Put simply, if your franchise quarterback is a story, then he is your biggest story, because there is no position that can more greatly impact the game. So when you have a franchise quarterback returning from having three tendons in his throwing elbow reattached, as do the Pittsburgh Steelers, needless to say, it is the defining narrative for the team as they enter the 2020 season.
The interesting thing is that, to hear Roethlisberger and the Steelers say it, he has come out through this process not just no worse for the wear, but better than he has been in years. That’s because he has had a small tendon tear, or multiple small tears, in his elbow for over a decade, and has consistently felt pain when he threw—a pain that felt different at the start of the 2019 season before the tendons snapped.
Now he says that he throws without pain, and that it takes throwing the ball a lot for a few days in a row for his arm to even get fatigued. But he can just take a short amount of rest from it, one day off, and feel like it’s good as new.
The closer we get to the start of the season, seemingly, the more confident people are becoming in the prospect of Roethlisberger being the player that we have been used to seeing. Even Sam Monson and Pro Football Focus recently ranked him 12th among projected starting quarterbacks this year, which frankly is higher than I thought they would rank him. He writes:
The first major question mark of the rankings comes in the form of a slimmed-down, injury-recovered Ben Roethlisberger. At his best, there is no doubt that Roethlisberger is a top-10 quarterback, but we haven’t seen his best for a couple of years now, and he is attempting a comeback from a significant injury to his throwing arm at age 38 and with significant wear and tear on his body over his NFL career. Even in 2018, Roethlisberger had an overall PFF grade of 78.2, almost 10 points lower than the previous year. Enough questions linger that it would be tough to have confidence in a ranking higher than this, but Roethlisberger’s ceiling is certainly higher and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get back to that level once more.
He is ranked immediately between Kirk Cousins above him and Matthew Stafford below. The top 10, working up, consists of Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, and of course, Patrick Mahomes at the top.
Roethlisberger attempted only 62 passes in six quarters last season, completing 35 for 351 yards. He failed to throw a touchdown, but was intercepted once. In his last full season in 2018, he went 452-for-675, throwing for franchise-records in 5129 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. He also happened to lead the league with 16 interceptions, but that is the lowest total to lead the league since the 1930s, so not very notable, and his interception percentage was actually his lowest since 2014.