFL with pass-blocking as an area of strength.
Succinctly put, the Steelers will be providing Roethlisberger with a very serviceable supporting cast in 2020. As a result, any performance issues that arise will fall largely on him.
Strength of Schedule
Steelers fans were surely pleased to see their squad with the 2nd easiest schedule in the league upon its release. Next season, the Steelers face opponents with a combined win percentage of .457 from the 2019 season. Outside of their divisional opponents, the Steelers will face the NFC East, the AFC south, the Broncos and the Bills. The Ravens, Bills and Broncos will likely be difficult matchups but aside from them, the Steelers may not face another top 12 defense the entire season. Moreover, the Steelers play 2 of their first 3 games against the Giants and Texans. Don’t overthink it, this is absolutely a positive development.
Coaching & Play calling
Earlier in the article, I touched on how pass-heavy the Steelers had been during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. In Roethlisberger’s past 118 games (2011 – 2019), he’s averaged a whopping 37.42 pass attempts per game. Understanding that historical volume does not guarantee its permanence, trends of that length should be understood and acknowledged.
When it comes to the coaching staff, Roethlisberger and Tomlin have been two constants in Pittsburgh for a long, long time. Also, Pittsburgh returns offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner who was in that role during 2018 when Roethlisberger led the league in passing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s unreasonable to expect that type of performance this year and as such, we should prepare for less volume in the passing attack. Even so, the continuity is a good thing from a fantasy perspective as coaches don’t frequently reinvent their offensive philosophy, especially with the same QB in place.
Health and Age
With an ADP of QB17 (QB29 in dynasty), there are certainly some sizable risks that come with drafting Roethlisberger. The largest of those risks is health. Roethlisberger is 38 years old and coming off a season in which he underwent season-ending elbow surgery. That’s no joke for an older QB. Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism on that front. First off, all the reports about Roethlisberger’s rehabilitation process, workouts and throwing have been positive from medical experts and coaching staff. As an additional vote of confidence, the Steelers elected not to add another QB in free agency during an offseason with plenty of potential candidates. And, for whatever it’s worth, he’s also the odds on favorite to win comeback player of the year.
When considering Roethlisberger in fantasy drafts or trades this year, it’s important to not set expectations too high. If all goes well, we should find a ceiling somewhere in the QB8 range, a value at his current ranking of QB17. Presuming he doesn’t get hurt, I would target a floor of QB14 (on a FP/G basis) which is unspectacular yet, could still provide some quality contributions in matchup based situations. When it comes to late round QBs or Superflex/2 QB formats, you could do a lot worse than Ben Roethlisberger.