Roethlisberger considered retiring this offseason, but he's back for his 14th year and should again flirt with 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Pencil him in for at least a couple games missed to injury, though. He's played a full season three times in 13 years, most recently in 2014, and last year dealt with ankle and knee injuries, missing a game to have a torn meniscus repaired. Another trend to be prepared for is his struggles on the road, which the last three years stand in stark contrast to his play at home. In 20 home games in that time, Roethlisberger posted 8.7 YPA, 59:16 TD:INT and 339 yards per game. In 22 road games, though, those numbers fell to 7.4, 23:22 and 269. Roethlisberger still throws a great deep ball and has a great duo in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown to exploit it. Bell's running-game prowess forces defenses to keep a safety in the box, which makes it easier for Brown to get behind the secondary. Roethlisberger has finished in the top four in attempts of 21-plus yards four consecutive years, leading the league last season with 77, which he converted into an NFL-high 13 touchdowns. The return of Martavis Bryant from suspension and the addition of second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster gives him more weapons with which to attack defenses.
After staying healthy for two seasons, injuries once again caught up to Roethlisberger in 2015, costing him four games and reducing his efficiency when he was on the field. While his accuracy and YPA remained excellent, his 16 INTs were his most in a decade, and his TD percentage (4.5) was his lowest since 2011. When healthy, Roethlisberger is still the prototype fora modern pocket passer, using his size to shrug off sacks while he waits for routes to develop and then delivering one of the best deep balls in the league. That style of play has taken its toll on the 34-year-old, however, and while his ability to play through injuries and still be productive is extraordinary, last season showed just how thin the Steelers' depth chart is behind him. His targets will be in flux in 2016 as well. Antonio Brown remains one of the best INRs in the game, but Le'Veon Bell had his own issues staying healthy last season, Martavis Bryant will miss the entire season due to suspension and long-time tight end Heath Miller has retired. Pittsburgh does have some young receivers ready to step in for Bryant, and also signed Ladarius Green to replace Miller, but Roethlisberger will likely be leaning heavily on Brown once again.
Last season was easily Roethlisberger's finest statistically as he tied Drew Brees for the league lead in passing yards and matched a career-high 32 touchdowns. Roethlisberger finished fourth in attempts with a career-high 608, but his big season was not simply a byproduct of volume. He ranked third in YPA with a four-year high 8.14 as well as third in completion percentage with a career-high 67.1. His nine 300-yard games were second only to Andrew Luck's 10, highlighted by consecutive weeks midseason in which he totaled 862 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 6-5, 241, Big Ben is still arguably the hardest quarterback to bring down inside the pocket, and his strong arm contributed to a league-high 15 completions of 40-plus yards. Roethlisberger also has plenty to work with, starting with Antonio Brown, who, despite his 5-10, 186-pound frame, has more catches and yards the last two seasons (239, 3,197) than any receiver. The Steelers finally found a bigger complement to Brown in 6-4 Martavis Bryant, who averaged 21.1 YPC and scored eight touchdowns in 10 games (four in the red zone). With Bryant facing a four-game suspension to start the season, Markus Wheaton figures to be a key factor in the team's passing game out of the gate. The Steelers also drafted another potential playmaker in 6-1 wideout Sammie Coates (4.43 40, 41-inch vertical). The versatile Le'Veon Bell, who led running backs in receiving yards while finishing second in rushing, should keep defenses honest once he's done serving a two-game suspension. Roethlisberger's touchdowns might regress a bit — he's unlikely to again throw six scores in a game twice — but another productive fantasy campaign is nearly certain.
