One game. One measly game away is all the Steelers were from making the playoffs last season. The season came down to Week 17 as Pittsburgh needed to defeat Cincinnati and then needed Cleveland to take down Baltimore. The Steelers did their part and with 60,000-plus fans and nearly the entire team watching the Browns-Ravens game on the Jumbotron at Heinz Field. The Steelers’ season was in the hands of Baker Mayfield. Despite a good comeback and getting only about 10 yards away from field goal range, Mayfield would get intercepted on fourth down to seal the Steelers fate.
In a season full of what if’s, Steelers fans will never know how far their team could have made it. Many fans will point to missed calls or JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble in the Saints game. However, losing to the Broncos and Raiders and tying the Browns ultimately did the Steelers in as they finished with a record of 9–6–1. The Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time in five years. With a ton of drama happening during the season from the likes of Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and others, changes needed to be made. After a disappointing end to a disappointing season, Steelers fans would’ve never guessed what were to happen next, particularly to their star receiver.
After Bell sat out the entire season, he decided to officially part ways with Pittsburgh and head to the New York Jets. Yet, the biggest change came very quick and unexpectedly. Star receiver Brown all of a sudden started showing very bizarre behavior. Brown publicly trolled the Steelers and would even go so far as to Tweet and post pictures of himself in a 49ers uniform. Not only that, but he would dye his moustache blonde and get a severely goofy hairstyle. He made every effort to get out, and the Steelers finally had enough and eventually sent him to the Oakland Raiders.
Despite losing one of the best receivers and running backs in the game, it felt as if a huge load had been lifted off of the Steelers’ shoulders. It’s almost a refreshing feeling as nearly all of the drama had been taken off of the Steelers and shipped to other teams. With the “Toxic Twins” gone, as Mark Madden calls them, Pittsburgh had the opportunity to re-vamp their culture both in the locker room and on the field.
The Steelers made a few important off-season acquisitions, including the signing of former Chiefs’ cornerback Steven Nelson, as well as former Jaguars’ receiver Donte Moncrief. Both are expected to play a huge role immediately at their respective positions. However, the Steelers biggest off-season move came in the 2019 NFL Draft. General Manager Kevin Colbert made the bold move to jump up 10 slots to the No. 10 overall pick to select linebacker Devin Bush from Michigan. After having a gaping hole the past few years following Ryan Shazier’s injury, it seems as if the Steelers have found their replacement at long last. Bush is expected to be an integral part of their defense this upcoming season, while other draft picks wide receiver Diontae Johnson, cornerback Justin Layne and running back Benny Snell are all expected to contribute as well.
Despite losing two of the biggest fantasy stars in the game, the Steelers will still be full of fantasy prospects. At quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger seems to be severely under-rated in the fantasy community. Roethlisberger led the league in passing last season with 5,129 yards and also added on 37 total touchdowns. He’s a low-end QB1 for me that you can pair with someone like Jameis Winston or Matthew Stafford. At running back, I consider James Conner a Top 10 back, and he’s in for a big season. The Steelers will split up the load a bit, but Conner is fully expected to get the majority of the work and could easily top his 973 yards and 13 TDs from a year ago if he can stay healthy.
At receiver, it’ll be no surprise to see Smith-Schuster’s name in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts. Smith-Schuster went over 110 receptions and 1,400 yards last season and now without Brown in the picture, he should see his touchdown numbers increase as well, potentially getting to double digits. He’s a Top 10 receiver with Top 5 upside. I also really like Moncrief this year. He’s been bad the past few years, but can you blame him? He had Blake Bortles and Jacoby Brisett slinging it to him. He showed flashes of greatness with Andrew Luck a few years ago. I think Moncrief is worth a late round flier. Also, Johnson and James Washington may be worth very late round fliers in deeper leagues and especially in dynasty leagues as I expect Roethlisberger to spread the ball out much more this year.
At tight end, I’m expecting a monster year from Vance McDonald, provided he can stay healthy. We saw what he can do last season, particularly against the Bucs who couldn’t stop him. He’s a physical beast and will be a good security blanket for Roethlisberger. The Steelers defense should be fairly strong this year; particularly in the sack department with the likes of T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and others. Although, they may not produce the turnovers they once were able to. Furthermore, Chris Boswell is a risky kicker pick, but he’s been money in training camp thus far.
In a year where everyone is backing the Cleveland Browns, don’t be surprised if the Pittsburgh Steelers return to the top of the AFC North. I truly believe many people are overrating the loss of Brown and not looking at the acquisitions that the Steelers made this off-season. I’ve seen records as low as 6–10. As long as Roethlisberger is healthy, we won’t see anything that low. My optimistic record has them at 11–5, while my pessimistic record has them at 8–8. Overall, if I were a betting man, I’d have the Steelers at 10–6, winning the AFC North and being a dangerous team in the NFL playoffs.
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