As we all know, Antonio Brown is now in Oakland which vacates a plethora of targets for the Steelers in 2019. The obvious option for WR1 is JuJu Smith-Schuster, but there are questions surrounding the now open WR2 position. Prior to offseason signings, the WR2 runner-up was James Washington, but lackluster performance in 2018 and getting called out by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leaves his promotion in serious doubt.
Enter: Donte Moncrief.
The Steelers acquired down-field-threat Donte Moncrief from the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to boost the wide receiving corps after Brown’s departure and Washington’s disappointing season.
Granted, Moncrief has never finished better than WR35 in Half PPR and has only had three healthy seasons where he played all 16 games in 2104, 2015, and 2018. Playing in only 9 games in 2016 and 12 games in 2017, the Colts decided to move on from Moncrief as did a majority of fantasy owners. His move to the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t help his production despite having his second-best year in yards per game with 41.8, on 89 targets, 48 receptions for 668 yards and 3 touchdowns. Which is impressive considering he was catching passes from Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler.
So, how exactly can Moncrief help you win your league in 2019? Allow me to explain.
Filling the Void
Now that Antonio Brown is gone, let’s take a look at what he is leaving behind in terms of his impact on targets, target percentages, and where those targets could conceivably go.
Since we are only looking at wide receivers on the Pittsburgh Steelers and no other team, this is an excellent time to utilize the Market Share Report in the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit.
To see the touchdown percentages and other players’ Market Share Reports, refer to The Ultimate Draft Kit.
Brown is vacating almost a quarter of the team’s WR targets, receptions, and yards and nearly half of the total amount of fantasy points among WRs. This is leaving a gaping hole in offensive fantasy production.
Obviously, JuJu Smith-Schuster will receive the bulk of these vacated targets. If he absorbs 25% for an additional 42 targets, that leaves 126 up for grabs. If he gets 30%, that leaves roughly 117 targets. Even 50% of Brown’s targets still leaves 84 total leftover.
No matter how you divide the targets, there is still a huge amount of potential for the remaining Steelers’ pass catchers. The Steelers were the league-leading team in pass attempts in 2018 with 675 total, with 65.8 of those plays targeting the wide receiver position. The WR1 and WR2 position had only a 0.3% differential with WR1 drawing 24.9% and the WR2 seeing 24.6%.
Behind Smith-Shuster is aforementioned Washington, as well as Eli Rogers and rookie Diontae Johnson. Washington did little to impress last year with 38 targets, 16 receptions, 217 yards and 1 touchdown. Nothing in the Steelers’ history leads me to believe Johnson will skyrocket to WR2 stardom in his rookie year or that Rogers will somehow become fantasy relevant.
That leaves 6′ 2″, 216 lb, 4.40 40-yd running, 39.5 vertical jumping, 25 year-old-veteran, Donte Moncrief, in prime position to usurp the coveted WR2 role.
You can find the distribution of pass attempts by teams here: WR Targets & What We Know for 2019.
Not Just a Downfield Threat
Moncrief became known as the Indianapolis Colts’ downfield threat after his rookie year when all three of his touchdowns were on long, downfield bombs for 31, 48, and 79 yards. These three touchdowns muddy his actual numbers a bit since he averaged only 13.9 yards per reception that year. Between 2015 and 2107, his average Y/R was 11.5, 10.2, and then 15. In fact, in 2015 and 2016, Moncrief’s longest catch was only 33 and 39 yards respectively.
Many have assumed that since the Steelers picked up Moncrief, they are in dire need of a downfield threat, yet Moncrief has been lining up all over the field during OTAs. Sure, Moncrief can be their deep threat, as he has proven for two different teams under 3 offensive coordinators, but he is also a sneakily talented addition at all sorts of receiving positions.
Here’s a chart Per Rotowire showcasing just that:
Notice how we are looking at strikingly similar numbers when comparing left & right outside and left & right slot positions. In 2018, Moncrief lined up on the outside a majority of the time as compared to the slot, but one of his three touchdowns came on a 4-yard route from the right slot.
My point here is that Moncrief isn’t limited to being a one-dimensional wide receiver. Only 9 of his total 21 touchdowns were from passes over 24 yards. In 2016, Moncrief had a career-high 7 touchdowns coming from passes on 2, 3, 8, 2, 5, 3, and 24-yard pass completions, proving Moncrief can be a weapon from anywhere on the field.
Essential Piece in the Locker Room
This entire section can be summed up in three words: No more drama.
While only 25 years old, Moncrief is a 5-year veteran who is no stranger to changes in teams, coaching staffs, or offensive play calling. So far in OTAs, both Roethlisberger and WR Coach Darryl Drake have been impressed.
In an interview reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger said in part, “I wasn’t really sure what to expect with him. Now getting to see his work ethic, his desire, his knowledge of the offense … .” He further went on to say, “We’re doing no-huddle stuff, and I’ll give him a signal and ask him, ‘Are you good?’ And he’ll say yeah.
He’s in with coach Drake every single morning and pretty much all day. You see the desire and the want-to to be great. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know him.”
Coach Drake also commented, “One thing that he’s doing right now is he’s playing with a lot of confidence. And Ben has a lot of confidence in him. We just have to have him continue to grow. I feel real confident about he’ll be able to step up and step in and do the things we need him to do.”
The keys here are work ethic on the team and chemistry with Roethlisberger and Drake, all of which is essential in this locker room full of young wide receivers. Despite being only 25, Moncrief is the veteran among a fountain of youth, putting his nose to the grindstone and leading by example instead of throwing temper tantrums and footballs at his quarterback.
For fantasy purposes, where there’s chemistry and consistency, there’s production and points. Roethlisberger did not have that mojo with Washington, as evident in his production and he needs another wide receiver who can reliably catch 24.6% of the WR targets.
Don’t get me wrong, Moncrief cannot replace Antonio Brown, but he is an all-over-the-field threat who may have been forgotten among fantasy owners in your league.
As of this article date, Moncrief is going around 13.10 in Half PPR formats. This is ridiculously cheap for the potential WR2 position that is targeted nearly the same amount as the WR1. This allows you to use your early picks on the consistent studs you’ve had your eyes on and still end up with a potential fantasy monster late in your draft.