Antonio Brown is Good, 2016 Steelers Projections

The Steelers offense has produced some epic fantasy performances over the last couple of seasons and all signs point to it doing so again in 2016. Using our staff Projection Machine, I pulled together what I believe to be likely outcomes for Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense.

As you are likely aware, the Projection Machine employs a top-down approach and works off team wide offensive assumptions. Like most, I expect the Steelers to be a good team in 2016 winning 10 or 11 games. For purposes of the projection, I assumed that Roethlisberger will be able to remain healthy for all 16 games and that Le’Veon Bell will be at full strength upon returning from his impending four game suspension. DeAngelo Williams was a superb replacement for Bell last year so I didn’t find it necessary to drop team rushing attempts based upon the games Bell will miss. These considerations factored into the assumptions I used for setting the team’s overall offensive variables.

Point MarginPass TendencyPace Tendency

Pittsburgh posted it’s highest scoring margin, 0.63, since 2011 last season. With a healthy Big Ben under center and Bell playing in 12 games, I think it’s reasonable to expect another positive margin and a slight increase in 2016. Over the last four seasons, the team has surpassed the 75th percentile mark in terms of pass tendency every year.1 I expect this to continue, as reflected by the pace set above which hovers around the team’s average since 2010. Pittsburgh has consistently operated at a faster pace than most teams. I used the team’s average pace tendency from 2012-2015 to arrive at a 70th percentile rate for the coming year.

Antonio Brown is a Monster

Based upon the team-wide assumptions the projection machine estimates the Steelers will pass 622 times in 2016. This would be an increase of five percent when compared to last season. Antonio Brown commanded 33 percent of Pittsburgh’s targets in 2015 and 30 percent in 2014. Given the suspensions of Bell and Martavis Bryant, the youth of Sammie Coates and the hands of Darrius Heyward-Bey, I expect the wildly consistent Brown to again finish as one of the most heavily targeted wide receivers in the league, controlling 33 percent of Pittsburgh targets. Though I’m not entirely sold on Markus Wheaton as a talent, I did project him as the team’s second option in the passing game, garnering nearly 16 percent of passing attempts and assuming the market share vacated by Bryant. I made sure to significantly lower the touchdown rate applied to Wheaton, as Bryant’s monstrous 2014 skewed the average rates for the team’s WR2.  Though Heyward-Bey could challenge Coates for targets, I penciled the younger WR in to receive the average rate of 12 percent of targets aimed at Roethlisberger’s third option.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Before rumors of Bell’s suspension arose, I expected the agile back to reprise his role as a workhorse, potentially enjoying 60 percent of the Steelers 412 rushing attempts and 11 percent of targets. However, I reduced his share of the rushing attempts by 17 percent. This assumes that he will see similar usage when back on the field but factors in a period of transition. Bell has produced 0.63 TDs per game throughout his three year career. Be it through the air or on the ground, I expect bell to produce similarly in the coming season and as such record eight total scores. In an attempt to add a level of conservatism for any negative effects caused by his 2015 injury and missed time in 2016, I set his yards per carry to 50th percentile levels of approximately 4.2.

Williams demonstrated his value as a useful resource last year and as a result I think he will still have a role in the team’s ground game even when Bell returns. I had originally assigned the veteran back 25 percent of Pittsburgh rushing attempts and five percent of targets. I re-allocated the entirety of Bells deserted shares to Williams. This provided him with 43 percent of team carries and 8 percent of team targets.  This market share is likely higher than what most would assign the 33 year old but I think it’s a safe assumption that Mike Tomlin will be careful to not overwork Bell in the 12 games he does play. Especially not when he has a proven backup that he can trust. With average efficiency Williams should be able to accrue over 180 points in point-per-reception scoring.

The Grass is Always Greener

I’ve always been a fan of Ladarius Green’s talent and have high hopes for him in the Steel City. Unfortunately, without being unreasonable I wasn’t able to get him into the top 12 of 2015 tight end rankings. Using a blend of Heath Miller’s 2014 and 2015 seasons, in conjunction with Green’s, I estimated a 70th percentile TD rate, 14 percent market share of targets, and nearly seven yards per look. Even if Green was able to somehow will his way into 18 percent of targets, which seems unlikely given the fact that he will be sharing the field with two of the game’s best players, he’d still end up finishing with only 178 PPR points. A respectable total for sure, but this would have only been good enough for TE9 last season. Unfortunately for Green enthusiasts, we might need to temper our expectations.

Big Ben Might not be a Top 5 lock?

Given that Roethlisberger is surrounded by talent and playing in an undeniably good offense it feels intuitive that he should be a top level fantasy producer. I was surprised to see how low his final numbers shook out. If 27 passing touchdowns seems low, keep in mind that he has averaged only 26 over the last five seasons. Further, this was uninentional as the projection machine calculates a quarterback’s passing touchdowns based upon the rates allocated to RBs, WRs and TEs. Even if two or three of Bell’s anticipated TDs shift from the ground to the air, Roethlisberger could still produce less than 290 points based on my assumptions. However, when comparing to our staff composite, my numbers are much lower than the rest of the Projection Bros who forecast an average of 320 or so fantasy points.2 The discrepancy is mainly driven by the composite’s inclusion of a slightly higher completion percentage, an extra two TDs, 300 or so more yards passing and an extra 1.4 yards per carry.3  But that’s what’s so great about the projection machine. You can workshop infinite scenarios, dig into the specifics of ‘what if’ scenarios and build a range of outcomes.

  1. The 75th percentile mark is approximately 0.018.  (back)
  2. A fantastic name coined by Fantasy Douche himself!  (back)
  3. Roethlisberger’s composite projection will change as the rest of our staff has a chance to account for Bell’s suspension  (back)

Dave Caban

Senior Fantasy Analyst, app developer, hosts the RotoViz Radio Flagship, auction draft enthusiast.
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