LOS ANGELES, CA - Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and it was weird to see a game without the Steelers. The Steelers missed the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record though would’ve made the cut if it weren’t for a Week 1 tie vs divisional rival Browns. With all that said, I will give the Steelers a solid C-, but give them a B+ on their off season moves/additions. I believe the departure of both Bell and Antonio Brown (AB) will give the Steelers less drama and can concentrate on football. Less drama can create an environment that can give everyone the chance to succeed.
Out of all the questions surrounding the Steelers, players and coaches is: Will they do better without AB and Bell? I think it’s going to be a big test for the young guys such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Can JuJu be the #1 guy or will he fall to the task? Conner pretty much was on his own from the get-go, but his production fell off towards the end of the season due to the fact that the Steelers are scarce in the backfield when it comes to RBs. We have seen a little production out of backup Jaylen Samuels, but more on the receiving end, and not so much on the ground.
The Steelers made some moves this off-season that can help out a lot. The two biggest grabs were wideout Donte Moncrief from the Jags, and DB Steven Nelson from the Chiefs. Moncrief is a great addition to this offense since the departure of AB. Moncrief had a great season with 668 yards on 48 receptions, averaging 13.9 yards per catch and 3 TDs. His performance was overshadowed by T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron, but still great WR2 numbers. Will he fill in AB’s shoes? No, but it's the next closest thing. The Steelers also added some help in the secondary, which was well needed, even though they were 10th against the pass, only allowing 231.1 YPG. Nelson, an ex-Chief, put up career highs at the young age of 26. He had career highs in tackles with 68, and had his first 4 INTs come this season. Nelson is a great addition and will fit well in this already good defense.
With most of the big name free agents (FA) off the board and signed, the Steelers can still pick up some good value players until the draft comes around. Pittsburgh definitely needs a solid backup for James Conner in the backfield because the Steelers were ranked 31st in the league with 90.3 YPG. Conner can’t do it all by himself, so an FA that the Steelers can target is Alex Collins of the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have enough RBs in Lamar Jackson, newly signed Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon. Collins is still very young at 24, and had a declined role in Baltimore with 411 yards on 114 carries averaging 3.6 yards per carry and 7 TDs. If the Steelers can get 2017 Alex Collins with 973 yards on 212 carries averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 6 TDs, he will be a great fit as an RB1 or RB2. Either way, someone should sign him soon.
With the departure of Jesse James, via FA to Lions, you may think the Steelers should go for a tight end (TE) via a free agency, even in the draft. I disagree, this loss can show what Vance McDonald can do and should give him more playing time. McDonald had a career high with 610 yards on 50 catches averaging 12.2 yards per carry with 4 TD. The Steelers should aim for a TE in the draft in the later rounds, but for their 1st round at #20 they should tackle a cornerback (CB). With Joe Haden and Sean Davis FA next year, the Steelers need some insurance at the DB position, and a name that comes up is Byron Murphy from Washington. He is a ballhawk and also gives support to the run, which is the blueprint of a Steeler.
Fantasy wise, I personally selected James Conner. He was my FLEX for most of the season until his drop off in the second half of the season. I think he's a valuable RB and so it depends on if the Steelers grab a back in FA or in the draft, so we’ll put a pin in that. Big Ben, as you know or don’t know, I put at #8 in my Top 10 Fantasy Football QB live stream. We will always be a gunslinger and worth looking at when selecting a QB. JuJu will have to prove if he can be a #1 guy in Pittsburgh, and if he is that will be a nightmare for all defense across the NFL. He’s a speedster who is capable of burning anyone and he should continue be looked at when selecting wideouts.