Steelers WR Diontae Johnson told reporters that he played almost his entire rookie season with a groin injury that required surgery this offseason. Johnson got hurt in Week 2. "I was running and it felt like my groin got a little tight on me,” he said. He had surgery shortly after the season ended and is expecting to be cleared soon. The fact that he was playing at less than 100% only makes Johnson's rookie season more impressive. He compiled a 59-680-5 line on a Steelers team that ranked 31st in passing yards and 28th in TDs. Johnson is a 2nd-year breakout candidate if he gets improved QB play from a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
Steelers WR Ryan Switzer was encouraged by what he saw from QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) in a recent throwing session. “Man, he let it rip,” Switzer said. “There was no restraint, no hesitancy, he was just out there. He has been throwing like that for a while and, in my opinion at least, getting out there on that field for the first time and throwing full-speed routes was refreshing. The control factor was taken out of it. He was out there and he was throwing. Did some off-schedule stuff. No restraints. He threw everything — across his body. Everything.” All reports on Roethlisberger's recovery from September surgery on his throwing elbow have been positive. His health is the key to a bounce-back season for the Steelers offense. We'll continue to keep a close eye on Big Ben's progress.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin called RB James Conner a "featured guy" and "proven runner when healthy" in a recent conference call with reporters. “I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality,” Tomlin added. “I think that when you have a featured runner, it gives him the opportunity to drop a stake in the ground and allows others to rally around him, and it gives him a set of core base run plays that he specializes in, and you find a rhythm that way.” Tomlin has had a RB top 240 carries in 7 of his 13 seasons with the Steelers. But Conner has had trouble staying healthy; the Steelers have added Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland to the backfield over the last 3 drafts; and longtime Steelers insider Ed Bouchette expects more of a committee backfield this season. It'll be a situation to monitor closely throughout the summer. Right now, Conner carries a wide range of 2020 outcomes, making him a risk/reward pick in the 4th or 5th round of fantasy drafts.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin is "extremely confident" QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) will be ready for Week 1. Big Ben is recovering from September surgery on his throwing elbow. “We like where we are," Tomlin said. "He’s throwing on a rehab schedule, and it’s going well, and we fully anticipate him being ready to go for that opener.” A healthy Roethlisberger is the key to a bounce-back season for WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and the rest of Pittsburgh's offense.
The Athletic's Ed Bouchette expects the Steelers to go with a committee backfield this season. That'd be a change from what Pittsburgh has usually done under HC Mike Tomlin. But RB James Conner has had trouble staying healthy as lead back. And the Steelers now have depth at the position with Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and rookie Anthony McFarland alongside Conner. "The room is crowded, but there really is not a leader of the pack," Bouchette writes. "Conner will get every chance to show he can stay healthy, and they’re likely to cut back on his carries even if he remains injury-free for two reasons: to help save him and to use some of their other backs." Conner remains the best fantasy bet here by a pretty big margin. Just don't expect him to get the RB1-level volume folks who drafted him in the 1st or 2nd round last summer thought they were getting.
The Steelers selected Maryland RB Anthony McFarland in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Watch McFarland’s 298-yard, 2-TD dismantling of Ohio State back in 2018 and you’d think he’s 1 of the top backs in this class. That was part of an impressive redshirt freshman season that saw him tally 1,034 yards on 7.9 yards per carry. 39 of his 131 carries went for 10+ yards that year. McFarland took a colossal step back this past season, though, battling through a high-ankle sprain and totaling just 614 yards on 114 carries (5.4 YPC). He’s also fairly inexperienced in the passing game, with only 24 catches across the past 2 years. But McFarland’s flashes are exciting. And the 5’8, 208-pounder confirmed his big-play ability with a 4.44-second 40 time at the Combine. He’s an intriguing addition to Pittsburgh’s backfield alongside James Conner, Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels.
The Steelers drafted Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was notably announced as a WR. That’s where he played in college, but many scouts think he’d be better at TE. Claypool brings a freaky combination of size and athleticism. The 6’4, 238-pounder clocked a 4.42-second 40 time with a 40.5-inch vertical at the Combine. He finished with a 98th percentile SPARQ score. We didn’t see that level of athleticism on tape, though. It takes him a while to get to full speed, and he’s a bit lumbering when changing direction. On the plus side, he’s strong in contested situations and is tough to bring down after the catch. Claypool will battle with Diontae Johnson and James Washington for snaps behind JuJu Smith-Schuster.
