Fantasy Football Team Preview 2011: Pittsburgh Steelers
The NFL Season is quickly approaching and TheSportsCannon.com has been working furiously to give you the best fantasy football rankings 2011. Part of determining fantasy football sleepers, busts and projections is analyzing each NFL team. In our 2011 NFL Predictions, we analyze the pending NFL trade rumors, NFL free agent signings, coaching schemes and strength of schedules. In each team preview, we will try and give you the best fantasy football draft strategy for picking up your favorite player, and which player you should avoid.
In our sixth installment of the Fantasy Football Team Previews, we will analyze the 2011 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
2010 Recap: The Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Steelers weren’t expected to start the season as hot as they were. Without their franchise quarterback and shuffling starting QBs each week, the Steelers started the season 3-1. Their strong run would last the entire season, in fact, earning them an AFC North Division Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.
You know what happened next. Despite having the best defensive unit in football last season, the Steelers’ only weakness on defense was exploited and the Green Bay Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Steelers' offense became entirely focused on the passing game once their franchise QB returned, with only one 100-yard rusher after week three. This year, the Steelers have said they will focus more on the run, but has the scheme changed completely in the Steel City?
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Mike Tomlin has emerged as one of the best young coaches in the NFL, with a knack for putting the right people in the right places. The Steelers have had consistent success in Tomlin's four years as head coach, making the playoffs three times. In Pittsburgh, “the standard is the standard,” and the standard so far is winning football.
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians takes some heat from Steel City fans from time to time because of the lack of a running attack at times and the curious running calls in passing situations. Still, he has established a very strong relationship with franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has had his most impressive years with Arians.
The Steelers' defense is a model of consistency thanks to great players like Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. Neither of those two would tell you the unit would even be slightly successful without Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau, however. Labeau has helped the Steelers lead the league, or come close, in sacks just about every year since he took over in 2004.
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Last year, Big Ben Roethlisberger was on pace to have one of his best seasons statistically, but unfortunately had a bit too much fun in Georgia and it led to a four game suspension to start the season.
Ben has been in the top10 of fantasy quarterbacks for a few years now but has yet to break the top five. Some feel that the Steelers’ shift to a young, more explosive pass-heavy offense will catapult Ben in to the fantasy elite. We’re not so sure Ben is ever going to make that leap, however.
Ben is a good, no, a great quarterback. Unfortunately for him, he plays in Pittsburgh, and no matter how much the team seems set to pass the ball, they will still stick to their guns. Strong defense and clock control have made the franchise what they are today and the tradition continues in to 2011.
Ben can win games for the Steelers in the final minutes but rarely will have to thanks to his stellar defense. A talented group of running backs also alleviates some pressure from the passing game, as later in the game they will more often opt to run down the clock in a typically conservative Bruce Arians fourth quarter.
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We have been under the impression that Rashard Mendenhall is not as highly regarded by the Steeler coaching staff as much as you would think a feature back should be. There is no doubt that the former first round pick has great ability and could be one of the few feature backs left in football, however.
Despite his athletic ability, Mendenhall is usually spelled on third downs for the much slower and less gifted Mewelde Moore. Mendenhall also loses carries in short yardage situations to Isaac Redman, who came on strong last season and could push for more red zone carries as well.
Mendenhall has been getting praised throughout the offseason so far and could become more of an all-purpose back if the comments are true, however. Mendenhall has gotten better at picking up the blitz in each of his three seasons in Pittsburgh and could actually make a push to be on the field on all third downs this season.
Moore is likely battling for a roster spot thanks to the strong play of seventh round rookie Baron Batch. Batch projects as a third down back but will likely make his impact on kickoffs and maybe even punt returns this season. If the Steelers do elect to cut Moore this offseason, they will feel much safer with Mendenhall on the field in passing downs than the new rook, no matter how much he impresses in training camp.
We like Mendenhall to continue a strong campaign and be a top 10 back in fantasy, much like Ben Roethlisberger. However, we don’t know if Mendenhall’s ceiling is all that high. He will no doubt lose touchdowns to Redman and his PPR value will be reduced if he continues to stay off the field on third downs.
We also have to remind you that after Roethlisberger came back from suspension, Mendenhall posted 100 yards rushing only once. This is Ben’s offense and the Steelers will continue to focus the offense more and more around their franchise quarterback.
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The Steelers looked incredibly strong at the position going in to last year’s Super Bowl. Mike Wallace proved more than just a deep threat and became a fantasy football darling. Considered a sleeper before the season, Wallace’s ADP was 73rd overall but the Steeler receiver ended the year as the 39th best overall player in fantasy.
