The Future is Now – The Big Ben Replacement PlanTweet
Fantasy season is over for most of you – congratulations and commiserations to all those winners and losers – and now it’s time to look toward the future. The Bengals are on the clock. But let’s look at a team that doesn’t have a first-round pick but has a first-round problem. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their quarterback(s).
Two years ago, Mason Rudolph made his way to Pittsburgh with many of the Steel City faithful believing the “Golden-armed” youngster to be the answer to a question that seems to follow the Steelers around in recent years. What happens when Ben hangs it up? The Steelers have failed to answer this question with draft choices over the last ten years (see: Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs) and it looks like the answer is still floating in the draft ether.
Ben Roethlisberger has been a stalwart for the Steelers offence for over a decade at this point, and against popular perception, has been healthy for much of the latter part of his career. But this season has shown what happens when a usually dynamic offence loses a perennial top five passer (let alone one of the best receivers to ever play the game and one of the top running backs in the NFL). The result of these losses? A gritty, throw it and hope offence that hinges on the ability of a likeable and interesting duck caller from Samford with the arm strength of, well, an undrafted future National Geographic contributor. Or, the exploits of the big armed defender magnet who continually walks into pressure – basically the quarterback version of Trent Richardson with his ability to seek out defenders to be hit by.
To put it in context, Big Ben was hit 37 times over all 16 games in 2018 in a prolific passing offence, and Rudolph has been hit 28 times in his 10 games (during which he was benched and in and out with injuries) whilst the team was trying really really hard to run the ball in any way possible (see: Jaylen “the Wildcat” Samuels). Look at the stats below. The combined stats of Ben’s backups make 2018 Blake Bortles (who started 12 games) look like a viable quarterback (2718/13/11) that might have been able to take the 2019 Steelers to the playoffs. This makes me, a Steelers fan, sad.
Mason Rudolph/Duck Hodges 2019 Stats (ref: http://www.pro-football-reference.com)
In all fairness, after the first round in 2018, it wasn’t exactly a smorgasbord of talent at the QB position (Kyle Lauletta, Mike White, Luke Faulk, Tanner Lee, Danny Etling, Alex McGough, Logan Woodside…), but 2019 had a host of talent that seems to be pushing their way into starting roles in the NFL (Drew Lock, Will Grier, Ryan Finley, Jarrett Stidham, Easton Stick, Clayton Thorson, Gardner Minshew and Trace McSorley).
2020 isn’t necessarily as rich with talent at the quarterback position as last year, but the potential is there. As we know, the Steelers spent their first-round pick for 2020 on Minkah Fitzpatrick (which looks like appropriate value) so let’s take out the top tier talent like Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa from this analysis. Pittsburgh are projected to have a mid-round second pick and should receive a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Bell. One or two of these prospects may be slightly out of reach at the moment but based on the uncharacteristic movement from the Pittsburgh front office, let’s assume that there may be some shifting in the picks for the 2020 draft.
What we’re left with are a trio of prospects that would suit the Steelers and give them a viable “sit and learn” quarterback behind Roethlisberger. There are other quarterbacks I could mention in this article, but these three jump out.
Jake Fromm (Georgia) – one of the more recognisable names from the set of quarterbacks that are projected to drop to the second round, Jake Fromm holds the previously derisive tag of “game manager” as he takes care of the football, makes good decisions and is dependable under pressure in tough spots. He doesn’t have a Matt Stafford-type arm, but his placement makes up for this. Getting the ball out fast to his potential trio of gamebreakers (Johnson, Washington, Smith-Schuster) and allowing a powerful run game to bully opponents fits right into Fromm’s wheelhouse. Solid, dependable and smart – probably the safest and most pro-ready bet among this trio, but does he have the highest ceiling?
Jacob Eason (Washington) – a big dude with a big arm. It’s easy to see Eason as another cannon-armed prospect that has no touch on the deep ball and stands like a statue in the pocket, but there is more to this gunslinger. Eason can move in the pocket and whilst he doesn’t have the wheels to make defenders miss on the perimeter, he can be effective on play action and has the arm to effectively throw on the move. Some of the downfield plays that Eason makes on a game-to-game basis are NFL caliber throws that only a handful of QB’s can make.
The big question is what he can learn and what skills he can develop. Is he a slower Josh Allen, or is he a less smiley Tyree Jackson? Or worst of all – could he be the next Brock?! He doesn’t have the instincts of a Jake Fromm, and “game manager” tag definitely does not apply, but it’s easy to imagine Eason throwing beautiful bombs downfield to a flying James Washington…
Jordan Love (Utah State) – Love seems to be the happy medium between the Eason/Fromm spectrum. His ability to throw pinpoint sideline balls for his receivers produced multiple big plays throughout his 2018 and 2019 seasons which meshes well with what the Steelers currently work with at wide receiver. He can move around in the pocket and avoid traffic, a trademark of Big Ben in his prime, but is nowhere near as safe with the ball as the previously mentioned quarterbacks – throwing 16 interceptions in his 2019 campaign. This was partly to do with his ability to work through reads and staring down his no.1 option, but many of Love’s highlight plays show the ability to work through a couple of reads before releasing. The issue is whether these highlight plays show room for progression, or the limit of his ability.
Regardless of who lines up under center next year for Pittsburgh, fantasy owners must be hoping they can help the skill position players that were no doubt over-drafted this year. Juju disappointed, after finishing 9th among receivers last year, due to injuries and poor play, Juju slid all the way down to 62nd (NFL Fantasy app) in 2019, actually ranking well below James Washington. James Connor also disappointed, flashing big point potential whilst in the line-up (weeks 4,5,6 and 8 he totalled 92.9 points in standard NFL leagues), but missed five games and many snaps in the others due to injury concerns. Connor and Juju had 1st and 2nd round ADP respectively and have not lived up to that high billing.
There were positives to come out of the season, including the emergence of the aforementioned James Washington and fellow second rounder Diontae Johnson as dynamic playmakers when give the chance and solid depth at running back with Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels.
Now all the Steelers need is someone to get them the ball for the next ten years.
The Future is Now – The Big Ben Replacement PlanTweet
Jack is an NFL nerd with a passion for player stories and watching too much draft coverage. He's a DB coach with the Exeter Demons University team in the UK and a Steelers fan.