If any quarterback demonstrates that one's inherent ability does not directly correlate with fantasy football productivity, or vice versa, it is Ben Roethlisberger.
The difference between an elite fantasy quarterback and an upper-tier NFL signal-caller is as simple as volume. It does not necessarily have anything to do with abilities or intangibles, such as accuracy, arm strength or reading a defense.
As an example, Troy Aikman was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in league history, leading a powerful dynasty roster to three championships. He was not a fantasy quarterback by any means, achieving 20 touchdown passes only once in his career (23 in 1992).
Naysayers classify these quarterbacks as overrated. Back in his day, Aikman was supported by great talent. Today, Roethlisberger is also supported, and he has failed to be the key difference in a fantasy-football driven community of modern fans.
Like Aikman's accurate arm, Roethlisberger has a cannon, able to throw on the run and avoid danger while making big plays down the field. His clutch throws and comeback games have defined his tenure in the Steel City, "steeling" wins from the jaws of defeat on a seemingly monthly basis.
As with all great leaders, the team comes first. A great quarterback knows how to win, facilitating the effort by being effective in the system to which he is assigned.
While players like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark aid Peyton Manning in an offense predicated around his skills, Roethlisberger and his many wonderful attributes were drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, a proud franchise looking to continue winning without disbanding from an identity of toughness cemented through years of success.
Big Ben came to the franchise near the end of the "Cowher era," and his role was to execute the offense already established. He came in to replace in injured Tom Maddox, played mightily as a rookie and won every regular season start in that campaign.
Over time, given increased confidence in Roethlisberger's abilities as well as the opportunity to build around his skill set, the team has allowed him the opportunity to throw more often. While not discarding the running game, Roethlisberger has seen both a 4,000-yard passing season and 30-plus touchdowns on the gridiron, the measuring stick on the football "cyber-iron."
In other words, the ability is there for him to put up fantasy football numbers. The offensive philosophy simply hasn't allowed it.
Entering 2011, the quarterback prepares for a full season, and the team has crafted a fine set of talent around him. Assuming a healthier offensive line than in 2010 (a near certainty), a balanced offense and fine group of receivers gives No. 7 the most dangerous field of weapons he has had in his career.
While Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady will rightfully be drafted ahead of Big Ben, only a fool would use statistics from his previous seasons to eliminate him from consideration as a second-starting quarterback or key player in a generous option slot.
In fact, by the end of the coming season, Roethlisberger will have surprised many, being the difference in many fantasy leagues between the champion and the afterthoughts. Few truly expect a 35-touchdown and 3,500-yard campaign by Big Ben.
But, it will happen.
Why? At last, the Steelers offense allows it to happen.
Balance in the Steelers' attack, featuring backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, will open things up for the efficiency of the passing game. A cornucopia of receiving talent will have Steelers fans thankful all season, and Roethlisberger will turn offensive optimism in Steelers Country into productivity in "Random Fantasy League 2011."
Consider some conservative expectations for his targets:
Emmanuel Sanders will improve from his position lower on the depth chart, where he had over 300 yards last year. Fans can expect 400 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
Antonio Brown, whose stunning performances this preseason flashed the promise many Steelers fans expect, could easily secure 500 yards and five more scores. In fact, that expectation could be conservative, driven down by last year's pedestrian total of 167 yards. Truly, nobody had a bigger coming out from last year's playoffs through this August than Brown.
With the combination of Hines Ward and Mike Wallace securing over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns (from 15 in 2010) and the productivity of Cotchery a complete x-factor, the totals just from the receiver position would approach 30 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards.
Roethlisberger enters the prime of his great career. While the term gunslinger is often used to describe the free-wheeling quarterback with the penchant for the unexpected, unnecessary risks—including blatantly ill-advised turnovers—should be in his rearview mirror. With maturity will come the ability to make sound decisions, an attribute Roethlisberger has always demonstrated in key late-game scenarios.
Just call him "Captain Clutch."
From 2004 through 2006 (his first three seasons), this exceeded 3 percent. Twice in the three years afterward, this rate dropped. Last year, his interception percentage dropped to 1.3 percent, by far the lowest in his career.
It's called maturation. Extending drives and being more efficient will translate into more production.
It appears Ben Roethlisberger is growing up just in time. His personal issues are a season removed from being a distraction, his caution has increased without limiting his style of play and the talent surrounding him is reason for great optimism.
In 2011, Steelers fans who choose to draft the quarterback will be able to wave their Terrible Towels during the game and on the computer.
With over 3,500 yards, 30-plus touchdowns and few turnovers, Big Ben will no longer be a "Big Bust" in fantasy draft rooms. This season will be the quarterback's most productive ever, elevating him from the popularly ascribed status of second-tier NFL quarterback to among the game's elite- a judgment that has been too largely predicated on volume-driven fantasy statistics.
Thankfully for Steelers fans, Roethlisberger's fantasy season could end as a dream come true in reality as well.
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