The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is going to look drastically different in 2019 compared to seasons past. Under center will still be Big Ben Roethlisberger , but there’s no Le'Veon Bell (again) or Antonio Brown in the mix for touches in the Steel City. The last time these two played together (2017), they combined to receive 49 percent of the targets in the offense. Last season, Brown received 26 percent of the team’s targets, and those are now available for the taking. JuJu Smith-Schuster will likely see his target share push closer to 30 percent, but there’s still a good chunk left for the taking. Yes, multiple players will see some increases, but the player with the most to gain from the departures of the two perennial Pro Bowlers is tight end Vance McDonald .

McDonald received 11 percent of the targets last season, compared to Jesse James ’ six percent, but the two practically split snaps overall. James is no longer in town and backup Xavier Grimble has just 22 career receptions to his name. Rookie Zach Gentry doesn’t figure to make a huge splash this season, meaning McDonald should see a large increase in workload this season and with all of the available opportunities in the offense, McDonald could flourish in 2019. Take a look at the Steelers’ tight ends snap counts over recent seasons.


Primary TE


Secondary TE



Heath Miller


David Paulson



Heath Miller


Matt Spaeth



Heath Miller


Matt Spaeth



Heath Miller


Matt Spaeth



Jesse James


David Johnson



Jesse James


Vance McDonald



Vance McDonald


Jesse James


When the team has a reliable guy at the position, he will be out there well over the majority of the time. McDonald could see upwards of 85 percent of the snaps this season, and with the available targets, that will be amazing for his fantasy production. Playing about half of the time, but still running plenty of routes, he had the third-most targets and fourth-most receptions on the team last season. His receptions should increase, he should total more receiving yards, and perhaps the departure of Antonio Brown creates some upside for McDonald in the red zone. Per Pro Football Reference, McDonald played just 54.7 percent of the snaps in the red zone last season, receiving just 10 targets (3 TDs) in 15 games.

Roethlisberger posted a 115.9 passer rating when targeting McDonald last season, but he did drop four passes on those targets from last season, per Pro Football Focus. It’s been over two full years now that McDonald has had the opportunity to establish a rapport with his quarterback, and in his third year with the team, he has every opportunity to flourish and post a top-seven season at the position.

If we take a look at the target share for tight ends over the past four years, we come to an average of 17.9 percent, so we’ll just round up to 18 percent, which is certainly reasonable in 2019. Roethlisberger threw it more than ever last season, and that number should come down a bit. However, I expect it to be more than the 561 he attempted in 2017. Let’s play it safe here and say that Roethlisberger attempts 600 passes in 2019. That would mean the tight end position would receive 108 targets, which is right on par with last year’s mark (119). With James out of the mix, the arrow is trending north of 85 targets for McDonald in 2019. With that sort of volume, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see McDonald post the best stat line by a Pittsburgh tight end in years.

McDonald could post a final stat line of 65 catches for 750 yards with six touchdowns, and at his current ADP, he’s an excellent value pick with upside at a tricky position.

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