The Pittsburgh Steelers are running it back and by running it back I mean they are returning the same starting offensive line and offensive coordinator. Of course, they did also add a first-round talent at offensive tackle. They goal is to give second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett a leg up by not having him learn a new system. The issue being the current offensive system left a lot to be desire in 2022. Still, there are a ton of weapons to like with intriguing skill sets around the quarterback, so if Pickett can take a major leap forward the Steelers skill position players will return value across the board.
- AFC North: | |
Below the CBS Sports Fantasy staff will take a look into the Steelers' entire team outlook including a burning question for Fantasy Football managers that needs to be answered, key player projections, a review of their draft class, strength of schedule, and individual player outlooks for all of the notable Steelers players who may end up on your Fantasy rosters.
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Steelers 2023 team outlook
By Chris Towers
The Steelers ended up over .500 last season, but there isn't much optimism around this offense in the Fantasy community. That's not to say there isn't talent, but Kenny Pickett needs to be a lot better after a rookie season where he failed to throw multiple touchdowns in any game.
Burning question: Is this offense worth targeting?
Between Najee Harris' regression and Pickett's struggles, there really wasn't very much to be excited about with this team last season. Pickett could take a step forward, but we're also not quite sure how targets will be distributed between Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Allen Robinson (plus Pat Freiermuth). Pickens has some helium thanks to some highlight-reel plays, but he struggled to consistently earn targets despite playing 75% of the snaps in 11 of 17 games as a rookie. I'm worried this might just be a boring, crowded offense with little upside.
Key Steelers player projections
|QB||Kenny Pickett||PA: 542, YD: 3687, TD: 22, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 69, YD: 275, TD: 2|
|RB||Najee Harris||CAR: 275, YD: 1099, TD: 8; TAR: 54, REC: 42, YD: 254, TD: 2|
|RB||Jaylen Warren||CAR: 92, YD: 394, TD: 3; TAR: 27, REC: 24, YD: 165, TD: 1|
|WR||Diontae Johnson||TAR: 130, REC: 77, YD: 810, TD: 5|
|WR||George Pickens||TAR: 103, REC: 63, YD: 824, TD: 5|
|WR||Allen Robinson||TAR: 87, REC: 52, YD: 599, TD: 4|
|TE||Pat Freiermuth||TAR: 108, REC: 70, YD: 771, TD: 4|
2023 NFL Draft class
Steelers 2023 schedule breakdown
Projected Strength of Schedule rankings by Dave Richard
- QB PSoS: 13th easiest
- RB PSoS: 16th easiest
- WR PSoS: 10th easiest
- TE PSoS: 10th easiest
|1||Sep 10, 2023||vsSan Francisco||1:00 pm||FOX||Acrisure Stadium|
|2||Sep 18, 2023||vsCleveland||8:15 pm||ABC||Acrisure Stadium|
|3||Sep 24, 2023||@Las Vegas||8:20 pm||NBC||Allegiant Stadium|
|4||Oct 1, 2023||@Houston||1:00 pm|| ||NRG Stadium|
|5||Oct 8, 2023||vsBaltimore||1:00 pm|| ||Acrisure Stadium|
|7||Oct 22, 2023||@L.A. Rams||4:05 pm||FOX||SoFi Stadium|
|8||Oct 29, 2023||vsJacksonville||1:00 pm|| ||Acrisure Stadium|
|9||Nov 2, 2023||vsTennessee||8:15 pm||AMZN||Acrisure Stadium|
|10||Nov 12, 2023||vsGreen Bay||1:00 pm|| ||Acrisure Stadium|
|11||Nov 19, 2023||@Cleveland||1:00 pm|| ||Cleveland Browns Stadium|
|12||Nov 26, 2023||@Cincinnati||1:00 pm|| ||Paycor Stadium|
|13||Dec 3, 2023||vsArizona||1:00 pm|| ||Acrisure Stadium|
|14||Dec 7, 2023||vsNew England||8:15 pm||AMZN||Acrisure Stadium|
|15||Dec 17, 2023||@Indianapolis||TBA||—||Lucas Oil Stadium|
|16||Dec 23, 2023||vsCincinnati||4:30 pm||NBC||Acrisure Stadium|
|17||Dec 31, 2023||@Seattle||4:05 pm||FOX||Lumen Field|
|18||Jan 7, 2024||@Baltimore||TBA||—||M&T Bank Stadium|
Steelers 2023 player outlooks
By Dave Richard unless otherwise noted
QB Kenny Pickett
Pickett ranked 30th or worse among 33 qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.2), touchdown rate (1.8%, which is gross) and QB rating (76.7) while failing to score 20 Fantasy points in a game last season.
