When it comes to assessing the Pittsburgh Steelers salary cap situation, ESPN.com staff writer Bill Barnwell doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. However, when it comes to assessing the value of the Steelers top-three offensive players and comparing them to those on the 31 other NFL teams, Barnwell appears to have done his homework.
In his most recent post on ESPN.com, Barnell took on the task of ranking each NFL team’s top-three offensive players and coming in at No. 1 overall on his list is the Steelers trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Barnwell has those three players barely beating out the New England Patriots trio of Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and below is reasoning for that.
And yet, by the narrowest of margins, the Steelers have to be my top team for a few reasons. One is positional scarcity: While Gronkowski is better than the rest of the league’s tight ends to a greater extent than Brown is better than the rest of the league’s wideouts, a dominant wide receiver is more valuable than even a transcendent tight end. There’s a reason Graham wanted to be paid like a wideout: The market suggests that they’re worth more.
It’s true that Edelman plays a position (wide receiver) that is far more valuable than Bell’s (running back), but the other factor in comparing these two is that the ceiling for the Steelers is just a tiny bit higher. Edelman is a fantastically useful receiver, but there will never be a day when anybody without a Patriots tattoo says he’s the best wide receiver in football over Brown or Julio Jones, if not three or four more guys. You can make a case, given his versatility and sheer impact as a receiver, that Bell was the best running back in football in 2014. Granted, that was a year mostly without Adrian Peterson, but a healthy Bell is near the top of the charts in a way that Edelman won’t be.
Even if you give Brady (who you have to project as missing the first four games) a slight edge over Roethlisberger (who is likely to miss a game or two because of injury), the chances of having the best running back and best wide receiver in football at the same time are enough to push the Steelers to the top of the offensive triplet charts.
Assuming Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell all stay healthy in 2016, there’s a good chance the Steelers will finally achieve their long-running goal of averaging at least 30 points a game or more. While Bell certainly has a chance at becoming the league’s leading rusher in 2016, his added ability to catch more than 60 passes this year makes him a doubly-good player and one capable of producing at least 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
As for Roethlisberger, even though he missed four games last season due to a knee injury, the Steelers quarterback was still the league’s most-accurate downfield passer in 2015 (20+ yard passes), according to Pro Football Focus as they have him down as throwing a catchable ball on 50.7% such attempts. In fact, Roethlisberger managed to complete 45% of all his deep passes last season (16+ yard passes) while Brady only completed 41% of his deep throws in 2015.
As for Brown, he’s easily the league’s best wide receiver right now heading into the 2016 season.
As for the top offensive trios belonging to the other three teams in the AFC North, Barnwell has the Cincinnati Bengals grouping of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert ranked 7th overall and the Baltimore Ravens grouping of Joe Flacco, Steve Smith Sr. and Justin Forsett ranked 27th overall. Bringing up the rear in Barnwell’s rankings is the Cleveland Browns offensive trio of Robert Griffin, Corey Coleman and Gary Barnidge.