Steelers fantasy football guide: When to draft Bell, Brown, Ben and Bryant without being a total homer

You know you want to, but don’t draft James Conner.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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More than 55 million people play fantasy football each year, a number that ballooned to nearly 75 million last season. So if you’re one of the millions of Steelers fans getting ready for your fantasy draft, consider this a PSA:

Don’t take James Conner in the first eight rounds. Or at all.

We get that most football fans are total homers, and that’s particularly true of the yinzers in and around Allegheny County. But you can’t let your love of all things black and gold cloud your fantasy judgement. There are only two or three can’t-miss Steelers this season, and the rest are probably not worth the risk.

If you have a top-3 pick, should you take Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell? Should you take Big Ben with your second or third pick? Yes, yes and no.

From Bell and Brown to Ben and Martavis Bryant, from back-ups like Fitzgerald Toussaint, Eli Rogers to Conner and Darrius Heyward-Bey, we scoured through thousands of fantasy rankings to give you, Steelers fans, the best cheat sheet for when to pick your favorite players.

Where should each of the Steelers go in your fantasy draft? This will help you figure that out.

What type of league?

NFL: AFC Championship-Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
USA TODAY Sports

The number of teams, starters, bench and style of scoring matters with all these fantasy rankings. So we’ve tried to keep this as basic as possible. That means a non-PPR league (PPR leagues award points per reception, while more traditional non-PPR leagues give points for just yards and scores) with the following positions:

  • QB
  • RB1, RB2
  • WR1, WR2
  • TE1
  • Flex (W/RB/TE)
  • K
  • Def

That’s nine starting slots and six bench players for a 15-man team. A 12-team league means 180 positions will be drafted.

Steelers to draft

We’ve listed the Pittsburgh skill position players, kicker and defense and included their positional rankings from eight different fantasy sites, plus a composite overall ranking. For example, Roethlisberger may average out to be the 10th-best quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he should be drafted with the 10th pick. The overall composite ranking gives a sense of which round each player should be selected. So please, if you do anything, check this before you splurge on Eli Rogers in the 10th round.

Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Roethlisberger Positional Rankings
ESPN 15 CBS/Fantasy Pros 12
Yahoo 10 NFL.com 8
Fox Sports 7 USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 11
Fantasy Football Calculator 12 Numberfire 9
Composite Overall Ranking 76.4

Bell and Brown are obvious, but the most baffling Killer B to bank on is Big Ben.

Is Roethlisberger a top-10 quarterback this year? Given the talent around him, it’s impossible to think he won’t be, even with his penchant for the inopportune turnover and the team’s obvious reliance on running the football. Roethlisberger is below the top-tier signal callers like Brady, Rodgers and Brees. But would you really rather have Marcus Mariota or Kirk Cousins this season than Ben in what could be his final year in the NFL?

Advice: Reaching on Ben because of the potency of the Steelers’ offense is dangerous. His composite overall ranking has him as a seventh-round pick, so if you’re in a league which has a lot of quarterbacks go early, expect Ben will be one of them. Don’t buy into that. Take him if you want him, but not before the sixth. Any sooner and you’re giving up value at another position just to be disappointed by at least two halftime Hail Mary interceptions this season.

Running Back

Le’Veon Bell

NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Bell Positional Rankings
ESPN 1 CBS/Fantasy Pros 2
Yahoo 2 NFL.com 2
Fox Sports 2 USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 2
Fantasy Football Calculator 2 Numberfire 2
Composite Overall Ranking 2.25

Bell will be back, and he’ll be the best back in football this season. Yes, David Johnson of Arizona is ranked ahead of Bell in every major ranking outside of ESPN’s, but it’s hard to pass up the Steelers’ best offensive player with the first overall pick if you have it.

Hope, though, that you end up with the second pick and Johnson goes first. Then you don’t have to worry about being wrong, and you still get the guy you wanted. That is, unless you think Antonio Brown — listed third in most fantasy rankings — will have a more productive year than Bell.

Advice: This is an absolute no brainer. If you’re a Steelers fan, or just a fan of smart football decisions, you take Bell if you can get him. If you can’t get him, trade up for him. Trade everyone for him. Trade your entire draft for him, then pick up 14 other free agents and hope for the best.

Bell has got a lot to prove this year, and the Steelers are going to feed him the ball in both the run game and the pass game all season (assuming he’s on the field). Take him and hope he’s a Steeler for life. Or, for your fantasy purposes, for 16 full games, especially in weeks 14, 15 and 16 when the fantasy playoffs roll in.

