After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…
Today we take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don’t forget to check out the AFC North podcast where we talk to a fan and get their thoughts on them!
How Did Last Season Go?
Well, where can you start other than Le’Veon Bell? Decided he wasn’t being paid enough and wanted to stay healthy and fresh for 2019. Whether or not that pays off remains to be seen (personally, I think it’s unlikely) but one this is for sure, the next man up James Conner did admirably in his absence. Conner’s 2nd season went to the tune of 4.5 yards per carry on 215 attempts including 5 games of 100+ rush yards plus 55 receptions totalling just under 500 yards and 13 total touchdowns (not exactly going to help Bell’s value is it?). That all in 13 games this season, so room for more…I think the Steelers have no qualms about waving off Le’Veon Bell.
Aside from the backfield, the Steelers, perennially a hot/cold team were exactly that again this season; The Steelers got themselves off to a slow start, with an opening weekend tie with the Browns leading to a 1-2-1 record after 4 games. They then turned on the afterburners and won their next 6, taking them to 7-2-1. Then the Steelers steeled and had losses to Denver and Oakland (on top of losses to New Orleans and LA Chargers) in their final 6 games to somehow miss out on the playoffs. The Oakland one in particular was a vintage away Big Ben/Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers type of performance. Absolutely no right in losing a game of that stature, away to one of the worst teams in football but unfortunately, it is no surprise that this happened. Another statistic showing beautifully the hot and cold Steelers; They had 8 games where they scored 28+ points but 7 games with 21 points or less (averaging out on the season at 26.8pts per game).
Pittsburgh own the 20th Pick in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounds this year, I think predominantly they will look to bolster the defence that isn’t what it once was.
Let’s not forget, they could add to their draft picks if they are able to deal Antonio Brown for something decent but that remains to be seen. Maybe they’ll use the picks acquired in the Brown trade to find his replacement, too.
In terms of Free Agency, Pittsburgh have around $20m of cap space, but I expect that to fluctuate throughout the offseason depending how they wrangle the AB trade and some other pieces.
Antonio Brown will dominate all the headlines as he heads for the Heinz Field exit door and Le’Veon Bell will have a new home in 2019, but there are a few other names that may not return in 2019. Offensive lineman Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert along with Tight End Jesse James could see a fairly different offensive line to the one that has been so dominant for the past few seasons. Heyward-Bey, Grimble and Hunter at WR are all Free Agents too but you may see 1 return from that group. On defence, Ryan Shazier, still recovering from that awful injury, leads the list in terms of cap value.
With not the biggest salary cap to wiggle around, the Steelers need to be smart in this year’s draft (certainly need to do better than the 2018 draft haul)
Needs at Corner are there for everyone to see; 2016 draft pick Artie Burns was benched during the 2018 season so I would assume that this would be their primary focus. A swarming linebacker too will be high on the priority list. Players at Corner that will appeal to the Steelers include Byron Murphy (Washington) and Deandre Baker (Georgia) whilst Devin White (LSU) will have Mike Tomlin’s ears pricked up at Linebacker (hopefully he’ll be more successful in the NFL than Kevin White).
After selecting James Washington in round 2 last year, I would be surprised if the Steelers use an early pick on another WR despite the departure of Brown, but the Steelers have a long and successful history of drafting WR….
Outlook for Next Year
Steelers fans and owners’ aspirations are obviously a deep run in the playoffs, the growth of James Washington at WR (and let’s not forget Juju ascending to the WR1) and James Conner in the backfield, but anything short of that could see Mike Tomlin’s tenure called to an end but every circus tour has to end soon…
The offence is still a talented one and Big Ben is still around for another year or 2 at least (despite some of his hissy fits reminiscent of a 4-year-old who has just had their electronic device taken away) and if they are smart with their 2018 draft picks on defence, could yet be the favourite to usurp New England from their AFC throne after all.
Due to the circus like fanfare that follows the Steelers each year, I am predicting that the arrow is going to point downwards for a few reasons;
I think Big Ben and the Steelers struggle without their 2 foundations from the last number of years in Bell and Brown and in a division where the Browns and the Ravens have some momentum about them, the Steelers could easily see themselves on the outside looking in again this season.
Their defence may be their Achilles heel again this season as well as the customary Mike Tomlin away performance to a poor team. The Steelers may be putting the “terrible” in the terrible towel in 2019 if they don’t sort their act out in that locker room and address the culture that Tomlin has allowed to manifest there.
The Steelers are like Netflix UK; A place where all the stars aligned and was the place to be with all the household names, but then one or two pieces moved away to go on their own and you now wonder where that leaves everyone else and the choice is starting to look a bit thin.
Once a goldmine for fantasy points, you may struggle for depth for fantasy football this year; Big Ben will have his backers, especially after passing for the most yards in 2018. I’ll pass though (pun intended) due to my fears he could cliff dive next season with the mass exodus at the skill positions. I am only really interested in 1 guy here. No, it’s not James Conner and no, it’s not JuJu (mainly because his fan base is bigger than the capacity of the mall he played in the other day will consequently see him drafted at an inflated price). It’s James Washington. There will be some leagues where he falls to a ridiculous round and will be a value. Washington could be a guy that goes in the 5th round or the 10th round depending on the casualness of your league. If he is still there in round 7/8, he is a guy that you may want to snap up before someone else does. Especially if Pittsburgh don’t bring in another WR.
The reason I won’t be a James Conner or a JuJu buyer this year is probably because of price and the fact that there will be a player I would rather have instead. James Conner (RB7 in 2018 in standard scoring) at the back of the first could look good paired with an Elite WR, but the likelihood is that Joe Mixon will be sniffing around the same part of the draft, and I will always take him over Conner. JuJu (WR9 in standard scoring in 2018) is going to go around mid to late 2nd round due to his WR 1 status in the offence but again, you have guys like Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans around here. I just would rather have those guys before as I want to see JuJu do it on his own vs the #1 CB against him each week. On the positive side for both, they’ll be the undisputed workhorses at their positions for the team and Big Ben consistently delivers for his pieces on offence.
Ben Roethlisberger – Late rounds in drafts – low end QB1
James Conner – late 1st round pick – RB1
JuJu Smith-Schuster – 2nd Round pick – WR1
James Washington – mid to late rounds – WR3 – potential value in drafts.
Vance McDonald – Late rounder/undrafted – TE2