(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
“Big Ben” Roethlisberger made his preseason debut last weekend and in the absence of his two most talented targets in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, showed some favoritism throughout his three offensive drives. Brown and Bell are special talents that will carry the offense; Bell is the most dynamic offensive player in football and has 200 targets over the last two years. This will hinder the production of the other receivers not named Antonio Brown, however they can still have a major fantasy impact if drafted in the right spot. Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, rookie James Washington, and Darrius Heyward-Bey have all appeared to have locked in their WR roster spots. Which of these receivers will make the biggest impact on your fantasy team and which of the final two wide receivers could make your squad as a season-saving sleeper?
#1. Antonio Brown
Still a God (poor Joe Haden). Has not stepped on a field this preseason but is still the best receiver in the game right now; no doubt about it.
#2. JuJu Smith-Schuster
Had 7 targets out of Roethlisberger’s 18 attempts. He was also the only person Roethlisberger looked to on 3rd or 4th down. In Big Ben’s three series JuJu had two 3rd down receptions and a 4th & 1 target (Roethlisberger did not look at another receiver even though JuJu was the only receiver facing press coverage). Looks to have a dominant hold over the slot role in the offense, however, he did drop a wide open pass on a slant but had major separation. Regardless, Big Ben trusts him more than anyone else on the field right now and is a worthy high-end WR 2 in PPR leagues, falls to a low-end WR-2 in standard leagues.
#3. James Washington
Washington is a rookie that has been a preseason standout. The second consecutive year the Steelers have used their 2nd round pick on a wide receiver (Smith-Schuster in 2017) and it appears they have another hit. During just two games this preseason, Washington has caught 7 balls (none from Roethlisberger) for 158 yards with 2 TD. Washington (5’11”) is significantly smaller than Martavis Bryant (6’4″), but could replicate Bryant’s 2015 breakout season (50 rec, 765 yds, 6 TD). In an offense that lacked a deep threat opposite Antonio Brown, Washington could be the answer. However, reports have said that Washington has not earned Roethlisberger’s trust quite yet; this may limit his targets come the early part of season. Regardless, he is still worthy of a late round flyer pick on someone who may break out as the go-to deep threat in this dynamic offense. Brown will regularly see double coverage so Washington should be able to create more separation.
#4. Justin Hunter
The lone veteran of the bunch, Hunter is tall receiver that physically resembles Martavis Bryant, and would likely assume Bryant’s role (to a lesser degree due to playing time), if he were to make the squad. He was the recipient of Roethlisberger’s only touchdown pass, a 32 yard toe-tapping reception. Hunter was on the team last year and is one of the favorites to take one of the two open spots. He will not likely have an immediate fantasy impact but is someone to keep an eye on if the Steelers are plagued with injuries.
#5. Darrius Heyward-Bey
Will not see much playing time at wide receiver but is a near lock to make the team due to his special teams abilities. No fantasy impact.
#6. The Contenders
Trey Griffey (4 rec, 44 yds, 0 TD), Damoun Patterson (9 rec, 112 yds, 1 TD), Quadree Henderson (3 rec. 36 dys. 1 TD), Tevin Jones (4 rec, 95 yds, 2 TD), and Marcus Tucker (2 rec, 14 yds, 0 TD) are the five receivers that I believe are fighting for the last receiver spot available. The one that makes the team will have a minuscule fantasy impact as the last receiver, but will also likely be moved to the practice squad when Eli Rogers returns from his injury and one game suspension.