James Conner

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Conner Positional Rankings
ESPN 77 CBS/Fantasy Pros 71
Yahoo 65 NFL.com 75
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 138
Fantasy Football Calculator 65 Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 241.6

Conner wasn’t listed on two of the rankings we used, and he was very low on the other six lists for running backs. He’s a decent stash in a keeper league, especially if you think Bell is gone after this or next year, but even then it might be as a free-agent pickup and not in the draft.

If-and-when Bell misses time, Conner should get the call, but he’s already been dinged up in camp, and Mike Tomlin is often loyal to his veterans. Heck, Knile Davis, who isn’t even on our list here, was rated ahead of Conner on some lists.

Advice: It’s a simple math game. Conner’s composite overall draft ranking was over 240 and there are only 180 players picked in a 12-team, 15-round draft. If all 12 teams pick four running backs (especially if you have a flex position) that’s still only 48 backs, and the best ranking he had was in the mid-60s. Avoid, but keep an eye on him if the Bell situation seems like it’s a bigger issue than most expect.

Fitzgerald Toussaint

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Toussaint Positional Rankings
ESPN 127 CBS/Fantasy Pros 111
Yahoo n/a NFL.com 110
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 94
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 425+

It’s weird that the Steelers have so much firepower on offense and really only have Bell as a viable running back option this season. Toussaint was listed as the starting back in camp by default, and you don’t draft ‘default’ in fantasy football.

Advice: His name is fun to say, so say you’ll do the right thing and pass on drafting Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Wide Receiver

Antonio Brown

Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown

Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Brown Positional Rankings
ESPN 1 CBS/Fantasy Pros 1
Yahoo 1 NFL.com 3
Fox Sports 1 USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 1
Fantasy Football Calculator 1 Numberfire 1
Composite Overall Ranking 8.5

Antonio Brown is the best fantasy receiver in football and in a pass-happy league like today’s NFL, that’s saying something. Brown is almost universally ranked ahead of Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Jr., Jordy Nelson, A.J. Green and Mike Evans, with only NFL.com not ranking him as the top receiver in fantasy this season. ESPN projects him to catch 10 passes more than any other receiver — he’s that good.

For my money, I’d rather have Jones, but it’s hard to ignore how dynamic Brown is whenever he gets the ball. Even with all the weapons on the Steelers’ offense, he’s sure to be one of the league-leaders in targets again this season. And yet, for Steelers fans who get the chance to draft Brown, it’s not a decision between him and Jones. It’s between him and Bell.

Advice: Brown’s composite ranking is 8.5 because the NFL.com list has him around 40. Without that his composite overall ranking is 3.9. If you have the third pick in the draft, take Brown and don’t look back.

If you have the second pick in the draft and Johnson goes No. 1, I’d take Bell over Brown, because there are too few running backs of his caliber, and as good as Brown will be this year, the receivers you get with the 23rd and 26th picks will be closer in points to Brown than any two running backs at that spot will be to Bell.

If you have the first pick in the draft, I’d still take Bell, but if you really love Brown that much, swap No. 1 for the No. 3 pick and a pick-swap in rounds 2, 4 and 6. Let David Johnson go first, let Le’Veon Bell go second and take Brown third, knowing you’ll have the 22nd pick instead of 24, 46th pick instead of 48 and 70th pick instead of 72. #PickSwap.

Martavis Bryant

Martavis Bryant

Martavis Bryant

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Bryant Positional Rankings
ESPN 31 CBS/Fantasy Pros 27
Yahoo 23 NFL.com 52
Fox Sports 42 USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 40
Fantasy Football Calculator 22 Numberfire 37
Composite Overall Ranking 80.1

Nobody really has any idea how good Bryant will be this season given how much time he’s missed because of his drug suspension. Also, while he’s been doing and saying all the right things, the guy is one failed test away from being banned for life, so it’s hard to want to take a risk on him early just to get a Steelers receiver on your roster. He’s clearly the team’s No. 2 receiver, and with a comparatively weaker tight end corps from the last season Bryant played, he should get a fair amount of attention in the offense.

Bryant is ranked anywhere from the early 20s to the early 50s in fantasy rankings, which is to say who the heck knows what to expect. The lowest ranking is NFL.com, which wildly over-values quarterbacks, pushing other positions down, but even some of the other rankings in the 40s are several rounds lower than his best rankings. This is very, very difficult.

Advice: I’d rather be annoyed at taking a safer option and missing out on Bryant’s stellar comeback year than drafting him too early with the expectation he’ll be a star and getting burned. Even if he plays all season he might not end up the WR2 on the Steelers by season’s end. His composite overall ranking has him as a mid-7th round pick, which seems like a safe place to take him as your WR3 or flex. If you’re banking on him being your WR2, you might reap the benefits or be scrounging on the waiver wire all season.

