Roman Wilson Finds Plenty of Fantasy Football Opportunity with the Pittsburgh Steelers

May 17, 2024
Roman Wilson Finds Plenty of Fantasy Opportunity with the Steelers

With the 84th pick of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected wide receiver Roman Wilson from the University of Michigan. The National Championship-winning WR will look to fill the vacated hole left with the Steelers’ trade of Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers early this offseason. Though the third-round draft capital may not hint at it, Wilson is one of the more NFL-ready receivers in this class and should have a role from Day 1.

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Roman Wilson’s Prospect Profile

A graduate of the prestigious St. Louis High School in Honolulu after helping to win back-to-back state championships, Roman Wilson entered the 2020 recruiting class as a four-star recruit. Because he was a late-enroll (August) during the already-shortened pandemic season, his experience as a freshman at Michigan was minimal, running only 80 routes and earning 14 targets from future Volunteers quarterback Joe Milton.

He would eventually rotate into the team’s primary slot receiver, particularly in his junior year when he ran 90.1% of his routes from the interior. In the Wolverines’ run-heavy approach under Jim Harbaugh, Wilson became the No. 1 pass-catching option by 2023, leading the team in practically every receiving metric you can think of and accounting for 50% of the team’s receiving touchdowns.

Roman Wilson College Career Statline
Year Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns YPRR aDOT
2020 14 9 122 1 1.53 15.9
2021 39 25 420 3 2.30 14.3
2022 37 25 376 4 2.14 13.5
2023 67 48 789 12 2.68 13.9

Over the years, Wilson grew into Cade McNamara's and, eventually, J.J. McCarthy's primary intermediate target. Though it’s not apparent by looking at his average depth of target, his usage was expanded when Ronnie Bell left for the 2022 NFL Draft, and it helped Wilson cash in with more looks past the sticks.

Roman Wilson Targets Behind LOS vs Intermediate, '21-'23
Year Behind LOS Targets Target Rate Medium (10-19 Yards) Targets Target Rate
2021 4 10.3% 9 23.1%
2022 7 18.9% 7 18.9%
2023 2 3.0% 25 37.3%

The increased usage in the middle of the field predictably lowered his yards after the catch (7.6 in ‘22, 4.6 in ‘23), but he was still able to flash his 4.39 speed. Over the middle of the field, he often used his short-area quickness to leave himself plenty of room, and 25.4% of his targets came in the “intermediate center,” according to PFF, and 72% of his catches came from between the numbers. He’s got plenty of long speed to develop into a rotational piece along the perimeter, but he wasn’t asked to do that very often at Michigan.

Wilson’s small stature (5’10”, 185 pounds) is one shining reason why the team wanted him on the inside, and it’s hard to imagine that changing at the next level. Per his Reception Perception profile, he finished in the 15th percentile against press coverage. Here’s what Matt Harmon had to say on the subject,

“Wilson’s lack of size leaves him pretty overmatched at the line of scrimmage. Unless he’s able to blow by a press corner, he usually gets locked up. He’ll need to take pretty sizable technical leaps. Unlike some of the other small receivers in this class, he doesn’t make up needed ground against off-man or zone coverage to explore a big role outside. ”

The newest Pittsburgh Steeler will have to work on his route-running to overcome some of the other flaws in his game, lest he become a one-note receiver at the next level. But will he have the offensive infrastructure to get the most out of him in Year 1?

How Roman Wilson Fits with the Steelers

Presuming a clean training camp from the rookie, Wilson should play the “small slot” role in Arthur Smith’s offense from the start, with George Pickens and a rotation featuring Van Jefferson as the 3WR set. The problem with that is, we’re going to need Wilson to push for that second wide receiver role, and he might have issues doing that with the aforementioned concerns.

Over the last three seasons, Arthur Smith’s offense has run the third, ninth, and first-most dropbacks out of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), finishing with 99 more dropbacks than the second-highest team last year (Patriots). While his offenses have also traditionally been play-action-heavy—which would open up the middle for his receivers—he now has two quarterbacks who have historically been terrible in that area of the field.

Last season, Russell Wilson attempted only 6.5% of his passes to the intermediate center area of the field, while Justin Fields finished 31st/35 qualifying quarterbacks in on-target rate (72.0%) to the middle of the field.

This isn’t to say that Roman Wilson won’t find any success with his skill set as a rookie, but the potential WR3 in an Arthur Smith offense is a floor to avoid in fantasy.

Projecting the Steelers Offense in Fantasy Football

The addition of Roman Wilson doesn’t impact other fantasy pieces much, and if anything, further locks George Pickens into the No. 1 pass-catcher role. Where (Russell) Wilson and Fields like to attack the defense —down the field, along the sideline— is where Pickens should be thriving, which locks him into a fringe WR2/3 in fantasy.

In very deep, or Dynasty leagues, the Day 2 addition should put the squeeze on Quez Watkins, Calvin Austin, and possibly Van Jefferson. Each of them should be on waiver wires unless you really, really believe in the connection between the new coach and Jefferson.

As for Roman Wilson, he is walking into a situation where the team is missing the ninth-highest target share (27.7%) and fifth-highest air yards share (36.5%) from last year, but you’d be hard-pressed to confuse the rookie for Diontae Johnson. Because of the lack of talent around him and the possibility that he works out some kinks to find some snaps along the perimeter, Wilson does have a ceiling in 2024. But the floor is also very low. He doesn’t profile as someone we should be targeting in drafts this summer, as his value likely won’t come until later in the year. He is an intriguing dart throw in best ball, particularly if you have a strong lean on who will win the Fields-Wilson battle at quarterback and plan to draft one.

Bottom Line

  • Roman Wilson took until Year 4 to put up an interesting production profile but grew into a consistent intermediate-to-deep threat for the Michigan Wolverines.
  • Wilson is very likely to spend most of his time in the slot at the next level, but it’s worrying how many raw snaps he’ll take in Year 1 if the offense runs a lot of 2TE sets.
  • The addition of the third-round wide receiver doesn’t take anything away from George Pickens, though it lowers the ceiling for Pat Freiermuth, who ran 49.7% of his routes out of the slot last season.
  • According to current Underdog ADP, Wilson (WR71, 157.6 ADP) is worth sprinkling in around the 14th round. I prefer some other wide receivers in that range, including Jermaine Burton, Ja’Lynn Polk, and Darnell Mooney.
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