2.) Which Steeler will be most affected by the Antonio Brown trade?
It has to be Ben Roethlisberger or JuJu Smith-Schuster, right? We touched a bit here on the three games in which Smith-Schuster has been the team’s No. 1 in Brown’s absence. But how has Big Ben fared without A.B. throughout his career? In two games over the past two seasons, Roethlisberger averaged 256 passing yards and tallied a 3:1 TD-INT ratio, compared to 305 and 59:29 with the future Hall of Fame receiver on the field.
Talk about a small sample size, but that’s basically what we have to go off because Brown only missed one other game since becoming a full-time starter — the 2016 regular-season finale, when Roethlisberger was also sidelined. Indeed, there will be some serious projecting required before locking in Smith-Schuster as your WR1 or Roethlisberger as a potential starter.
But what about James Conner, you ask? He saw more than eight defenders in the box last season on 27.91 percent of his carries, per Next Gen Stats, a higher percentage than all but 10 qualifying NFL runners. In other words, the presence of Brown, rather surprisingly, didn’t make life that much easier on Conner, at least in terms of the fronts he saw. The hard-charging Conner was not only prolific but efficient last season, and with four starters returning up front and no real new challengers to his workload, he again profiles as a rock-solid RB1 — with a drop-off looming not far behind him on fantasy RB boards.
As far as the beneficiaries of Brown’s departure, 2017 Biletnikoff winner James Washington is the most obvious choice, and rookie Diontae Johnson and vets Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer merit late-round dart throws, but it could finally be Vance McDonald #szn, too. Remember, McDonald came on like gangbusters in last year’s playoffs when Brown was hobbled, and after his delayed start to 2018 because of injury, finished as TE9 over the final 14 games.