Eli Rogers

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Rogers Positional Rankings
ESPN 93 CBS/Fantasy Pros 84
Yahoo 86 NFL.com 71
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 89
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire 82
Composite Overall Ranking 224.4

Rogers is a no-go on all draft boards. His best ranking is 71st for wide receivers and even if every team takes five receivers, that’s still only 60 in your league, which puts him well out of that range. But he’s worth keeping an eye on early in the season, especially if he’s getting a lot of targets.

Advice: Do not draft Rogers, but be ready to pick him up on the waiver wire if your draft doesn’t work out the way you want or if you need a guy in the early part of the season and he’s getting consistent attention from Roethlisberger.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Smith-Schuster Positional Rankings
ESPN 125 CBS/Fantasy Pros 95
Yahoo 96 NFL.com 111
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 209
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 275+

As we wrote a few weeks ago, the Steelers probably didn’t need another receiver in the draft. Alas, they might have a good one, but he’s behind too many players and has too much still to prove to warrant drafting in your fantasy league. If he doesn’t get his head knocked off first.

Advice: If you have a keeper league and you really want to freak out your friends with an off-the-wall homer pick … still don’t take Smith-Schuster. Not this year.

Sammie Coates

Sammie Coates

Sammie Coates

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Coates Positional Rankings
ESPN 133 CBS/Fantasy Pros 117
Yahoo n/a NFL.com 143
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 102
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 365+

Justin Hunter

Hunter Positional Rankings
ESPN 152 CBS/Fantasy Pros 163
Yahoo n/a NFL.com n/a
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 129
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 450+

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Heyward-Bey Positional Rankings
ESPN 153 CBS/Fantasy Pros 147
Yahoo n/a NFL.com 107
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 98
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 350+

Yes, we listed seven Steelers wide receivers. Yes, all of them will score touchdowns and each will have at least one game where people will go nuts and try to pick them up on waivers.

Advice: That shouldn’t be you. Unless it’s Brown or Bryant, it’s not worth getting too excited about a Steelers receiver until they prove it more than once.

Tight End

Jesse James

NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
James Positional Rankings
ESPN 25 CBS/Fantasy Pros 29
Yahoo 29 NFL.com 21
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 30
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 215

There was a time not long ago when the Steelers had one of the best tight ends in football. But Heath Miller’s long gone, and after releasing Ladarius Green, Jesse James is the clear top target at the position. James had a handful of notable games last year, but nothing that put him on fantasy radars. His best ranking is 21st at the position, and his overall rating falls outside the first 15 rounds.

Advice: Roethlisberger could benefit from a top-tier tight end, so James will get his chances to improve this year. He could develop into a solid pass catcher, but for now he’s not reliable enough to draft.

Xavier Grimble

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Grimble Positional Rankings
ESPN 45 CBS/Fantasy Pros 53
Yahoo n/a NFL.com 79
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 62
Fantasy Football Calculator n/a Numberfire n/a
Composite Overall Ranking 360+

If James isn’t worth taking, there’s no way Grimble or any of the other tight ends would be.

Advice: There is not a fantasy draft deep enough…

Kicker

Chris Boswell

NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Boswell Positional Rankings
ESPN 10 CBS/Fantasy Pros 15
Yahoo 15 NFL.com 7
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 8
Fantasy Football Calculator 13 Numberfire 18
Composite Overall Ranking 216

If you want to make one homer pick just to have a Steeler on your team after missing out on Bell and Brown, Boswell wouldn’t be the worst. Any kicker you take will be the last round, so if you can get Boswell, why the heck not. Still, there are a good six or seven kickers better than him, so if you want to be a homer, at least be one when better options are gone first.

Advice: Be a homer, but only after you try to get a better kicker first.

Defense

NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Defense Positional Rankings
ESPN 5 CBS/Fantasy Pros 14
Yahoo 10 NFL.com 10
Fox Sports n/a USA Today/Fantasy Sharks 10
Fantasy Football Calculator 16 Numberfire 15
Composite Overall Ranking 205

Are the Steelers a top-5 defense? Not unless they figure out some issues in the secondary. That said, four of the eight sites we check have them in the top-10, with one in the top-5. At worst, the Steelers were a middle-of-the-pack defense, so they’re not a guaranteed draft, but given the team’s reputation on that side of the ball over the years, it’s hard to think they won’t go.

Advice: Take the Steelers in the 14th round. If they’re not there, take whoever is playing the Browns.

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