Overall outlook: I don’t know about you, but I’m sensing a trend with Pittsburgh and who they’re starting to mimic: 1) Build around Super-Bowl-winning QB…check; 2) Create a stable of young running backs…check; 3) Cut ties to your most reliable receiver…check. Hmmm, doesn’t that plan sound a lot like New England? The Steelers could be gearing up for a Patriot-like playoff run in 2013.
Bye week: 5
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
He isn’t a QB1 for fantasy teams, but Roethlisberger is decent enough for backup honors. In 2012, he threw for over 3,200 yards for the fifth-straight season. Roethlisberger ranked 21st in passing yards last year, behind Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, his 26 TD passes placed him ninth with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Russell Wilson. Big Ben’s leading receiver, Mike Wallace, left for South Beach, which leads me to believe Roethlisberger’s numbers will tank.
Running back: Le’Veon Bell
At Michigan State, Bell was the bell cow eating up over 2,700 yards and scoring 25 times in his last two seasons. Pittsburgh finished 26th in rushing and was led by a combination of Jonathan Dwyer (623 yards, 2 TDs) and Isaac Redman (410 yards, 2 TDs). Currently, the Steelers depth chart lists Bell as the number one running back, leap-frogging Dwyer and Redman. (UPDATE: Expected to miss 6-8 weeks with Lisfranc injury)
Running back: Jonathan Dwyer
As I mentioned in Le’Veon Bell’s write-up, Dwyer was the top rusher for Pittsburgh last season. Emphasis on “was.” Now, Dwyer is fighting for carries, but probably splitting time with the rookie. Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Dwyer was finally able to reach the endzone in 2012. He only scored twice, however, so don’t think of him as a vulture when the Steelers creep inside the five.
Wide receiver: Antonio Brown
There is a large list of receivers that could make an impact for Pittsburgh and Brown is WR number one. Only three players were targeted 100+ times in 2012: Mike Wallace (119 targets), Brown (105), and Heath Miller (101). Wallace is gone and Miller is recovering from injury. Brown becomes Roethlisberger’s top target.
Wide receiver: Emmanuel Sanders
In terms of Big Ben’s targets, there was a big dip between Pittsburgh’s top three receivers and Sanders. The quarterback threw 74 passes to Sanders in the 2012 season. However, there was another big gap between Sanders and the rest of the pack below him. His 74 targets planted him securely in the four-spot of Roethlisberger’s favorite receivers, with Jerricho Cotchery trailing behind (27 targets).
Wide receiver: Markus Wheaton
Every year at Oregon State, Wheaton increased his receptions and yards culminating in a senior season where he tallied 91 catches, 1,244 yards, and 11 TDs. It is with those numbers I place him on this team preview to keep you familiar with what Wheaton’s collegiate resume boasts.
Tight end: Matt Spaeth
Fantasy football General Managers may wonder why Spaeth in listed instead of Heath Miller. If you recall, Miller injured his right knee in Week 16, tearing his ACL, MCL, and PCL. Most recent reports say Miller will start the season on the PUP list. Spaeth returns to Pittsburgh after a two-year stint with Chicago. While he has yet to have his breakout season, Spaeth hasn’t been the featured tight end on offense. Roethlisberger threw to the TE position 115 times in 2012 and will need to look Spaeth’s way if he wants continue to use the position in the passing game.
Placekicker: Shaun Suisham
After bouncing back-and-forth between Dallas and Washington, it seems as if Suisham has found a home in the Steel City. In his third season with Pittsburgh, the kicker connected on 90.3 percent of his field goals, with a career-long 52-yard boot. Even with those facts, Suisham still finished 15th among kickers in fantasy points.
This is one of those times where the success in the NFL doesn’t quite correlate with fantasy achievements. In the real world, Pittsburgh allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL, the fewest passing yards, and the second-fewest rushing yards. However, the Steelers finished 21st in fantasy points in standard scoring leagues. They ranked 28th in interceptions and 19th in fumble recoveries. Not to mention, the special teams and defense combined for only one touchdown the entire season (Detroit, Oakland, and Philadelphia were the only defenses not to score).