ESPN’s Mike Clay Not Optimistic On Steelers Offense Heading Into 2022

Who doesn’t love some fantasy football talk, am I right?

Outside of my professed obsession with all things involving the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL Draft, fantasy football is another past time that I get way too heavily involved in. Outside of listening to The Terrible Podcast religiously every week to keep up to date with Pittsburgh Steelers news from the very best in the game here at Steelers Depot with Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora, I find myself listening to several fantasy football podcasts, picking up tips and suggestions to help me dominate my home league and defend my 2021 championship.

Mike Clay of ESPN in one of fantasy football’s most regarded analysts in the industry, and recently he published his 2022 NFL Projection Guide, highlighting every fantasy-viable player from every roster while providing season projections for all offensive and defense players on the roster. On top of the fantasy aspect, Clay provides projected snaps counts of every player, weekly score projections, positional unit grades, projected team stat rankings, and projected wins for the upcoming 2022 season.

Those that consider themselves die-hard Steelers fans would do best not to dive into the guide published by Clay, as he isn’t optimistic on the Steelers’ chances of having a successful season. Clay projects the Steelers to finish with 6.1 projected wins in 2022, ranking 27th in the NFL (6th worst). Their strength of schedule according to Clay’s algorithm comes out to a brutal 31 (second hardest) with the offense as a whole coming out as the 28th-best unit in the league and an overall team rank of 25th. Clay projects the running game to remain poor heading into 2022, coming in at 28th overall in yards and 30th in touchdowns.

As far as the skill positions go, Clay expects there to be a split between QBs Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky at some point of the season with Trubisky eventually turning the keys over to Pickett who he projects to complete 209 of 343 pass attempts for 2308 yards and 12 TDs to nine INTs while picking up another 124 yards and a score on the ground with his legs.

RB Najee Harris is the lone bright spot on the offense for Pittsburgh from a fantasy perspective, ranking as the sixth best RB in PPR with 273 carries for 1,174 yards and seven TDs while adding another 59 receptions for 388 yards and two scores through the air. WR Diontae Johnson comes in ranked 18th at the WR position in PPR, catching 90 passes on 146 targets for 1,106 yards and four TDs according to Clay’s projections. Chase Claypool comes in matching Johnson’s TD total of four with 848 yards on 59 receptions, and rookie WR George Pickens is the team’s projected third receiver in yardage with 677 on 52 receptions with three scores.

TE Pat Freiermuth just cracks the TE1 threshold in 12-man league formats, ranking 11th at the position in Clay’s projections while catching 63 passes for 560 yards and four TDs. Clay overall ranks the QB position at 28th overall, the RB position at 18th overall, the WR position at 16th overall. The TE position at 15th overall, and the offensive line dead last at 32nd overall compared to the rest of the league.

Overall, Clay projects the defense to be respectable on the defense side of the football, having top ten units on the defensive line(2nd) and EDGE position (6th) when compared to the rest of the NFL. He projects the Steelers to come in tenth in the league in sacks (43), 30th in INTs (12), and ninth overall. As far as sacks go, he has T.J. Watt leading the way with 13.2, then followed by Alex Highsmith with 6.8, Cam Heyward with 5.2, and then Derrek Tuszka with 3.2.

S Minkah Fitzpatrick paces the team with 2.2 INTs, followed by CB Levi Wallace (1.9), S Terrell Edmunds (1.6), then LB Myles Jack (1.4). Clay projects Jack and Fitzpatrick both to top the 100-tackle mark in 2022 with Jack posting 124 stops and Fitzpatrick recording 116.

Overall, this undertaking by Clay is an impressive feat that I commend him for attempting and completing every summer. Trying to project the outcomes for all 32 teams is downright impossible, likely taking endless hours of research to even come close to something that makes sense. While Steelers fans want to remain optimistic, the growing sense on the outside is that 2022 may be a year of transition to the team, thus possibly leading to some of the struggles that Clay is projecting here.

Still, finishing as the sixth-worst team in the league after somehow making it into the playoffs last season seems like quite the step back after all the additions Pittsburgh has made to the roster this offseason. I think many fans would be extremely disappointed if the offensive line ended up being the worst in football like Clay projects despite retaining Chukwuma Okorafor and signing James Daniels and Mason Cole in free agency this spring. The same could be said for the production in the passing game, having Diontae Johnson take a step back from his performance last season and with no pass catcher topping four TD receptions.

Defensively, the Steelers recorded 55 sacks last season, ranking first in the league. This has been nothing new for Pittsburgh as they have paced the league in sacks the last five seasons dating back to 2017, an impressive feat for a defense that has had its share of ups and downs during that stretch. Dropping down to 43 sacks in 2022 and going to tenth in the league in this category seems like a far-cry from where they have been. T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward especially feel slighted here after both having career years in 2021, having their sack totals nearly cut in half.

Again, I don’t wish this undertaking on anyone, and kudos to Mike Clay for taking on such a project. Still, while some of the projections by Clay seem fair based on his study, others seem to stand out like a sore thumb. Regardless, hopefully the Steelers overachieve compared to what Clay is projected them to do in 2022 in the win department, putting together a better unit on the offensive side of the football than what we last saw at the end of the 2021 season.

What are your thoughts on Mike Clay’s projections? Do you think that they are fair based on the team at this point, or that some of them aren’t accurate? Which statistics would you argue against and what would be your reasoning? Do you see Pittsburgh finishing as the sixth-worst team in football in 2022? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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