We are officially in full-blown NFL preview season. Thus, let’s take an in-depth look at the Steelers offense, which should provide the necessary firepower to keep pace with Oakland and New England in the AFC. Below, we’ll highlight some individual player projections and offer our own high/low analysis. A big shoutout to Alex from numberFire for providing me with these figures. Seriously, check out their full site here; it’s one of the best sports analytics sites in the business.
numberFire projections: 4,025 yards, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
It should be noted that these figures very likely represent an abridged season, as numberFire wisely took Roethlisberger’s proclivity for minor injuries into consideration.
If, for the sake of argument, Ben manages to play in all 16 games, the yardage projections seem a little under-inflated. He averaged 272 passing yards per game last season, which would have put him at 4,352 yards had he played all 16 games. The year before that, he averaged 328 yards per game, which, extrapolated to a 16-game schedule, would have put him at 5,248 yards (which would have been the third-highest single-season yardage total in NFL history). If we put Ben somewhere right in the middle—which is certainly achievable, given the absurd level of talent surrounding him—he would finish the 2017 season with 4,800 yards.
My prediction: 4,600 yards, 34 touchdowns (a career high!) and 14 interceptions
numberFire projections: 295 carries for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns plus 85 catches for 712 yards and three touchdowns
The guys at numberFire clearly do not have much faith in the sustainability of Bell’s historic 2016 campaign in which he averaged over 100 rushing yards and over 50 receiving yards per game. Instead, they opted for a considerably more modest 86 rushing/44 receiving split, which, in fairness to Bell, is still an absurdly productive season.
Essentially, numberFire expects Bell to post a repeat of his sophomore season in 2014. Expecting Bell to outperform a very generous 2,100 all-purpose yard baseline is a lofty demand, but if you consider the factors working in Bell’s favor—a superstar offensive line, tons of security in the passing game to keep tackle boxes open, his own unparalleled degree of God-given talent, virtually no competition in the backfield—he is a strong candidate to do just that.
My prediction: (I am a coward and don’t wanna get burned on specifics, so I’m gonna use all-purpose yards) 2,400 all-purpose yards, 15 total touchdowns
numberFire projections: 113 catches for 1,444 yards and 10 touchdowns
Last season, Brown caught 106 passes for just under 1,300 yards, which represented a substantial statistical drop-off from his 2014 and 2015 seasons. Despite this drop-off, which is retrospectively attributable to the year-long absence of Martavis Bryant, Brown still secured All-Pro honors and did little to diminish his case as one of the two best receivers in the NFL. In 2015, Brown and Bryant played in 11 games together. In those 11 games, Brown posted statistics comparable to those that he accrued in 15 games last season.
It is important to note, however, that Bell did not play in eight of these games, which means that Brown probably won’t see quite as many targets as he did in 2015. For that reason, I think numberFire’s predictions are pretty spot-on.
numberFire projections: 56 catches for 799 yards and five touchdowns
Bryant’s career stat line is as follows: 76 catches for 1,314 yards and 14 touchdowns in 21 games (even knowing what we obviously know, it is insane to me that Bryant has appeared in fewer than two dozen games in his career). Some basic arithmetic reveals that Bryant’s career averages would put him somewhere in the ballpark of 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns for single season. Pro Bowl-caliber stuff, indeed. And while this is certainly out of Bryant’s control, it is worth mentioning that 25 receivers crossed the 1,000-yard threshold last season. In this line of thinking, it is also worth mentioning that just one of these players (DeSean Jackson) gained 1,000 yards on 60 or fewer catches. Based on his career averages, the 56 receptions that numberFire tossed out there is right on the money.
What strikes me as unlikely is that Bryant’s yards-per-catch totals would take such a significant nosedive—from 17.2 yards-per-catch (Bryant’s actual career total) to 14.2 yards-per-catch (numberFire’s projections). If we still give Bryant 56 catches but knock his yards-per-catch totals down to, say, 16 yards-per-catch, that would give him approximately 900 yards for the season.
My prediction: 56 catches for 900 yards and eight touchdowns
numberFire projections: 43 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns
While I don’t think James lives up to numberFire’s reception and yardage projections, I do think defensive coordinators will commit additional resources to mitigating Pittsburgh’s surplus of offensive skill players, which should give James plenty of room to operate in the red zone.
My prediction: 40 catches for 380 yards and five touchdowns
The remainder of these figures are based on Pittsburgh’s very shaky receiver depth chart, so read on with caution:
numberFire projections: 28 catches for 360 yards and two touchdowns
numberFire projections: 32 catches for 417 yards and two touchdowns
numberFire projections: 12 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns
numberFire projections: Four catches for 74 yards
numberFire projections: Eight catches for 132 yards and one touchdown
numberFire projections: Four catches for 54 yards