TE Eric Ebron is signing a 2-year, $12 million deal with the Steelers, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. A 1st-round bust for Detroit, Ebron rehabbed his value a bit in Indianapolis with 41.7 yards and .59 TDs per game over the past 2 seasons. Last year, he ranked 14th in Pro Football Focus' receiving grades and 9th in yards per route run among 35 TEs with 40+ targets. In Pittsburgh, Ebron joins a TE group with Vance McDonald, who restructured his contract earlier this week. Those guys could vulture production from each other, leaving both as unreliable fantasy options. We'll see how the situation plays out this summer.
The Steelers are using the franchise tag to keep OLB Bud Dupree off the open market. The former 1st-round pick jumped to 11.5 sacks in his 5th season after topping out at 6 sacks among his previous 4 campaigns. Dupree's 17 QB hits in 2019 mark a steadier climb, compared with 6, 7, 7 and 13 over the previous 4 years.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) said he got a "good report" from doctors on Friday but is still 2-3 months away from full clearance. Even the long end of that timeline would have him ready to go by the end of May. He resumed throwing over the weekend. Turning 38 in March and coming off major elbow surgery, Roethlisberger is obviously a big question mark heading into 2020. But anything he can give the Steelers figures to be an upgrade over last year's QB play.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin said Monday that he has "no hesitation" in believing QB Ben Roethlisberger will be under center come Week 1. Big Ben underwent surgery to repair 3 tendons in his throwing elbow in late September. We haven't heard much on his rehab, but he's reportedly scheduled for a checkup later this month. Pittsburgh's passing game went in the tank without Roethlisberger last year. His return would make WR JuJu Smith-Schuster an obvious bounce-back candidate -- and raise the ceilings on WRs Diontae Johnson and James Washington.
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson recently underwent sports-hernia surgery. It's unclear when the injury occurred -- he was never on the injury report in 2019 -- but it shouldn't significantly impact his offseason. Johnson turned in an encouraging rookie campaign, leading the Steelers with 59 catches and 5 receiving scores and ranking 2nd with 680 receiving yards. He should build on those numbers in 2020 if QB Ben Roethlisberger is able to stay healthy.
Steelers RB James Conner (thigh) is out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens. That leaves RB Benny Snell as Pittsburgh’s lead ball-carrier, with RB Jaylen Samuels the best bet for targets. RBs Kerrith Whyte and Trey Edmunds also figure to mix in.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin admitted Tuesday that RB James Conner's (quad) availability for this weekend's game against the Ravens is "very much in question." Conner has seemingly been battling injuries all season. We're not expecting him to suit up on Sunday, leaving Pittsburgh's backfield to Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels and Kerrith Whyte.
Steelers QB Mason Rudolph suffered a left shoulder injury in the 2nd half of Sunday's game against the Jets. He had replaced QB Devlin Hodges -- but "Duck" is back in the game. Pittsburgh's QB situation remains a mess.
Steelers RB James Conner suffered a thigh injury in the 1st half of Sunday's game against the Jets. He's officially questionable to return. We'll update Conner's status when we learn more.
Update: Conner has been ruled out.
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) is active for today’s game against the Jets. He put in full practices on Thursday and Friday but admitted that he’s still not at 100%. Despite the plus matchup, Smith-Schuster is a shaky Week 16 fantasy play.
Steelers TE Vance McDonald (concussion) put in a full week of practice and will return for Sunday’s game against the Jets. He’s a low-upside TE2 in Pittsburgh’s conservative offense.
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) labeled himself a game-time decision for Sunday's tilt with the Jets. He put in full practices on Thursday and Friday but admitted that he's still not at 100%. We'll get JuJu's game status by noon ET on Sunday. But you should try to avoid him in fantasy lineups considering the injury and Pittsburgh's conservative offense under QB Devlin Hodges.
Update: Smith-Schuster isn't listed on the final injury report, so the Steelers evidently expect him to play.
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) was listed as a full participant in Thursday's practice. That seems to put him on track to return for Sunday's game against the Jets, barring another setback. That's a plus matchup vs. the league's 23rd-ranked WR defense. But between the knee issue and QB Devlin Hodges, consider JuJu just a WR3.
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