With three 4,000-yard seasons in the last five seasons, Roethlisberger is one of the league's most reliable quarterbacks on a year-to-year basis, but modest touchdown totals have limited his fantasy upside. Pittsburgh featured the sub-6-foot duo of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders as its top two receivers last year, and Roethlisberger's 101 red zone targets (second in the NFL) largely went to waste as a result. The issue could get worse since the Steelers replaced Sanders and 2013 touchdown leader Jerricho Cotchery in free agency with the weak duo of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore. That large number of red-zone passing attempts was likely an anomaly, however, as he attempted an average of just 67 per year in the four previous seasons. The hope is that rookie fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant (6-foot-4, 211 pounds) might provide Pittsburgh with an upgrade in the red zone, but Bryant is a question mark due to drops and work ethic concerns. Regardless, Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and shows the ability to rise above his surroundings on a consistent basis. Going back to 2009, Roethlisberger's per-game production projects to roughly 4,392 yards and 27 touchdowns per 16 games, though he's played all 16 games just twice in his seven-year career.
Roethlisberger has thrived on highly efficient play but has thrown more than 500 passes just twice in his nine-year career, with a career high of 513. He's also been unable to stay healthy – although he's known for his toughness, Roethlisberger hasn't played all 16 games since 2008.
At 6-5, 241, Roethlisberger is one of the strongest quarterbacks in the league and is tough to bring down with an arm tackle. He's also nimble in the pocket and scrambles to keep plays alive that generate big gains for his wideouts even if they aren't open initially. It's also a style that causes him to take a lot of sacks and suffer so many injuries.
Roethlisberger's weapons aren't as good as they once were – the Steelers lost speedster Mike Wallace in the offseason and weren't able to replace him. Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Markus Wheaton will compete for playing time opposite Antonio Brown, but they aren't the type of playmakers that will boost Roethlisberger's stock. Moreover, red-zone target and elite blocking tight end Heath Miller is recovering from a late-season torn ACL, putting his early-season availability at risk.
At press time Roethlisberger himself is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair loose cartilage. He's expected to be ready for the start of training camp, however.
Roethlisberger has played all 16 regular season games just once in his eight-year career, which is primarily the result of a remarkably strong commitment by the Pittsburgh front office to under-invest in its offensive line. As Roethlisberger stumbled around on a bad ankle, and the Steelers watched their playoff run end at the hands of Tim Tebow, the team evidently recognized that keeping Roethlisberger healthy for once would perhaps be a useful outcome. To that end, the Steelers drafted guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams with their first two picks, respectively, at last giving the team a talented offensive line nucleus alongside tackle Marcus Gilbert and center Maurkice Pouncey. Moreover, new offensive coordinator Todd Haley calls a pass-heavy game when he trusts his quarterback, and targets like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Rainey should be sufficient for Roethlisberger to pull off a strong year. A safer pocket for Roethlisberger is far from guaranteed, though, because those rookies on the offensive line might not yield immediate returns, and in any event, he tends to scramble around to buy extra time, often trading big plays for some extra sacks.
Roethlisberger has averaged about 278.8 yards passing per game the last two years, a figure that would translate to roughly 4,460 yards over 16 games. In that same span he’s averaged 33.1 pass attempts per game with a touchdown percentage right around 4.8. Multiply those numbers and you get about 25 passing touchdowns per year. Roethlisberger posted those numbers despite dealing with a badly beat up offensive line in 2010, with right tackle Willie Colon (Achilles) missing the entire season while Max Starks, the left tackle, missed nine games with neck and ankle injuries. With those two back in the lineup and emerging star Mike Wallace at receiver, Roethlisberger has a solid supporting cast to maintain his recent passing production. And while he’s no Vick or Rodgers, Roethlisberger does a decent job of boosting his fantasy value by running the ball. He’s a reliable source of 100-to-200 yards and two touchdowns on the ground each year.
Roethlisberger was great last year after lagging for most of his career for fantasy purposes. Of course, he’s now out at least four weeks due to a suspension. How he plays when he returns is a major question mark. Also factoring against
Roethlisberger is a depleted receiving corps
that lost Santonio Holmes, the team’s leading
wideout in ‘09. If the Steelers are successful in
Roethlisberger’s absence, it will be due to a
defensive, running-oriented focus that will be a
drag on his production throughout 2010.