This year he is a hot commodity in fantasy football drafts, so you will need to streak early if you want a chance to draft him. There is some uncertainty at the position so far this training camp, and Wallace looks to be the only strong candidate at the position for the Steelers. There isn’t any reason to expect a drop in production for Wallace.
Veteran Hines Ward has been limited in training camp so far this offseason, although he has been asked for less and less in training camp as he has aged. He is still the most reliable target for the Steelers’ offense, as he may have the best understanding of his position and his own offense.
Although hampered by off season thumb surgery, Hines claims he is great shape, better than in previous seasons in fact. His production has dipped as expected for a 35-year-old receiver and that trend should continue. Hines is the team’s best red zone receiving threat however, so the reduced concentration on Hines could mean an increase in TDs.
Young second year players Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown both are expected to make big leaps this season and will be asked to contribute even more. Neither is really a fit to replace Ward, however, as they fall more in line athletically with Mike Wallace.
Sanders is coming off of multiple foot surgeries and has missed the majority of training camp to this point. He should return soon however, and his progress this year will determine who the No. 3 is, and ultimately, who will steal catches from Hines Ward.
Although Sanders is a very nice sleeper candidate, we are thinking Antonio Brown could end up stealing that label from Sanders. Brown has been taking all the snaps so far this offseason as the No. 2 receiver, and the injury and age concerns of Sanders and Ward could provide more opportunity during the regular season as well.
The Steelers did feel the pressure at the position this offseason however and had to sign a veteran presence in case injuries and age are too much to overcome. The Steelers recently signed free agent Jerricho Cotchery, formerly of the Jets, to a one year contract.
Cotchery has very good hands and is a good route runner. He looks to be more of a Hines Ward insurance plan. Cotchery is 29 and wants to compete for real playing time. He won’t get that in Pittsburgh but we love guys in contract years, so Cotchery should make some plays for the Steelers.
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The Steelers have a very underrated tight end in Heath Miller, whose receiving abilities can go unnoticed in the Steel City. No one in the organization will tell you that Miller isn’t a key player for this team, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to make plays as a receiver quite as often as the team would like.
It isn’t really Miller’s fault however, as too often last season Miller was used as a blocker in the backfield on passing plays. The Steelers’ offensive line woes are well documented, but there is reason to believe they are turning a corner in pass protection. This year, there is an increased chance that the Steelers will use Miller more, but he will go up against the toughest TE schedule in fantasy football.
The Steelers are looking at bringing in some veteran depth to the position via free agency. Miller owners shouldn’t be concerned however, as the team is likely looking for a blocking tight end to replace Matt Spaeth, who is now a Chicago Bear.
Defense & Kicker
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You already know the story; they’re the best in the business and will end the year with stat lines to prove it. Last year, the Steelers’ defense broke the team’s 56-year old record of 1,125 rushing yards allowed in a season. That year, the Steelers only played 12 games, and they allowed only 1,004 yards last season. Needless to say the team is pretty good at what they do.
There is one chink in their armor, however. In pass protection, the Steelers leave some to be desired. Opposing quarterbacks rarely have enough time to find an open receiver with the Steeler defense breathing down their neck. When the team plays some of the game’s elite, however, they look a bit more human. The Steelers made it a priority to bring back their best cornerback Ike Taylor and will hope for a full, healthy season from Troy Polamalu.
There are still questions surrounding the secondary however, and the team will likely have to employ untested rookie Curtis Brown more often than not. So far in camp, however, Brown has impressed enough that he could make a push to even start opposite of Taylor, ahead of William Gay and Bryant McFadden.
The Steelers tumultuous relationship with party boy/kicker Jeff Reed came to a screeching halt last season. Reed had been having trouble kicking all season, but the final straw came during a postgame interview when Reed blamed the fans, a cardinal sin in Steeler Nation.
The team held an open tryout and out emerged Shaun Suisham. Suisham has a well-documented history of missing kicks in big moments but actually brought stability to the Steelers' special teams. Suisham will again be the team’s kicker, but for how long we’re not sure.
Sleeper & Bust Candidates
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Antonio Brown – He may not even be drafted in your league, so Brown is likely considered a deep, deep sleeper. Brown made big catches in big games down the stretch last season and has been getting all the first team reps so far this offseason. We think Brown could emerge as a serious threat for the Steelers offense this year given the injury and age concerns surrounding him at the position.
Rashard Mendenhall – Mendenhall has a very low chance of being a bust, but Mike Tomlin is known for never sticking to one depth chart. Mendenhall didn’t fumble often last season but coughed it up on the biggest stage. If he happens to come down with fumbilitis again this season and Isaac Redman and Baron Batch step up, he could lose his first round value.