How Good Can Ben Roethlisberger Be This Season?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been the talk of many late-round quarterback supporters this off-season. Rankings across the industry, including our own, typically have Roethlisberger ranked in that mid- to high-end QB2 range.
Numerous reports this summer have indicated that the Steelers will focus on the run more this season. Pittsburgh will enter 2014 without two of their three top wide receivers from the 2013 campaign. Both Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders left in free agency, and these factors may be part of the reason experts in the fantasy community are afraid to commit to Roethlisberger as a QB1 this year.
However, there still seems to be consensus around the industry that Roethlisberger is being undervalued. Let's look at the numbers to see if Big Ben has a realistic chance to become a top-five fantasy passer in 2014.
Roethlisberger By the Numbers
Last year, Ben Roethlisberger improved his play dramatically over the final two months of the season. According to our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Roethlisberger finished 2013 as the 10th-best passer. With 20 touchdowns over the final nine games of the 2013 season, is it realistic to think that Big Ben could join the elite tier of quarterbacks in 2014?
Looking at the numbers among full-time starters over the past five years, we can set a presumable floor for Roethlisberger in 2014. He has never ranked lower than 10th according to our Passing NEP metric.
There's reason to believe that Roethlisberger can be even better this year than he was in 2013. He led the Steelers to the eighth-ranked passing offense when adjusted for strength of schedule last year, as Todd Haley allowed Roethlisberger to run the no-huddle offense over the last half of the season. In the end, Roethlisberger helped the Steelers improve 10 spots in our Passing NEP metric, up from 18th after Week 8 of the NFL season.
Roethlisberger has typically graded out well according to our metrics, but has never taken the leap into the tier of the league's elite fantasy passers. We know that efficiency metrics may not translate to top-tier fantasy production. Could it be due to the fact that Pittsburgh has lacked a true threat as a receiver at the running back position?
Our data shows a direct correlation between the contributions of a healthy Le'Veon Bell to Roethlisberger's success. Le'Veon Bell's return from injury made an incredible impact on the Steelers passing game in 2013. They vaulted to the eighth spot in Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points, up from 27th before Bell returned from injury.
Contributing Factors to Success
Entering the third season under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Roethlisberger has seemingly been given the reins of the offense as seen by his success over the last half of the 2013 season while running the no-huddle offense. With Heath Miller healthy once again, Antonio Brown emerging into a legitimate star at wide receiver as well as the addition of veteran Lance Moore, it's logical to expect another good season from Big Ben.
Fantasy Draft Stock
There is little doubt in my mind that Roethlisberger will outperform his current 11.05 average draft position according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Last season, he finished as the 12th quarterback in ESPN standard scoring.
Although he finished as a technical QB1, it's hard to make a case for him to jump into the top five. Sure, opportunity for Ben to produce as a top five passer in "real" football is there. After all, among the 11 passers who finished above him in fantasy scoring, only five had more pass attempts. And if that type of volume continues into 2014, he should have a nice floor for fantasy teams.
Roethlisberger does have one top five finish in fantasy scoring, and that came back in 2007 when he ranked fourth. Since then, his highest finish among fantasy quarterbacks was ninth in 2009. Over the past three seasons, Roethlisberger has an average finish of QB14.
Making the jump into the top five is going to be difficult in 2014 for Big Ben. With some uncertainty surrounding the Steelers young receiving corps, it's hard to make a case for Roethlisberger joining the fantasy elite this season.
However, drafting him as a late-round quarterback option is a smart move. He has a nice floor, and a finish in the top eight or nine shouldn't surprise anyone. While Ben may not have top five upside, he does represent a nice draft day value for your fantasy team.