He had a bad year last year on the stat sheet, but got another Super Bowl ring. Roethlisberger owners received no fantasy rings unless they had a heck of a backup that was able to replace him most Sundays. But we defer to the career YPA number (7.9). Also the starting receivers are good. Alas, the team wants to run and play defense and might actually be able to do the former this year.
Even the YPA was below average last year, just 7.0, and that doesn’t factor in all those sacks – 46 (most of which killed Steelers drives). Big Ben also uncharacteristically struggled on first down – 7.7 YPA (about average and well off Matt Ryan’s league-leading pace of 9.64).
On the more positive side, the Steelers do aggressively throw the ball downfield. A full 28 percent of Roethlisberger’s total attempts were 11-to-20 yards from scrimmage, second highest to JaMarcus Russell. However, his 60 QB rating on those tosses (nine picks) was better than only Kyle Orton’s and Marc Bulger’s among 2008 qualifiers.
Roethlisberger also lagged in scoring efficiency, converting a TD every 4.7 of his red-zone passing attempts (13th best). And the attempts were below average (17th overall).
The Steelers did not address their offensive line weakness in the offseason to our satisfaction. Tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon return, but are mediocre. So does C Justin Hartwig, who led the league in sacks allowed at the position (6.5). They did take Wisconsin Guard Kraig Urbik 79th overall.
Also we must note that Nate Washington has departed to the Titans, leaving Limas Sweed and rookie Mike Wallace (Ole Miss) to compete for the third WR job, always a source of big plays in the Steelers downfield passing game. Sweed gives the Steelers the size a QB craves.
His 32 TDs were the result of incredible red
zone proficiency due to the surprising inability
of the Steelers to run the ball anywhere near the
goal line. But the Steelers addressed that issue by drafting Rashard Mendenhall, who is built for goalline duty. Even if the Steelers choose to rely on the running game more (and they really did try to run it there with Willie Parker last year, but Parker just was not capable), Big Ben can't keep up his 2007 goal-line conversion rate. For example, he was 20th in attempts inside the five, but tied for 10th in TDs there.
You also need more yardage out of a QB you'd
expect to repeat a 30-plus TD performance. Roethlisberger's total was just 14th in the league.
He remains incredibly efficient with his 7.8 YPA,
so his floor should be around the mid-20s in
scoring strikes no matter how high the Steelers
running game rebounds. The defense was really
good last year – second fewest points allowed
– so you can’t worry too much about that alone
cutting Roethlisberger's TDs, though it will continue to suppress his yards.
We beat the market last year on Roethlisberger,
ranking him 11th overall at the position.
Cashing in that kind of 2007 return was sweet for
those who listened and drafted him at that spot.
There couldn't have been many leagues outside
of Pittsburgh where he went higher than that. But
this year, you're going to have to pass if people
are drafting last year's numbers (which everyone
does). The Steelers just don't throw enough to
bank on another 30-TD season.
It was a lost year for Roethlisberger after the motorcycle crash and the additional concussion he received in Week 7 at Atlanta. When he went down in Atlanta, he had thrown five TD passes with no picks in his prior six quarters. Instead of getting a needed rest (according to the established, neurological opinion), Big Ben proceeded to throw seven more picks the next two weeks. Maybe this is silly cherry picking, but it’s reasonable to throw out the first five weeks on the assumption he just wasn’t physically and mentally ready to play. And then you must throw out the two weeks after the Falcons concussion. In those five games we’re tossing due to medical reasons (real or perceived), Roethlisberger threw 14 picks (just two TDs). Look at his season without that and it’s not bad by any measure and serviceable by fantasy standards (a 23-TD pass pace).
New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has had some success as coordinator with the Browns (when they gave Pittsburgh a scare in a wild shootout in the 2002 playoffs) and helped develop Peyton Manning as his QB coach. And he was in charge of the receivers the past few years in Pittsburgh. Expect Arians to open up the offense and for new coach Mike Tomlin, a defensive specialist, to be hands-off unless the Steelers start losing.