These stats are made uglier when you consider that his receiving corps wasn't that bad and his pass protection graded out slightly better than league average, though his rushing production helped. The hope is Pickett becomes more comfortable in the offense and throws more touchdowns in 2023. It's reasonable to expect more scoring from Diontae Johnson (no TDs in 2022) and Pat Freiermuth (no touchdowns from Pickett in 2022) while also hoping for a breakout second season from George Pickens, who caught four of Pickett's seven scores. Adding Allen Robinson could also help.
Pickett might improve, but not to the point where he becomes a weekly must-start. That's why he won't get picked in many seasonal leagues unless you can start multiple passers.
The Steelers kept Trubisky as a quality backup behind second-year starter Kenny Pickett.
As reviled as Trubisky is among some fans, he still was better in every metric than Pickett except expected points added per dropback and interception rate, neither of which are strong indicators of Pickett being better. If this trend continues through the first chunk of the season, maybe even the first five weeks, the Steelers could say "How we doin'?" to Trubisky after their Week 6 bye. It really doesn't mean much for Fantasy managers outside of the deepest of two-QB leagues who overinvest in Pickett and want a reliable backup option on the bench.
For most of you, Trubisky, born in 1994, will be available on waivers if he gets the chance to play.
RB Najee Harris
A Lisfranc foot injury harpooned the first half of Harris' 2022 season, but a lack of explosiveness over his two-year career keeps his Fantasy value bottled up.
It might be a little unfair to hold his first eight games of 2022 against him when he averaged 10.9 PPR points per game, averaged 16.9 touches per game and scored three times while playing hurt. The final nine outings of 2022 were more representative of what he's capable of, averaging 20.1 touches per game and scoring seven total touchdowns with improved (but not great) efficiency. That second half was close to what Harris was as a rookie, save for lower catch numbers (16.7 PPR points per game). But that simply reinforces that Harris is a volume-driven, touchdown-needy running back who has 10 career plays of 20-plus yards over 694 touches. That's sad.
Without much competition for playing time, Harris is a very easy fade within the first 30 picks on Draft Day but is tougher to resist as startable RBs fly off the board. If you get him in Round 4, you're doing just fine.
RB Jaylen Warren
It's expected that Warren will reprise his role as the Steelers' passing-downs back in 2023, but it probably means he'll only play about one-third of the snaps and be involved on about six or seven touches per game. He also shouldn't be counted on to score much since only 11 of his 330 snaps in 2022 came inside the 10-yard line with five touches. In no way is he even a reliable handcuff for Najee Harris because the Steelers would probably continue splitting reps among other running backs in such a scenario. Warren is debatable as a late-rounder in any league.
WR Diontae Johnson
Johnson is a bounce-back candidate after a weird 2022 where he scored zero touchdowns despite 16 red-zone targets and 14 end-zone targets.
Working with then-rookie Kenny Pickett and backup Mitchell Trubisky, Johnson averaged a meek 10.6 PPR points per game despite finishing tied for sixth among wideouts with 147 targets. Counting all stats except touchdowns, Johnson would have finished 20th among wideouts in total PPR points scored. And of his 147 targets, 31 of them (21%) were deemed uncatchable, according to TRU Media. Is it that hard to expect some positive movement on both fronts this season to help Johnson reclaim his spot as a start-worthy Fantasy WR?
