Who Is The Starting Quarterback Russell Wilson or Justin Fields? | 2024 Pittsburgh Steelers Fantasy Football Draft Guide

by Corey Pieper
Who Is the Starting Quarterback Russell Wilson or Justin Fields?

The 2024 Pittsburgh Steelers had as much offseason offensive change as any team in the NFL. That leaves fantasy managers with questions throughout the offense. The top question is who is the starting quarterback, Russell Wilson or Justin Fields? We know the running backs will be Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, but with a new offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith. The Steelers traded away their second-leading wide receiver, Diontae Johnson, and are looking to see who will step up there.

With all the changes there have been two constants with the Steelers over the past 17 years. Yes, it's a specific amount of time. That's how long Mike Tomlin has been the Head Coach of the Steelers. The other constant is that the Steelers won't have a losing record. Every year under Tomlin, the team has finished with a 500 winning percentage or better.

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Who Is the Starting Quarterback, Russell Wilson or Justin Fields?

The Kenny Pickett experience is over in Pittsburgh. The former first-round pick was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. In his absence, the Steelers are turning to two veteran quarterbacks coming off of disappointing seasons in veterans Russell Wilson and Justin Fields.

Justin Fields was traded to the Steelers this offseason for a mid-round pick. It's hard to believe that was the return for a player who finished top-10 in MVP voting in 2022 while only 23 years old. It's been a precipitous drop since then, but that isn't discouraging Fields.

He believes that he is competing to win that starting role. It seems more likely from the reports that to start the season he will be used as a subpackage option by the goal line. One video from OTAs that circulated on X showed Fields participating in the running back drills.

The starting quarterback job is Russell Wilson's to lose. The 12th-year veteran is coming off a disappointing season with the Denver Broncos as he threw for a career-low in yards. For fantasy though, he still finished thirteenth among quarterbacks because he scored 29 touchdowns between passing and rushing.

The drop in yardage can be explained by his newfound aversion to throwing the ball downfield. His intended air yards per target last season was a measly 7.1 yards. That was a yard and a half less than his previous career low in that category. Moving to a new offense will hopefully help him regain his downfield confidence.

Interestingly, it will be a new offense for all of the Steelers.

What Can We Expect From Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith?

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Much-maligned Pittsburgh Steelers' Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada was fired after Week 11 last season. This offseason, the Steelers replaced him with the much-maligned ex-Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons Arthur Smith.

If there is one thing that can be confidently said of Smith, it's that he loves to run the ball. Before becoming the Head Coach of the Falcons, he had been the Offensive Coordinator for two seasons with the Tennessee Titans. In four of the five seasons that he called offensive plays, his teams finished in the top 10 in rushing offense in the NFL (three times in the top three).

If the offseason moves are any indication, he plans to follow a similar blueprint with the Steelers. The team drafted three offensive linemen in the first four rounds including their first two selections of Troy Fautanu and Zach Frazier. They also have two quality running backs to rely upon Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren.

How Will the Workload Be Split Between Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren?

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There are two different ways to evaluate the first three seasons of Najee Harris's career. If you're a proponent of Harris you can start with the fact that he has never missed a game in his career despite dealing with a Lisfranc injury that costs most players a month of action. Proponents can point to the three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career, or that he had his best yards-per-rush yet last season.

The Harris naysayers also have plenty that they can point to. The receiving production has fallen off a cliff since his rookie season. It can be easy to forget, but he had 74 receptions as a rookie. Last season, he contributed only 29 receptions and 170 receiving yards without any receiving touchdowns.  The drop in touches has been an issue as a whole. In his rookie season, he led the league with 381 touches. That number dropped by nearly 100 since then as he finished last season with 284.

Who is he ceding his touches to? That would be Jaylen Warren who established himself within the offense in his second season. He saw 210 touches himself. In PPR leagues he was most valuable as he finished in the top five amongst running backs in receptions with 61.

Under Arthur Smith, the Falcons had two primary ball carriers last season Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier. Robinson had 274 touches and Allgeier had 204. The totals may come closer together in Pittsburgh, but similar expectations for Harris and Warren make sense.

Will a Wide Receiver Step Up With Diontae Johnson Gone?

The Pittsburgh Steelers threw for 3,421 yards last season. George Pickens led the team in receptions (63), receiving yards (1,140 yards), and tied for the team lead in touchdowns (5 touchdowns). There is no reason to not expect him to lead in all those categories again.

The second leading receiver was Diontae Johnson. He was tied for the team lead in touchdowns, second in receiving yards (717 yards), and third in receptions (51).  Those two receivers had over half of the entire team's receiving production! But one of them is no longer there. Johnson was traded to the Carolina Panthers this offseason, creating an opportunity for the Steelers' receivers.

Jaylen Warren and Pat Freiermuth will absorb some of the vacated production. Each of them is already a valuable fantasy commodity. The decision fantasy managers will have to make is whether Van Jefferson or Roman Wilson emerges as a fantasy option.

While I don't blame anyone for rostering either of them, I believe that neither will be relevant. Wilson is certainly the more exciting prospect. He is undersized, but a top-notch athlete who could be a real weapon from the slot in the NFL.

It should be noted that he played in a very run-oriented system at Michigan which means he has run-blocking experience. That could also be why he was a Steelers' early-round target as the team focuses on rushing the ball.

Final Thoughts

There will be goodness to be had with the Steelers' offense. FantasyPros has its consensus ADP available, but at this time it's only pulling from three sources. For this exercise, all ADPs are in half-point PPR formats.

The highest-drafted player is George Pickens at an ADP of 54. It makes sense as he is the clear top option now in Pittsburgh. It's a bit higher than I'm willing to take him as I do believe that there will be weeks where the team focuses on the run and Pickens is an afterthought in the gameplay.

The next two players by ADP are both of the running backs. Najee Harris is coming off the board at pick 69 and Jaylen Warren at pick 87.  That puts each of them essentially in the RB2 range for fantasy teams. There should be plenty of work available to keep them both viable at those prices.

The only other player with a top 150 ADP is tight end Pat Freiermuth. 2023 was a down season for Freiermuth as he dealt with a hamstring injury. If you rostered Kyle Pitts last season, you know that the Arthur Smith offense was frustrating for tight ends. Pitts finished as the tight end 14, but another Falcon, Jonnu Smith, finished as the tight end 17. If all those targets had been funneled to a single option we would have seen a top 5 tight end.

The final interesting note is that ADP has Justin Fields being selected ahead of Russell Wilson. The reason that is happening is that both are being selected as backups even in superflex leagues at QB28 and QB30 respectively. At that point, fantasy managers are targeting Fields' rushing upside.

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