32 for 32: Ben Roethlisberger and His Long Reign of Fantasy Consistency
Over the past four seasons, Ben Roethlisberger has ranked in the top 10 among all NFL quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. The Steelers were tired of efficiently moving the ball and scoring so many points, so they decided to fire offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Haley and Roethlisberger’s personalities often clashed, likely leading to Haley’s departure. This isn’t surprising since Roethlisberger infamously didn’t get along with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians either, and he’s referred to as The Quarterback Whisperer. Bad blood aside, during Haley’s helm at the OC position, Roethlisberger played at his career best by far. Below is a chart detailing Roethlisberger’s career fantasy points per game totals…
Haley coached the Steelers’ offense from 2012-2017. Roethlisberger saw three of his best fantasy seasons come with Haley coaching the offense. Haley deserves his fair share of praise for changing the Steelers’ offense from the old days of ground and pound, but it doesn’t hurt that the Steelers also managed to pick up players like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell in recent drafts.
It’s also worth noting that Roethlisberger took fewer sacks under Haley. Prior to Haley’s arrival, Roethlisberger played in 114 games and was sacked 314 times. That’s an average of 2.75 per game. After Haley arrived, Roethlisberger played in 86 games and was sacked 163 times. That’s an average of just 1.90 times per game. This reduction in sacks likely prolonged the career of Roethlisberger, who turned 36 in March.
So how will the Steelers’ offense look with new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner? This is a good question without much of an answer at this point in the offseason, as Fichtner has never called plays in an NFL game. Will Roethlisberger finally get that so-called freedom to run the offense his way? Since we haven’t been given a glimpse of training camp or preseason games, it’s really anyone’s guess at this point.
It won’t be a guessing game when it comes to Big Ben’s weaponry. The Steelers likely have the best offensive group in the entire NFL.
Assuming Le’Veon Bell shows up for the season amidst stalled contract talks, he is a shoe-in to be an elite talent at running back.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL. He is Ben’s go-to target in just about every crucial passing scenario. Need a first down? Need someone to stretch a short pass over the pylon? Need someone to run full speed into the field goal posts? Brown can do it all.
Outside of the two elite weapons, Ben has the luxury of second-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu was the youngest player in the league last season and became the first Steelers rookie wide receiver to eclipse 900 receiving yards in a season. He has a fantastic first name, is a social media wizard, and is on track to becoming an integral part of this offense.
With the departure of Martavis Bryant, Roethlisberger will look for other options on passing downs. The Steelers began utilizing tight end Vance McDonald at the end of last season. McDonald went bonkers against the Jaguars in the playoffs with a 10-catch losing effort. Tight end Jesse James is still in play, but he has never reached his full potential. You likely know Jesse James because of his controversial dropped touchdown versus the Patriots last season.
The Steelers also made an addition to their receiving corp through the draft when they snagged wide receiver James Washington, or as Yinzers in Pittsburgh say, WORSH-ington. Washington was drafted in the second round out of Oklahoma State.
The Backup Plan
Speaking of Oklahoma State, the Steelers somewhat surprisingly selected quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of the draft. Roethlisberger has danced with the idea of retirement a few times in recent years, so targeting a quarterback makes some sense. Player Profiler indicates that Rudolph’s best NFL comparable player is Sam Bradford. Rudolph won’t necessarily step in as the backup, as the official backup to Roethlisberger is still undecided.
Landry Jones has been the backup for years now. He racked up five starts over the past three seasons but has been rather average in his appearances. He’s 3-2 in those games, but two of those wins came against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers also drafted quarterback Josh Dobbs in 2017 with a fourth-round pick. One of these guys will not make the team.
The Steelers may like the upside of Mason Rudolph, but my guess is that Landry Jones will remain the backup to Ben. This is worth monitoring during training camp.
Roethlisberger is in position to have another good season. His weapons are as good as they have ever been and he’s getting an offensive coordinator that he enjoys working with, for now, at least. Roethlisberger’s age and injury history are both a growing concern but he should return to being a top-10 fantasy quarterback.
Where is Ben being drafted? Well, he’s currently a screaming bargain in 2QB leagues, being drafted as the QB13. Roethlisberger has finished in the top 10 in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons. Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ second-year passer who barely has any NFL experience, is being drafted ahead of Roethlisberger.
It’s tempting to draft a player like Mahomes because of his possible upside. But if you are looking for a consistent quarterback with the best weapons in football, you can’t go wrong with Roethlisberger. In two-quarterback leagues, Roethlisberger is a perfect target for those of you who like to wait at the quarterback position. He’s a fit as your QB1 and is extremely good for a QB2.