Remember, in 2021 he averaged 16.7 PPR points per game with final-season Ben Roethlisberger slinging short targets at him. He's a good value grab in Round 5 in PPR leagues, but just a modest one in Round 6 in non-PPR.
WR George Pickens
The second-year receiver Pickens has breakout potential, but because it's contingent on so many factors that you may want to let someone else reach for him.
Averaging 9.8 PPR points per game over his rookie year, he finished 2022 with 16-plus PPR in two of his final three games while managing to lead all Steelers receivers in touchdowns (four), explosive play rate (21.8%) and average depth of target (10.39). He didn't get it done by speeding away from coverage either; it was a combination of really good ball placement and fighting for perfect position against defensive backs. If Pickens is going to take a big step forward, he'll need to continue mastering contested catches and see a huge boost in targets. And he'll have to do this while Diontae Johnson somehow sees fewer targets and the quarterback play from the Steelers improves quite a bit. That's a lot to ask for.
Pickens is a terrific talent, but he might not see even 6.9 targets per game, which is 2.0 more than what he had in 2022. Round 6 is the absolute earliest point to go after him.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth is a start-worthy Fantasy option you can snag in the late rounds. Incredibly, he finished last year as a top-12 PPR option on a per-game basis despite producing two touchdowns.
That's thanks to Freiermuth winding up ranked sixth in targets per game among tight ends with 6.13. That number might actually increase this season as reports surfaced that the Steelers may try using Freiermuth more as a big slot receiver, not as a traditional tight end. Last year, Freiermuth averaged 2.28 yards per route run when lined up in the slot, a sensational total that was only second to Travis Kelce. If his role evolves into a more receiver-friendly one, his targets will top 100 and his touchdown production will rebound to perhaps the seven he posted as a rookie.
That gives Freiermuth a good chance to be a top-10 Fantasy tight end, making him worthy of a pick around 100th overall.
TE Darnell Washington
The Steelers drafted Sasquatch-esque tight end Washington in April out of Georgia. Built nearly like an offensive lineman, Washington made some fun plays downfield on occasion but totaled just three scores and 38 catches in 26 games as a sophomore and junior.
It's blocking that he's known for, lining up in-line on nearly 70% of his snaps. The Steelers figure to utilize him as such right away, potentially working with him on his receiving skills to add a dynamic to their offense. If he struggles with that, a position change might be in order.
Washington isn't an exciting Fantasy pick in any format, including Dynasty leagues since his long-term outlook doesn't involve a lot of statistics.
K Cade Yorkhris Boswell
This is expected to be Boswell's ninth season as the Steelers kicker. After finishing sixth among all kickers on a per-game basis in 2021, Boswell predictably finished league-average in the same category in 2022 because of the team's massive offensive overhaul. Odds are the offense still won't be explosive enough to give Boswell more than 30 field goal attempts and a bunch of extra points, so he's pretty easy to avoid drafting. At least two other kickers in his own division are better options.
Veteran Fantasy managers have come to trust the Steelers DST as an automatic option. Those days could be numbered. True, the squad finished top 10 on a per-game basis in 2022 thanks to an impressive 20 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. It's those plays that helped cover up a lack of sacks -- 40 to be exact, though that was partially because pass rusher T.J. Watt missed seven games. Expecting over 40 sacks in 2023 makes sense, but with a retooled secondary and questions about how effective the front-seven players other than Watt can be, there could be a lack of takeaways and touchdowns that keep the defense from being a lock. Playing the 49ers in Week 1, along with tougher matchups against their improved division rivals, certainly add to the issues. Don't consider the Steelers DST to be a must-start unit -- it is worth consideration in the final round, if at all.