2011 NFL Predictions: Who Will Be the Steelers' Top 5 Offensive Playmakers?
Let's face it, the Pittsburgh Steelers are historically known for their defense that continues to dominate year after year. Rarely has anyone ever considered the Steelers to be a powerhouse on offense, due to their long standing identity of being a ground-and-pound, run-first offense in a passing league.
All of that started to change starting in 2004, when Pittsburgh drafted Ben Roethlisberger in the first round. Ever since then, the Steelers' offensive unit has bloomed into a star-studded group with the perfect balance of veteran leadership, as well as up-and-coming young talent.
Going into the 2011 season, the Steelers are poised to have one of the prolific offenses in the league, with above-average players at every skill position. Read on for who I think the top five play-makers (besides Ben Roethlisberger) will be for the Steelers' offense this season.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR—If not for recurring foot injuries, which are a cause for concern in this blooming young receiver, Sanders would definitely be on this list after stealing the 3rd receiver role from Antwaan Randle El and flourishing.
Isaac Redman, RB—Isaac "Red Zone" Redman is a caged beast waiting to be unleashed, running every play like his job is on the line. The only thing keeping Redman off the list is that Rashard Mendenhall will likely take the bulk of the carries this season, with Redman seeing the field in short yardage situations.
5. Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown made a great first impression early on in his rookie season with a kickoff return for a TD on a reverse against the Tennessee Titans in week two. However, he remained relatively quiet for the rest of the regular season, only amassing 164 yards on 16 catches.
Then came the playoffs...
During the playoffs, Antonio Brown performed like a seasoned veteran, though the stat sheet may not show it, catching clutch pass after clutch pass. Said catches, include a huge 58 yard completion in the Divisional round against the Ravens that set up the go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes of the game, as well as catching the game-sealing third down conversion against the Jets in the AFC Championship game.
So far in this preseason, Antonio Brown is making a strong case to possibly supplant an injured Emmanuel Sanders as the slot receiver, being one of the only players in a Steelers jersey to play well in the first preseason game against the Redskins, as well as beating Asante Samuel for a nice touchdown against the Eagles.
I believe that while Antonio Brown may not have a huge role in the Steelers' offense, he will take every opportunity and run with it, just like last season.
4. Heath Miller
Heath Miller had a dip in production last season because of an injury that made him miss two games and the absence of Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the regular season.
Miller is definitely everything a tight end should be, with his sure hands (second in receiving yards (3,233) for a TE in franchise history) and excellent blocking skills.
Having Big Ben for the entire season will do wonders for Miller's production barring injury, and we should all be expecting big things from "Heeeeeeath!" this season.
3. Hines Ward
The Mirror Ball trophy winner is still the Steeler we all know and love. Unfortunately, Father Time is starting to catch up with him.
Last year, Hines Ward saw a significant drop in production, amassing 755 yards on 59 catches. Part of this can be blamed on the emergence of Mike Wallace, but I feel that Hines Ward's best years are behind him.
However, there is no doubt in my mind that Hines Ward will still be able to produce, though not as much as he has in past years.
Ward is still an amazing possession receiver, who can still find ways to get open with his crisp route running and veteran experience. To boot, he is also one of, if not the best blocking receivers in the league, delivering linebacker-esque hits like this one to pave the way for his teammates.
With that said, even though Ward may no longer be Ben Roethlisberger's go-to guy, his contributions to the team are invaluable, and he will still be able to make plays in what may be his final year as a professional football player.
2. Rashard Mendenhall
Rashard Mendenhall had a breakout season in 2009, and since then has established himself as one of the top backs the league has to offer.
Mendenhall's athleticism allows him to be an all-around back who can truck you, juke you out, or just run right past you. This, coupled with his high football IQ makes him a potent weapon in an already stacked Pittsburgh offense.
After rushing for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, look for Mendenhall to improve upon his success as the Steelers' workhorse running back, as well as one of the biggest playmakers on the team.
1. Mike Wallace
"One Trick Pony" is the nickname given to Mike Wallace by head coach Mike Tomlin in 2010 because of his reliance on speed to get open. Wallace used the nickname as motivation to prove Tomlin wrong, and he did just that.
Along with 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns, Mike Wallace lead the AFC with 21 yards-per-catch last year, after leading the league in yards-per-catch in his rookie year.
With his speed that very few DB's can match, and his route running ability that is only improving year after year, game after game, Mike Wallace's play-making ability is off the charts, and who knows? Maybe his 2,000 yard goal for this season will come to fruition.