Jonathan Dwyer: Projecting Long-Term Fantasy Value for Steelers RB

Ethan GrantAnalyst INovember 3, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 21:  Jonathan Dwyer #27 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball during 24-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you're thinking about dropping Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer, hold off on clicking that "submit" button. The backfield in Pittsburgh is a mess, but Dwyer has solid fantasy football value for the rest of the 2012 season.

Multiple reports have Dwyer as doubtful for the Steelers' game against the New York Giants this weekend. Rashard Mendenhall is also doubtful, and that means the trio of Isaac Redman, Chris Rainey and Baron Batch will handle the rushing duties for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense.

Dwyer has had a coming-out party for the Steelers the past two weeks. He rushed for 122 and 107 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, respectively, and did so on just 17 carries in both games.

The Steelers are on a two-game win streak for the first time this season. It's no coincidence that Dwyer has played a big part in the offense for both of those wins.

Pittsburgh wins games when the rushing attack is at a premium. Dwyer helped accomplish that, even if he didn't find the end zone. No matter what the backfield looks like over the next few weeks, Dwyer is going to have some fantasy value.

The meat of the AFC North schedule features favorable matchups over the next eight weeks. Pittsburgh has two games against both Cleveland and Baltimore, two teams that have struggled mightily against the run.

It also features Cincinnati again, and a Kansas City team that has been the doormat of the AFC for most of the season.

When Dwyer and Mendenhall return from injury, the likely solution for coach Mike Tomlin is to ride the hot hand. The Steelers have used all of their available running backs in various formations this season, utilizing the different strengths of each.

Against the Bengals, Dwyer was the power back and ran out the clock down the stretch. Rainey was a threat in the special teams game and the passing game, while Batch was used as a third-down/change of pace back. Batch also dropped a gadget play touchdown pass in that contest.

With that kind of versatility, it's hard to project what kind of value each of these running backs will have. Redman appears to be in line for most of the fantasy points this weekend, but upon the return of either Mendenhall or Dwyer the spectrum will surely change.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Mendenhall resume his role at the head of the running back attack. According to a report from Pro Football Talk, Dwyer actually thinks Mendenhall should resume his starting job when fully healthy.

Jonathan Dwyer thinks Rashard Mendenhall should start if healthy

— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 1, 2012

Humbleness aside, the Steelers have a choice to make when they finally get a full complement of players in the backfield. Mendenhall is two-time 1,000-yard rusher, while Dwyer's last two 100-yard games have been his first.

Don't drop Dwyer from your lineup with the threat of Mendenhall as the only reason. The Steelers have a chance to make a major run towards the postseason in the next few weeks, and they'll do so by relying on the ground game.

Mendenhall has been somewhat injury-prone in his career. He's played in just two games this season and only has 74 yards rushing in the two. The riskiest player to project on the roster, Mendenhall has to get healthy before we can project his value.

The same can be said for Dwyer, but we've seen what he can accomplish with the right opportunities. Stash him at the bottom of your bench for now, but keep his name handy as the Steelers sort out the mess in the backfield.

Dwyer is an above average flex play if he's the lead dog, but could just as easily go without a touch. Don't make the call until the news about Mendenhall comes down, though, and even then, there should be plenty of opportunity for Dwyer to insert his name into the mix as a long-term starter for this team.


Ethan Grant is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team and a featured columnist for the Dallas Mavericks.