There was once a time when any conversation about the best triplets in the league began and ended with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the days back when Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were all able to function together on the same roster without money or ego getting in the way, there was no group in the league even close to this trio.
But now that Brown and Bell are plying their trade elsewhere, the rankings have seen something of a shake up this year with new leaders at the top and a notable fall in the rankings for the Steelers current triplets. As per the latest offering by NFL.com deputy editor Ali Bhanpuri, the drop for Pittsburgh has been quite significant this year, with the group of Roethlisberger, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster falling all the way down to 11th in 2019.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger -- Rank: 10th (One game: 9th | 2019 prod.: 12th) Running back: James Conner -- Rank: 12th Pass catcher: JuJu Smith-Schuster -- Rank: 15th
“The Steelers’ Killer Bs ( Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown) were the most dominating QB-RB-WR trio of the decade, with all three ranking consistently at the top -- or near the top -- of their respective position groups. Now, only Roethlisberger remains in the Steel City.”
“The QB eclipsed 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career and threw the ball more (675 attempts) last season than ever before. But more didn’t mean better for the veteran signal-caller. In fact, the Steelers went 5-1-1 in games in which Big Ben had fewer than 45 attempts and 4-5 when he had 45 or more. Big Ben is still a great player, but the Steelers are at their best when they’re balanced, which is where Conner comes in.”
“Although not as dynamic or multi-faceted as Bell (who sat out the entire season rather than sign his franchise tender), the third-year back out of Pitt more than held his own as the Steelers’ fill-in RB1, totaling 1,470 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns while earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Conner had five 100-yard rushing efforts but struggled as the season wore on, failing to reach the 70-yard mark in any of his final five games. He will need to be fresh down the stretch for this Steelers offense to be successful. Conner’s draft classmate, JuJu Smith-Schuster, will have even bigger shoes to fill.”
“After a strong rookie campaign, Smith-Schuster exploded in 2018, catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven scores. But much of his success stemmed from defenses keying on Brown, often sliding a safety to the veteran’s side of the field to provide support over the top. It’s damning that Smith-Schuster recorded his lowest yards per target (3.7) in the one game A.B. didn’t play last season -- a Week 17 clash at home against the 32nd-ranked Bengals pass defense. If Smith-Schuster shows he can still produce without an elite talent playing opposite him, he’ll move up the list.”
But while Bhanpuri’s ranking might seem somewhat arbitrary, he claims to have a method behind this madness - A weighted system that gives extra points to the quarterback, but one that still fails to explain the low rankings of Conner and Smith-Schuster at their respective positions.
“I ranked each team’s top running back and pass catcher 1-32, assigning them points commensurate with their placement. For example, Ezekiel Elliott netted the Cowboys 32 points for being the No. 1-ranked RB, and Saquon Barkley earned the Giants 31 points for being No. 2. However, to put my own spin on this exercise, I analyzed all 32 QBs by two different metrics: 1) whom I would want in 2019 for one game; and 2) projected 2019 production. To give extra weight to the game’s most important position, I then multiplied each team’s combined QB score by 1.5. Add up all three position totals for each team, and you get the ranking below.”
Ranking Conner as the 12th best running back in the league a year removed from finishing third in the NFL with 13 touchdowns seems a little harsh. But placing Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (11) ahead of him is somewhat absurd.
How Smith-Schuster finds himself ranked 15th at his position despite finishing fifth in the NFL in yards and sixth in catches in 2018 is beyond me. Wide receivers ranked ahead of him include Davante Adams (10), Brandin Cooks (11), Amari Cooper (12), T.Y. Hilton (13) and Stefon Diggs (14).
And while Roethlisberger might not be considered a consensus top five NFL quarterback by some anymore, 10th place for the NFL’s leading passer in yards last season might be a touch too low. Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield at No. 9 is just insane, and how Phillip Rivers comes in at No.3 ahead of Tom Brady needs some explaining.
For those wondering who has taken the Steelers crown, that title has now gone to the New Orleans Saints thanks to Drew Brees (5), Alvin Kamara (3) and Michael Thomas (5), the Los Angeles Chargers are second and the Browns are laughably third.