|By Rob Warner, Monday, September 2, 2013|
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 - 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 - 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 - 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 Isaac Redman - Gamble (high risk)
Update (10/22): The Steelers released Redman who had just 11 carries for 13 yards this season and was a healthy scratch since Week 4. Felix Jones and Jon Dwyer will serve as the primary backups behind Le'Veon Bell.
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.
Update (8-21): Projected starter Le'Veon Bell has been diagnosed with a Lisfranc type mid-foot injury. Though the Steelers are seeking a second opinion, the rookie could miss several weeks regardless. That moves Redman into the No. 1 RB spot, though Jonathan Dwyer could also receive additional carries. Redman has proven little in past opportunities, but a starter is a starter. Check our rankings page for updates, but this Steelers backfield is one to avoid.
PROFILE: The 28-year-old RB from Bowie State is currently listed as the No. RB on the depth chart, but his upside is limited as he's posted just 5 rushing TDs over the past three seasons and finished the 2012 season with a pedestrian 3.7 YPC on 110 carries. Redman has yet to top 110 carries or 500 yards in any one season and remains a handcuff at best in a crowded Steeler backfield. He could be worth a late round flier in PPR leagues after totaling 37 catches in limited action the past two seasons.
RB Felix Jones - 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 - 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.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB Jonathan Dwyer - 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.
WR Antonio Brown - Solid/Safe Pick
UPDATE (10/21): Brown has 46 catches for 548 yards and two touchdowns through the first six games. He was the top fantasy WR back in week three when Brown torched Chicago with nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. He's averaging 91 yards receiving per game and has been a solid PPR option averaging eight catches per game as Big Ben's clear cut go to weapon in the passing game.
PROFILE: The stars are aligned for Brown to return to his impressive 2011 numbers (69 catches for 1,108 yards) with Mike Wallace now in Miami. Last season, Brown missed 3 games with a high-ankle sprain and finished with nearly as many catches (66) as he did the season before, but about 400 less yards (787). The 24 year old WR from Central Michigan has just 7 touchdowns over his first three seasons, but those numbers could climb as he's locked into WR1 status and Heath Miller (a red zone favorite) remains a question mark. He should produce borderline WR2 numbers and makes for a wise investment in rounds 6-7.
WR Emmanuel Sanders - Sleeper (undervalued)
UPDATE (10/21): The free agent to be remains just a bye week filler at best in 12 team leagues as he's averaging 4 catches for 51 yards with one touchdown.
PROFILE: Many thought he was New England bound, but the cash strapped / WR needy Steelers decided to match his restricted offer and inked Sanders to a one-year, $2.5M contract. The 26 year old WR from SMU will be an ultra motivated player in a contract year. He has yet to average more than 39 YPG in any of his first three seasons and Sanders has totaled just 94 catches, 1,290 yards and five TDs in his brief career. With the addition of rookie WR Markus Wheaton, Sanders could be playing his final season with the Steelers as he's due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
WR Markus Wheaton - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
UPDATE (10/21): Wheaton has missed two straight games with a broken finger opening the door for Jerricho Cotchery to have fantasy relevance. Wheaton is a solid dynasty league stash as he should be starting in 2014 if the Steelers let Emmanuel Sanders walk via free agency.
The Steelers got lucky as many viewed Wheaton as a potential late 2nd rounder, but he was still available when Pittsburgh was on the clock at #79. Many at the Senior Bowl were comparing Wheaton to Wallace as they are similar sized (5-11) speedsters. Wheaton hauled in 91 catches for 1,244 yards (13.7 YPR) and 11 touchdowns as a senior at Oregon State. With Sanders in a contract year, Wheaton is a solid dynasty league target as the downfield weapon should be a starting WR by 2014 (if not sooner).
WR Jerricho Cotchery - Low Potential
UPDATE (10/21): The veteran is seeing work in three WR sets as rookie Markus Wheaton is sidelined with a broken finger. He has 19 catches for 289 yards (41 YPG) with two touchdowns. He and is not on the fantasy radar barring an injury to Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders.
PROFILE: The soon to be 31 year old WR has posted two lackluster seasons with Pittsburgh since coming over from the Jets. He has just 33 catches for 442 yards and two touchdowns over the past two seasons and is just a #4 WR at best without fantasy relevance.
TE Heath Miller - Gamble (high risk)
UPDATE (10/21): Over his first four games, Miller is averaging 52 yards per game but has found the end zone just once. He should remain a solid borderline TE1 as a Big Ben favorite in the red zone. Looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, he faces a Miami defense in week 14 that is allowing the second most fantasy PPG to opposing TEs.
UPDATE (8/13): The Steelers intend to keep Miller off the PUP list, which would force him to miss the first 6 games of the season. His current ADP has him coming off the boards in rounds 14/15 (which is probably a risk worth taking as he'll likely be the go-to red zone option for Big Ben).
PROFILE: The 8-year veteran enjoyed the best season of his career before suffering a devastating knee injury in week 16 as he tore his ACL, MCL and PCL and remains a candidate for the PUP list. Reports this week have surfaced that Miller is targeting a week 1 return, but that seems very optimistic considering the severity of the injury and age of the player (31). The Virginia alum finished 2012 with 71 catches for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns and has reached pay dirt 39 times during his career. The uncertainty surrounding his recovery makes Miller best drafted as a high end TE2 and his current ADP has his name being called in rounds 12-14.
TE Matt Spaeth - Deep-league Only
UPDATE (8/13): Spaeth is expected to miss 8-10 weeks following Lisfranc surgery. David Paulson appears likely to be the starter for the first few games until Heath Miller is able to return. Bottom line is the Steelers WRs will likely see more targets in the first month of the season.
The University of Minnesota alum signed a 2-year contract and his expected to remain more of a blocking tight end following the loss of Leonard Pope. Spaeth has topped 10 catches just once during his six year career and should remain off the fantasy radar despite the questions surrounding Heath Miller as David Paulson is the better short term fantasy option if Miller is forced to miss the early portion of the season.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
Pittsburgh Defense - Solid/Safe Pick
The Steel Curtain didn't rank among the top 5 units as they had in recent memory, but still finished 2012 as a respectable fantasy option as they ranked 12th posting 37 sacks (but just 10 interceptions and one total touchdown). Dick LeBeau's defense will need to replace veterans James Harrison, Casey Hampton, and Keenan Lewis, but still boasts an elite playmaker in ILB Lawrence Timmons. First round pick OLB Jarvis Jones will team with Lamar Woodley to generate a solid pass rush outside the tackles. Three of the Steelers' starting four DBs are 32+ ( Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark, and RCB Ike Taylor). Ike Taylor remained a shutdown CB in 2012. The steelers added Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas in hopes of injecting youth into an aging secondary. The Steelers defense is aging and are best targeted as a final round pick that can be used when the matchup is favorable (two matchups with division rival Cleveland for instance).