2013 Team Outlook: Pittsburgh Steelers
Finding a replacement for WR Mike Wallace (signed free agent contract with Miami) and the recovery of TE Heath Miller will be two stories to watch as week 1 fast approaches. Big Ben was recently quoted as saying he fully expects red zone favorite Miller to be in the lineup for the opening week matchup against the Titans, but that seems like a long shot considering the severity of the injury (ACL, MCL, PCL) and the fact that it occurred in week 16. The Steelers didn't add a TE via the draft or free agency, so apparently they are banking on an Adrian Peterson type recovery for the 31 year old TE. The ground game will also look a lot different entering 2013, as Rashard Mendenhall will take his injured knees to Arizona and will be replaced by 2nd pick Le'Veon Bell out of Michigan State. The Steelers' ground game floundered in 2012, ranking 26th (96 YPG). A committee approach is expected as Isaaac Redman, John Dwyer and former Cardinal La'Rod Stephens-Howling will also be in the mix.
The Steelers' O-line hopes to improve on another dismal performance in 2012 as the ground game averaged just 3.7 YPC and Big Ben was consistently running for his life and got injured again (O-line allowed 37 sacks). Their first round pick from 2012 David DeCastro (Stanford) is expected to start at RG (made just 3 starts after a preseason knee injury) and rumors have surfaced that they'll employ more zone blocking scheme to jumpstart the run game - time will tell as rookie Le'Veon Bell is not a game breaker, but has a the skill set to develop as a true 3-down running back based on his size, pass protection and solid receiving skills.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, PIT - Quality Backup
UPDATE (10/21): Roethlisberger is averaging an impressive 276 yards per game but has just seven touchdowns and five interceptions through six games. For the rest of the season, the Steelers have a mediocre passing schedule as they face the 17th most favorable schedule for opposing quarterbacks.
PROFILE: The Steelers fell from 12th to 21st in total offense last season (21 PPG), and lost downfield threat WR Mike Wallace to Miami. Time is ticking on the 31 year old Big Ben as he's yet to complete a full slate of games since 2008 (missed three games last season). Roethlisberger averaged 20.5 fantasy PPG last season and posted an impressive 26 TDs to 8 INTs - a stat line that will be very difficult to duplicate considering that Wallace accounted for 8 TDs and TE Heath Miller (major question mark following knee surgery) had another 8 TDs. The Steelers' limited salary cap space stopped the front office from replacing Wallace and this offense is shaping up to mediocre, making Big Ben best drafted as a high end QB2 in 2013.
QB Bruce Gradkowski, PIT - Not Draft Worthy
The Charlie Batch / Byron Leftwich era comes to an end as Gradkowski signed a 3-year contract to back up the oft injured Big Ben. The 30 year old QB from Toledo has not started a game since 2010 with the Raiders and has 20 starts during his 7 year career. Gradkowski holds a less than impressive 21 TD: 24 INT ratio over his career.
RB Le'Veon Bell, PIT - Gamble (high risk)
UPDATE (10/21): The rookie is averaging 20 touches per game over his first three NFL contests. Bel is averaging just 61 yards per game but now is the time to buy low as he's faced back to back difficult matchups (NY Jets and Baltimore). In week eight, Bell should produce solid RB2 numbers against Oakland. He's a three-down back that dominates goal-line carries -- a combination that is becoming a rarity this season especially with the rash of injuries to early round RB selections.
UPDATE (8/21): The mid-foot injury Bell suffered in the Steelers second preseason game has initially been diagnosed as a Lisfranc-type injury. There is no talk of surgery just yet, but it's a possibility. Regardless this could be a lengthy recovery process unless an upcoming second opinion suggests otherwise. For those drafting this week, note that FFToolbox dropped Bell into late RB3/RB4 range until further notice.
UPDATE (8/13): Bell was held out of the first preseason game with mild knee soreness, but he has returned to practice and is expected to make his preseason debut when the Steelers face Washington in their 2nd preseason game.
PROFILE: The 2nd round pick (#48 overall) from Michigan State is penciled in as the starter after Isaac Redman and John Dwyer failed to emerge when given a shot in 2012. Bell (6-foot-1 3/8, 230) amassed 671 carries for 3,346 yards (4.99 YPC) and 33 touchdowns in his three-year Michigan State career and is a solid dual threat as evidence by his 78 receptions. Bell is not a game breaking speedster and needs the O-line to create lanes for him to succeed (ran just 4.60 forty time at the combine). He's solid in pass protection and has the potential to be a true 3-down back at the next level, elevating his fantasy stock. Todd Haley's pass-first offense might have to become more well rounded if Bell makes a smooth transition and the rookie could have chance for 8-10 TDs in his first season as he figures to be the first rushing option in the red zone.
RB Jonathan Dwyer, ARI - Not Draft Worthy
Update 9/1: RB Jonathan Dwyer has been released from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apparently, the coaching staff feels that the trio of Redman, Stevens-Howling and newly acquired Felix Jones better suit their offensive stretch ground attack. Felix Jones is the interesting name to watch here. He looked decent in the limited work we saw in the preseason and has a chance to surprise.
The 6th round pick in the 2010 draft out of Georgia Tech has battled injuries during his 3 year career (played in just 21 games); when injuries allowed him to gain a few 2nd half starts, he failed to impress averaging just 3.3 YPC on 98 carries over the final eight games. At 5'11, 229 he does have the potential to emerge as a red zone threat if Bell were to struggle in short yardage, but his lack of receiving skills should keep Dwyer on fantasy waiver wires barring a rash of injuries to the Steeler backfield.
RB Felix Jones, FA - Gamble (high risk)
Update 9/1: RB Jonathan Dwyer has been released from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apparently, the coaching staff feels that the trio of Redman, Stevens-Howling and newly acquired Felix Jones better suit their offensive stretch ground attack. Felix Jones is the interesting name to watch here. He looked decent in the limited work we saw in the preseason and has a chance to surprise. His career could go from the outhouse to the penthouse in terms of fantasy relevance while the team waits on rookie RB Leveon Bell to recover from injury.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, FA - Not Draft Worthy
The hyphen signed a 1-year contract with Pittsburgh after a four year sting in Arizona and figures to see time in 3rd downs and on special teams. Stephens-Howling has averaged 3.56 YPC on 183 career carries and hauled in 56 catches over his four seasons. At 5-foot-7, 185-pounds he lacks the size to be a starting RB, but his speed and receiving ability make him a potential PPR flier.