In what should come as no surprise, the Pittsburgh Steelers rank pretty highly when it comes to replacing pass targets. After trading away Antonio Brown and letting Jesse James walk in free agency, there’s a big void in the passing game the team must fill.
NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano did the legwork for all 32 teams and has the Steelers with the 4th most targets to replace. Viewing it from a fantasy football aspect, he writes:
“Brown’s departure opens up almost 25 percent of the team’s targets from a season ago. That’s going to mean a lot of opportunities in the pass attack for sleeper James Washington, who is moving up fantasy draft boards. He could push for WR2/3 value. Moncrief is a worthwhile late-round flier in re-drafts and best-ball formats. Vance McDonald‘s stock is also on the rise with Jesse James no longer in the mix. If he can avoid injuries, the veteran could push for top-10 fantasy value this season at what is a wide-open tight end position.”
Brown had 168 targets to lead the team while James chipped in 39.
Replacing Brown are the names you already know. Donte Moncrief, who has had a decidedly average career but is now working with the best quarterback he ever has which should elevate his game. His spring work saw him praised for his work ethic and professional approach but he’ll still have to fight for playing time and to establish a role. He’s still expected to open the year as the team’s starting X receiver but he won’t be anywhere near the amount of targets gets. At best, somewhere a little under 100 of them is realistic.
Diontae Johnson was the second receiver added, drafted in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. Rookie receivers are difficult to project, Steelers’ fans have seen them run the gamut from JuJu Smith-Schuster to James Washington, and it’s probably better to keep expectations low and take anything more than that as a bonus. Washington, of course, will be counted on for a much bigger role and production, as we’ve written countless times.
Fabiano makes a good point for Vance McDonald to see an increased target share. Still, it seems likely the team doesn’t want to overwork him and commit to him playing 90% of the snaps even with the loss of James. His biggest production boost could come in the red zone where Brown and to a lesser extent, James, soaked up targets (24 total for six touchdowns). Pittsburgh worked McDonald in that area in the field much more effectively late in the season. From a fantasy perspective, he has a puncher’s chance to be a top 5-7 TE in standard leagues this season.
The Steelers aren’t the highest AFC North team in replacing targets. The Baltimore Ravens finished 2nd on the list after losing John Brown, Maxx Williams, and Michael Crabtree during the offseason, replacing them with a pair of rookies in Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.