Juggernaut Index, No. 1: Waiting on Le'Veon Bell

Pittsburgh Steelers fans and Le’Veon Bell, in less stressful times. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

There was never any doubt about Pittsburgh’s placement atop this year’s index. In fact, no other franchise has much of a case. The Steelers are the only team in the NFL — and one of the only teams in history — to feature a pair of players selected among the top-five picks in an average fantasy draft. That’s absurd.

We shouldn’t need to take a deep dive into the resumes of key Pittsburgh fantasy assets, because these guys are generally well known. If you need an expert to tell you about Antonio Brown, then let’s hope there isn’t any money at stake in your league. Let’s simply celebrate the fantasy smorgasbord that is the Steelers’ 2018 roster…

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Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, supernova-level fantasy stars

In each of the past two seasons, Bell and Brown have been consensus top-five picks. You can look it up. It’s rare for this sort of thing to happen in any fantasy game, regardless of the sport. We basically never see it in the NFL, and certainly not in back-to-back years.

Bell has averaged 137.5 scrimmage yards per game over the past four seasons, scoring 34 touchdowns and averaging 4.5 YPC. He delivered 1946 total yards last season, ranking second in the league behind Todd Gurley, and he caught 85 passes on 106 targets. His fantasy game has no weaknesses. He’s finished as a top-five running back in three of the past four years. Bell is a monster, a clear early first-round selection even when he’s holding out and the season starts in like five days.

(UPDATE: I can see no great logic to Bell walking away from the $14.5 million franchise tender, but his agent is making noises about a protracted holdout. We’ve been through this drill before and it usually ends happily enough for fantasy owners. Bell costs himself $855K per game if he doesn’t report, which is no small thing. Backup James Conner is a quality player with an incredible backstory who might very well start and see loads of touches in the opener. And perhaps beyond. Conner is a recommended short-term add. But when Bell returns, Conner is again a handcuff. If you’re looking to unload Le’Veon shares, I am here for you.)

Antonio Brown remains a first-half-of-the-first-round receiver, a legend in the PPR community. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Brown led the NFL in receiving yards last season (1533), catching 101 passes on 163 targets. Over the past five years, an average season for AB looks like this: 116 REC, 1570 yards, 10 TDs. He’s the no-doubt No. 1 receiver in fantasy, arguably belonging to a tier of his own. Brown dealt with a quad issue in camp, but he’s returned to practice and shouldn’t be limited in Week 1 against Cleveland. He’s averaged 109.3 receiving yards in 12 career games versus the Browns, so you might want to consider playing him.

Also worth mentioning: Whenever Bell has missed time, Brown has feasted.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is a no-doubt every-week starter

Smith-Schuster produced an unreasonably great first pro season, finishing with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven spikes on 79 targets (73.4 catch percentage). You want him. We should expect Smith-Schuster to exceed 100 targets in the year ahead, assuming good health. Martavis Bryant is out of the picture and Eli Rogers is on the PUP list, leaving 120 total targets up for grabs; JuJu is gonna get a few (dozen) of those opportunities. After delivering a top-20 positional finish as a rookie, he has a clear shot at a 1000-yard season. His ADP felt right (40.4, WR16).

Ben Roethlisberger, underrated fantasy asset

If the fantasy community is right about the values of Bell, Brown and JuJu for 2018, then there’s almost no chance we’ve assigned the correct price to Big Ben. His average draft position recently is 112.9, which makes him QB14. Roethlisberger has beaten that rank in four of the past five years, including last season. He’s coming off a year in which he finished fifth in the NFL in touchdown passes (28) and second in yards per game (283.4). There’s simply no good reason he should slip outside the top-12 quarterbacks in a fantasy draft, regardless of format.

We should note that Roethlisberger hasn’t absorbed the same level of abuse from defenses that he endured years ago, in his 20s. He’s been sacked an average of 1.4 times per game over the past three seasons. Between 2006 and 2014, he was sacked a ridiculous 366 times, averaging 40.7 per year and 2.8 per game. When he’s protected and healthy, few passers are as dangerous.

Steelers have no shortage of sleepers

Conner has had a terrific preseason, earning everyone’s trust. Tight end Vance McDonald, if he can get healthy, is a candidate for 5-7 touchdowns. Rookie receiver James Washington looks like yet another outside-the-first-round steal for this team. He definitely had his moments during exhibition play…

Pittsburgh’s defense is plenty appealing, too. The Steelers open with Cleveland, KC, Tampa Bay (Fitz!) and Baltimore (Flacco!), so we can expect a few takeaways in September. This team’s D ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed last season (306.9 YPG) and seventh in scoring (19.3 PPG). It’s a respectable group.

If Pittsburgh can manager to manage to lure the team’s offensive centerpiece into the building sometime soon, that would be cool. It would resolve the biggest open question about this squad. Once again, the Steelers are well stocked with fantasy talent.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 28.0 (fourth in NFL)
Pass YPG – 261.8 (5)
Rush YPG – 129.4 (5)
Yards per play – 6.3 (1)
Plays per game – 62.4 (21)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Philadelphia, 10) Green Bay, 9) Atlanta, 8) Kansas City, 7) NY Giants, 6) LA Chargers, 5) New England, 4) Minnesota, 3) LA Rams, 2) New Orleans, 1) Pittsburgh

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