Ben Roethlisberger Is a Great Late-Round Quarterback Target in Fantasy Football This Year
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is returning from an elbow injury that cost him 14 games in 2019, and he will be looking to get back to the form he showed in 2018, when he and Patrick Mahomes were the only quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards.
The 38-year-old Roethlisberger has an array of new weapons in Pittsburgh as he closes out his career. With the additions of Eric Ebron, Chase Claypool, and Anthony McFarland, can Roethlisberger regain his stature as one of the league's leading passers, or have we already witnessed the best of Big Ben?
A Look Back At 2018
In 2018, Roethlisberger led the league and set a career-high with 5,129 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, becoming the seventh player to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. The Steelers attempted an NFL-high 44.6 pass plays per game that season, and in 2019, that number dropped drastically to 31.9 (26th) without Big Ben -- but that likely had to do with Pittsburgh trying to manage games with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges under center. Roethlisberger finished third among all quarterbacks with 341 fantasy points in 2018, his second 300-point fantasy season, and he has had three seasons in the top 10 in raw points since 2013.
Per PlayerProfiler, Roethlisberger recorded 35 money throws (third-most) in 2018 but also divvied out 31 interceptable passes (second-most) on 16 interceptions (tied for the most). For reference, Aaron Rodgers led the league in 2019 with 34 money throws, and Jameis Winston threw an NFL-high 49 interceptable passe on 30 interceptions.
Volume has been huge for Big Ben's fantasy output. He's been top 10 in passing attempts, passing yards, and passing touchdowns in each of his last two full seasons (2017 and 2018). Over the last decade, Big Ben has thrown at least 500 passes in seven of 10 seasons, 25-plus touchdowns in seven, and surpassed 4,000-yards passing in six.
Looking Ahead to 2020
The Steelers usually remain quiet in the offseason, but they made a splash by signing former Colts tight end Eric Ebron. In 2018 with Andrew Luck, Ebron ranked third in the league with 12 red-zone receptions and led all tight ends in receiving touchdowns (13), end-zone target share (35.6%), and end-zone targets (16). Ebron caught 60% of his targets and had the fourth-most targets of any tight end in the league that campaign. In 2019, Ebron had eight deep targets, six red zone receptions, and held a 73.8% true catch rate sans Luck.
Pittsburgh also drafted the aforementioned Claypool and McFarland to go alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Diontae Johnson. JuJu was the fourth-most targeted receiver in the NFL in 2018 with Ben playing a full year, getting thrown to 166 times, and he had a red-zone target share of 31.2% (29 targets), which ranked sixth. Prior to 2019, JuJu had played 30 games with Big Ben, and Smith-Schuster averaged a 70.15% catch rate in those outings.
Running backs Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. saw increased roles in the offense with Conner missing six games. Samuels finished second on the team with 47 receptions, becoming a quality late-season PPR find. Snell was second on the team in rushing attempts (108) and rushing yards (426), and he faced the second-most eight-man-box defenses (39.81%) across the entire league. Whether or not Samuels becomes the PPR-machine he was last year with Roethlisberger, Conner can do work in the passing game, too, as he caught 34 of 38 passes last season (89.4%) and 55 of 71 (77.4%) with Big Ben in 2018.
The Steelers' offensive line finished ranked ninth in Pro Football Focus line rankings for 2019. Pittsburgh lost Ramon Foster due to retirement, but they added former Chief center/guard Stefen Wisniewski and guard Kevin Dotson from Louisiana-Lafayette in the draft as replacements. The two will help a unit that posted an 81.6 pass-blocking grade that trailed only the Ravens and Saints this past season, per PFF. The Steelers finished 10th in sacks allowed (32) in 2019, and impressively enough, Roethlisberger hasn't been sacked more than 24 times in a season since 2014. From 2004 to 2014, Big Ben had only one season being sacked fewer than 30 times.
How Should You Value Him?
Big Ben's ADP is varied across different sites, but he's the QB23 going by the numbers at Fantasy Football Calculator. It's easy to like him at that price, and he's especially appealing in two-quarterback formats as a solid QB2.
Week 1 of 2020 will be Roethlisberger's third official game without Antonio Brown, so the debate of whether or not Big Ben a top-tier fantasy quarterback without AB is still up for debate. But as Ben's last few years tell us, volume should be on his side in 2020. And he loves making the high-reward throws that lead to fantasy goodness.
In 2018, Roethlisberger had 84 deep-ball attempts (third) and 94 red-zone pass attempts (fourth), giving fantasy owners plenty of chances for big-play opportunities. In his five healthy quarters of the 2019 season, he had 10 deep-ball passes (2.0 per quarter) and a 528.8-yard pass attempt distance (105.76 per quarter), though that's obviously a tiny sample.
With plenty of weapons around him and a good offensive line, Roethlisberger could churn out another QB1 (top-12) season in 2020. His ADP will likely rise throughout the summer as long as he's healthy, but he might not break into the top 15 at the position, making him a nice late-round quarterback target for 2020 in one-quarterback leagues.