Hines Ward isn’t getting better, for sure. But there’s upside with second-year pro Santonio Holmes. Willie Parker is explosive on screens and provides a running threat that defenses will account for on almost every snap. Heath Miller can control the hash-area of the field at tight end. The Steelers pass defense was mediocre last year, and no help for the secondary came in the draft. So the Steelers might be forced to play an aggressive brand of passing football even if that’s not Tomlin’s first choice.
While Roethlisberger seems completely healthy at press time, you cannot totally discount the risk that he’ll never be the same player he was before the accident and that he’ll always be prone to concussions as a result. If he’s your first QB, you better pick another one very quickly.
Pittsburgh was last in pass percentage, first-down pass percentage and red-zone pass percentage. Since the Steelers won the Super Bowl, they’re unlikely to change a thing unless their season turns sour and/or their defense collapses. Again, the Smashmouth proponents will say that Roethlisberger’s passing numbers are so good because the opposing defense is forced to play run. But Pittsburgh could not sustain drives all season because it called on Roethlisberger to climb out of too many third-and-longs due to a decidedly mediocre running game (12th overall in yards per carry). Roethlisberger led the NFL with a 10.26 YPA on first-down passes. He was third in converting red-zone passes into TDs. He only had 31 late/close passes, but an 87 QB rating there. His arm strength is demonstrably excellent, given his 110 QB rating on 70 attempts of 11-20 yards. When trailing, Roethlisberger had a 115 rating with eight TDs on just 81 attempts. Despite the relative lack of opportunity, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to fourth place with 30 big passing plays (plus-25 yards). His accuracy is slightly below average, 15.7 percent poor throws. The wide receiver corps takes a hit with the loss of Antwaan Randle El, but TE Heath Miller will be expected to grab a more prominent role in the passing game. Cedrick Wilson is a decent deep threat but a shaky starter opposite of rock-solid All-Pro Hines Ward. Rookie Santonio Holmes will need to have a quick impact, which has been the pattern with all recent Steelers’ No. 1 picks. Make sure there are no lingering effects of his June motorcycle accident before turning to Roethlisberger on draft day.
Well, we said Kurt Warner was the active career leader in YPA, but we had to qualify it by saying “players with 20-plus games,” and here’s why: In his rookie season, Roethlisberger averaged a whopping 8.9 yards per attempt over 14 games. Now there’s no doubt that Roethlisberger is a major talent – he’s big, strong-armed and surprisingly fleet of foot. But he accumulated his tremendous per-pass productivity on a team that ran the ball more than any other in the last 20 years. In fact, 64 percent of the Steelers’ plays came on the ground, so Roethlisberger’s terrific passing stats were complied in a mere 295 attempts. If we prorate that over a full season, it still comes out to just 337 passing attempts. So, first, we’re looking at about a 10-game sample size for most quarterbacks, and second, teams that played the Steelers were undoubtedly gearing up to stop the run and taking more chances against Big Ben. Finally, Roethlisberger threw 11 picks, certainly not a lot for your typical passer, but given his low number of attempts, that puts his interception percentage at 3.72, and that’s Plummer/Collins territory. This came home to roost against better defenses in the playoffs when Roethlisberger threw two picks against the Jets and three against the Patriots.
That said, Roethlisberger’s rookie season was a resounding success (14-0 in the regular season speaks for itself), and you can’t completely explain away that level of passing efficiency. The Steelers will still want to run the ball a ton – count on that – but there’s almost no way they’ll repeat their freakishly high run/pass ratio again in 2005. But unless Pittsburgh’s defense and running game take a giant step down, expect Roethlisberger’s counting totals to be similar to last year’s, just with a little less efficiency and a few more attempts.
Big Ben always has the playbook close by and spends most of his days in the film room like the player he's most compared to, Chad Pennington. But after playing at a small-time college (Miami of Ohio), he'll also need some extensive bench time to maximize his chance for a solid NFL debut.