Era-adjusted fantasy football player rankings: Terry Bradshaw, Le’Veon Bell among the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the creation of fantasy football, The Athletic is reviewing the best fantasy players and fantasy seasons in NFL history.

A detailed overview of the system used to grade historical fantasy performance can be found in our greatest fantasy players of all-time introduction page, but here’s a quick summary.

Fantasy player performance is era-adjusted so that players who dominated during lower scoring eras can compete versus players who racked up huge point totals in higher scoring eras.

After these adjustments are made, players are then given credit for having a starter-caliber season (one point), a quality season (one point), an impact campaign (1.5 points) or being an elite starter (two points). These points stack and are measured in both non-PPR and PPR and serve as the basis for determining who are the best fantasy players in NFL history.

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s look at the best fantasy players in Pittsburgh Steelers team history!

(Note: the numbers listed below are for the player’s performance while on the Steelers.)

All-time fantasy starting lineup

QB: Terry Bradshaw

RB: Franco Harris

RB: Le’Veon Bell

WR: Elbie Nickel

WR: Antonio Brown

TE: Eric Green

SuperFLEX: John Stallworth/Hines Ward


Quarterback—Terry Bradshaw

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
9 5 6 0 9 5 6 0 40

There is a perception that Bradshaw struggled a lot early in his career, but that isn’t the case from a fantasy football perspective mostly because Bradshaw was one of the best rushing quarterbacks in his day. That trait led the “Blond Bomber” to rank in the Top 5 in fantasy QB scoring in two of his first three seasons. That rushing ability faded as the years passed but then Bradshaw’s passing skills took over and that led to his ranking in the Top 10 in fantasy QB scoring on nine occasions. Add in his six impact season point totals in both non-PPR and PPR, both of which are the highest among Pittsburgh players, and Bradshaw is the best fantasy player in Steelers history.

Running Back—Franco Harris

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
eleven 3 0 0 10 two 0 0 26

Consistency was Harris’ calling card, as only four running backs (Marcus Allen, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Frank Gore) have posted more non-PPR starting-caliber seasons. Harris ranked as a RB1 in non-PPR leagues in seven of his first eight seasons and was a PPR RB1 in six of those campaigns. He never posted dominant numbers, as Harris did not rank higher than fourth in non-PPR or PPR scoring in those RB1 seasons, but his 244.7 PPR points in 1979 was a record for Pittsburgh running backs until 1992 and still rates as the eighth highest PPR total by a Steelers running back.

Running Back—Le’Veon Bell

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
4 3 3 0 4 3 3 two 22

Bell was a comet across the fantasy sky, as he ranked in the Top 4 in non-PPR RB scoring and the Top 3 in PPR scoring in three of his first five seasons. Bell had three seasons with 300+ PPR points, a pace that only one other Steelers running back has ever posted (Najee Harris with 300.7 in 2021). Had Bell not left Pittsburgh after five seasons he could have vaulted past Franco Harris for the top RB spot on this club, but his three dominant seasons of him still lead to his ranking second among Steelers fantasy running backs.

For those wondering, here are Jerome Bettis‘career points totals:

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 two 0 0 6 one 0 0 16

Wide Receiver—Elbie Nickel

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
8 3 1.5 two 8 two 3 4 31.5

Nickel was a Steelers star in the 1940s and 1950s and was one of the top fantasy wide receivers of his day. He rated as a WR1 in fantasy only two times but had mid-tier WR2 status in six other seasons. Nickel’s 1952 campaign is the best by a Pittsburgh wide receiver, as his 196.4 PPR points stood out in a season when only four ends offensive posted 150+ points and only 14 tallied 100+ points.

Wide receiver—Antonio Brown

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 6 1.5 0 7 6 1.5 0 29

Brown was the most dominant workhorse fantasy wide receiver of his day, and he was a phenom in PPR leagues. To put his performance from him in this area into perspective, consider this: Brown was the No. 1 PPR scorer among wide receivers for four straight seasons from 2014-17. The only other receivers to equal that achievement are Jerry Rice (1993-96) and Marvin Harrison (1999-2002). Brown also placed second and fifth, respectively, in WR PPR points in 2013 and 2018 and thus easily outdistanced Buddy Dial (24 career points) for the second WR spot on this roster.

Tight End — Eric Green

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
4 3 3 0 4 two 0 0 16

Green is the only Steelers tight end to post a quality or impact season in his career and the only one outside of John Hilton to post a PPR quality season while in a Steelers uniform. Green did place second to Heath Miller in non-PPR starter-caliber seasons (Miller had five), but the quality and impact years were more than enough to justify putting Green ahead of Miller on this list.

SuperFlex—John Stallworth/Hines Ward

This race was about as close as you can get, something that is evidenced by Stallworth’s and Ward’s career points totals:

Stallworth’s numbers:

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
7 5 0 0 7 3 0 0 22

Ward’s numbers:

starter Quality Impact Elite PPR Str PPR Qual PPR Impact PPR Elite Career Points
9 two 0 0 9 two 0 0 22

Ward leads all Pittsburgh wide receivers in number of starter-caliber seasons in both non-PPR and PPR formats, but Stallworth ranks second in number of quality-caliber seasons in non-PPR. This is why Stallworth had more WR1-type campaigns but Ward was a WR2 mainstay for nearly as long and added in a dominant 2002 season that saw him rank second in WR PPR points with 337.1.

Add it up and it’s just too close to call, so Ward and Stallworth get the proverbial push in this one and split the SuperFlex role for the Steelers.


All-time best era-adjusted fantasy seasons

QB: Bobby Layne, 1959 (177.5 points)

RB: Le’Veon Bell, 2014 (288 non-PPR, 370.5 PPR)

WR: Elbie Nickel, 1952 (141.4 non-PPR, 196.4 PPR)

TE: Eric Green, 1993 (121 non-PPR, 184.2 PPR)

SUPERFLEX: Buddy Dial, 1960 (152 non-PPR, 192 PPR)

(Top photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.