21 Jul The Opportunity Analysis – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Opportunity Analysis | Pittsburgh Steelers
- Available Targets: 63
- Potential Drop-Backs: +95
- Total New Opportunities: 158
- Opportunities Analysis Rank: 9
When reviewing the Pittsburgh Steelers available targets going into 2020, they are a prime reason why we look at the historical drop-back data to see the true number of available targets. The Steelers have the 5th fewest available targets from 2019, and when you look at the fact they drafted Chase Claypool and signed Eric Ebron, it looks like there won’t be enough targets to go around.
However, when reviewing the drop-back data of the Steelers from prior seasons dating back to 2013, we find that the 556 in 2019 is 95 drop-backs fewer than the previous six-year average of 651. This vaults the available opportunities from only 63 to 158 heading into this season. The infusion of pass volume allows players like Claypool and Ebron to make an impact while providing a boost to the other pass catchers on the team.
Primary Beneficiary – JuJu Smith-Schuster
As soon as Ben Roethlisberger went down it was easy to dismiss JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2019 campaign. When you dive into the numbers deeper JuJu still showed flashes early. In the first seven games, Smith-Schuster’s 16 game pace was 69 receptions, 1,013 yards, and seven touchdowns. These numbers would have made JuJu a top 24 wide receiver in 2019 with 11.1 fantasy points per game.
So what happened in the second half? First thing to point out is JuJu battled injuries that included a concussion and an MCL sprain. The next thing that stood out was his drops. In his final five games he played in 2019 he dropped six passes for a 33% drop rate. This comes after having zero drops the first seven games, and a drop-rate under 5% the previous two seasons.
Currently JuJu is going as the WR13 at the end of the third round. This is a huge difference from 2019 when he was being drafted as the WR5 as a borderline first round pick. It is clear that Juju is a buy as nothing has changed from the 2018. The Steelers once again have one of the top offensive lines in football returning four of five starters. Pittsburgh added veteran Stefen Wisniewski at offensive guard to replace Robert Foster.
The Steelers will be once again field one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL. The emergence of Diontae Johnson and James Washington along with second round pick Chase Claypool give the Steelers enough wide receiver talent on the outside to allow JuJu to continue to operate as a primary slot wide receiver.
In addition to the deeper wide receiver core, Pittsburgh signed Eric Ebron to pair with Vance McDonald at the tight end spot. One thing to keep in mind is that JuJu saw 166 targets in 2018 which allowed him to finish as the WR9. The emergence of additional options along with the signing of Ebron could make it difficult for Smith-Schuster to return to the 166 targets he saw in 2018.
This is why his WR13 price point in the back of the third round is a great value as he might not have the top 6 upside we once thought in 2019 but is still a rock solid wide receiver one.
Secondary Beneficiary – Diontae Johnson
Diontae Johnson’s 2019 top 48 WR finish was an accomplishment dealing with arguably the worst QB play in the NFL. This subpar QB play led the Steelers to drop back to pass 556 times which was 27th in the NFL. However, if we remove the first two games Roethlisberger played before his week two injury, the Steelers had one of the lowest drop-back rates per game with a 16-game pace of just 538.
Evaluating Johnson’s success last year with the low pass volume is key because the re-insertion of Big Ben creates an influx of pass volume. Even if Johnson doesn’t improve on his 18% target share from 2019 the increase in volume alone will allow him to reach over 115 targets next season.
Another key aspect to evaluate for Johnson is Big Ben’s ability to support a second wide receiver in this offense. Over the last five seasons, the WR2 in Pittsburgh has been inside the top 24 in points per game four times. This bodes well for Johnson who has already proven to win at all levels.
According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, Johnson was inside the top 20 in success rate vs every type of coverage. Johnson’s ability to win vs. man and press helps his prospects for taking over the featured outside role vacated by Antonio Brown last season. Currently being drafted in the back of the 7th round as the WR36, Johnson offers plenty of upside as a WR3 pick in the middle rounds in 2020.