Rebound Radar: Ben Roethlisberger
Do you know what QB led the league in passing in 2018? Was it Patrick Mahomes on the back of his breakout MVP season? Or maybe perennial gunslinger Matt Ryan and the high flying Falcons offense?
It was none of the above. It was Ben Roethlisberger and his 5129 passing yards that lead the league in 2018. This was also Big Ben’s first 5000 yard season. Peak performance at age 37? Well, a little context is necessary as Big Ben and the Steelers led the league in passing attempts (675) and team pass plays per game (44.6 p/g). Meaning that Mike Tomlin and Co. were fully set on flinging the ball down the field, and doing it A LOT.
And why wouldn’t you with a passing corps that consisted at the time of the then potential GOAT (for the good reasons) Antonio Brown and breakout superstar JuJu Smith-Schuster? It made sense that the Steelers would utilize their best weapons and maximize on an aging Big Ben.
2019 was supposed to follow a similar pattern. Get Ben to throw a lot, use JuJu Smith-Schuster heavily, with the additional opportunity vacated by AB going to second year, highly touted James Washington, and their newly signed deep threat Donte Moncrief. What could possibly go wrong? Right from the season opener, this team didn’t pass the sniff test. Moncrief was dust. JuJu didn’t look right. Was James Washington still on his farm? The complete dismantling of the Steelers by New England didn’t help things either.
Then, just when you believed that things couldn’t get any worse, the wheels completely came off along the Allegheny. Big Ben went down in Week 2 vs Seattle with a torn UCL.
The lack of QB depth derailed the Steelers in 2019, with the combination of Devlin “Duck” Hodges and Mason Rudolph compiling the worst completed and attempted air yards (AY), the Steelers were the only team in the NFL under 3.0 completed AY/attempt. Think about this for a minute. A team that went from the most passing yards in the NFL in 2018 to one of the worst offenses in the NFL in 2019. The stout Steelers o-line still held a protection rate over 80% for both “Duck” and Rudolph. The replacements simply weren’t able to do anything with the clean pockets they had. Lack of skill or experience, it didn’t matter. This duo simply couldn’t get it done behind a line that has ranked amongst the top in protection rate over the past three years.
In the one game that Big Ben completed, he attempted 47 passes. That’s right, 47. Extrapolate that over a full season and that is 700+ attempts. Tomlin & Co seemingly were set on continuing to push the ball down field in 2019 until Big Ben went down with his elbow injury.
The optimism also comes from the weapons at Ben’s disposal. Rookie WR Diontae Johnson impressed in 2019, leading the league in target separation. Imagine what he could do with someone actually being able to get him the ball on a consistent basis? James Washington showed flashes as well, posting 3 games with more than 15 fantasy points. JuJu was banged up all season, and didn’t seem to thrive as the #1. Could Johnson take the mantle of a true #1 and allow JuJu to thrive again in the slot?
The Steelers also went out on draft day and continued to give Ben weapons. Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool (a fellow Canadian) adds incredible size (6’4, 238 lbs, 83rd percentile hand size), and speed (4.42 40 time) to the receiving corps. Could this be the contested catch/size specimen that the Steelers have been after for all these years? It doesn’t end at Claypool. Eric Ebron was signed to bring more dynamism to the TE position, and one can hope that he will be used as a Red Zone specialist much as he was during his first year with the Colts en-route to 14 TD’s. YAC monster Vance McDonald is still on the roster, and if healthy, the 1-2 punch of Ebron and McDonald could keep opposing defenses on their toes.
All of these additions, with the continued health and elite status of the o-line, has all arrows pointing up for a rebound season for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Big Ben. At Roethlisberger’s current ADP in the 13th round, he certainly is worth a late round flyer in what could be a prolific season for the future Hall of Famer. The other benefit to this is the ability to stack Big Ben with any of his above options at a reduced ADP: JuJu in the 5th-7th round, Diontae Johnson in the 11th, Washington in the 12th, and Ebron as late as the 14th. For what could be a Top 5 offense in the NFL, this is a very low price to pay. And remember, just when you think Big Ben is down and out, he’ll come back with a money throw that saves the game. This will be that type of season for Big Ben and the Steelers if healthy.
With a workout regime like this, I wouldn’t ever want to bet against Big Ben: