Fantasy Impact: Donte Moncrief to the Steelers
In yet another move in this very busy NFL free agency, WR Donte Moncrief has agreed to a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This will be Moncrief’s third team in three years, and he joins a team in need of playmakers on offense having recently lost a couple of big pieces. How will Moncrief fare with the Steelers? What will his arrival mean for his new teammates? Let’s check it out.
Who is This Guy?
Moncrief is a five-year vet who was drafted by the Colts in the third round of the 2014 draft. He was a highly-touted prospect out of Ole Miss in large part due to his exceptional physical tools. Moncrief is 6’2/220 lbs. with major hops and 4.40 40-yard dash speed. He never materialized into the starting WR the Colts envisioned him to be, and he wasn’t re-signed when his contract expired after four years with the team. Moncrief missed a total of 11 games while in Indianapolis due to injuries. Moncrief joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 on a one-year “prove it” deal, and the team decided to move on from him after just one season.
Moncrief compiled 1,875 receiving yards and 18 TDs on 152 receptions in his four seasons with the Colts, never eclipsing 733 receiving yards or seven TDs in a single season. He played in all 16 games in his first two seasons in Indianapolis, starting 10 games his second year in 2015 and notching career highs in receptions (64) and receiving yards (733). That same season, he finished WR35 — his best fantasy finish as a pro. Moncrief’s career high in TDs came the following season in 2016 where he caught seven TDs in just nine games played. Moncrief had a pedestrian 2017 (26-391-2) and bounced back in 2018 with a 48-668-3 line.
While Moncrief’s overall production has been average at best, there’s room for optimism. He was on pace for double-digit TDs in 2016 had he not missed seven games with a shoulder injury. His yards per reception (Y/R) totals have been very solid over the last two seasons, good for 14.3 on 74 combined receptions in that span. Moncrief managed three-year highs in receptions and receiving yards in his first season in Jacksonville, starting a career-high 14 games. That’s pretty impressive considering he was catching passes from Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you already know that the Steelers just parted ways with arguably the best receiver in team history, Antonio Brown. Brown, the Steelers’ second-leading receiver in many club records, signed with the Raiders earlier this week and leaves 168 targets vacated in Pittsburgh. What kind of target volume can Moncrief realistically expect? Let’s assume that new number-one wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster will command a 25 percent target share next season. Let’s also assume that Ben Roethlisberger throws 526 passes, his most recent 10-year average. That means that JuJu will see 131 targets, leaving 395 to be divied out among the rest of the Steelers’ pass-catchers. That bodes well for Moncrief to see at least 100 targets — something he’s only done once in his career. Those numbers could be even higher if the Pittsburgh offense looks anything like it did last season when Big Ben threw a league-leading and career-high 675 passes. Moncrief will get some work.
The Steelers’ Receiving Corps
The Steelers’ receiving corps now features third-year stud JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Eli Rogers. Smith-Schuster will be the unquestioned number-one, but Moncrief should start opposite him all year, unless the team addresses the position in the draft or free agency. He’s not a lock to win the starting gig, but he should have no problem beating out Rogers and Washington in training camp. Washington will still get some looks, but his fantasy value is way down following the Moncrief signing. Rogers’ fantasy value is almost non-existent, as he’ll be forced down the depth chart.
The signing does little to impact JuJu Smith-Schuster’s value, though it can only help him to have other playmakers divert defensive attention off of him. Ben Roethlisberger will get a small bump in value here too by gaining another weapon.
The Fit – Size and Speed
Moncrief will actually be a great fit in Pittsburgh. Because of his size, he’ll be the biggest wideout on the team. That should translate to plenty of red-zone opportunities on jump balls — an element the Steelers could certainly use. Moncrief can also be used as a deep threat because of his speed, and it’s likely he’s heavily involved in the Steelers’ offensive game plan next season. The Steelers and free agent WR Golden Tate are rumored to have mutual interest, so keep an eye on that — Moncrief’s value would take a big hit in the event of a Tate signing. And the team could also target a WR in the NFL Draft. But if the Steelers’ receiving corps goes into 2019 with this iteration, I like Moncrief as a top-40 option with high-end WR3 upside. I’m expecting him to post new career highs across the board en route to a breakout campaign.
2019 Prediction: 125 targets, 77 receptions, 900 receiving yards, 8 receiving TDs