Can you feel it?
The draft and free agency are over, team OTAs are wrapping up, and rosters are set. Fantasy Football is in the air, and diehard owners have been studying up for months, preparing to make this their year.
My deepest condolences to the wives and girlfriends out there. Be strong.
Anyway, with depth charts almost set in stone, now is a great time to bring back my Fantasy 32 series, where I preview all 32 teams in the NFL. Yes, I know. The creativity surrounding that name is stellar. I figured I’d start in Pittsburgh, looking at a team I’ve been very intrigued by throughout the entire offseason. The Steelers looked like a playoff team during the second half of the season last year, largely due to a new implementation on the offensive side of the ball.
It excites me. Let’s get going.
I once compared Ben Roethlisberger to the off-brand version of Dr Pepper called Dr. Thunder. It’s not as flashy or as popular as Pepper, but when you are thirsty, it gets the job done.
The same applies to Big Ben and fantasy football.
Is he as elite as the big three? No. Does he put up their type of numbers? Negative. However, is he a top-12 fantasy quarterback like them? Well, yeah, he is. Roethlisberger was very quietly the 10th-best scoring fantasy passer last year, tossing 29 touchdowns and passing for 4,261 yards. In fact, he’s thrown for over 4,000 yards in three straight seasons now, and over the last four years, has finished as QB6, 16, 8, 13 and 10. Not too shabby, no?
I love Ben this year as, once again, a sneaky top-12 passer. He’s got strong weapons in the passing game, but more importantly, the offense is finally being catered to him. From Week 9 on last year, offensive coordinator Todd Haley finally got out of the way and let Ben run the hurry-up offense. It worked wonders, as he averaged 22 fantasy points per game from then on. If you extrapolate those numbers for a full 16-game season, he’d be the third-best fantasy option. The hurry-up helped him stay upright, too. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune, Ben was sacked just 11 times after the hurry-up was implemented, compared to 32 times prior. And the Steelers offense as a whole was better, scoring 223 points, 67 more than in the first eight weeks (via Alan Robinson).
Ben may not be a top-five quarterback, but he’s continually been a top-12 one.
Remember the days where the Steelers were alternating between the likes of Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer? Yeah, long gone are those days, as Le’Veon Bell is the back of the future for this ball club. He dealt with injury to start his rookie campaign, but when he was on the field, he was very productive. His 12.3 fantasy points per game where the 10th-most among running backs, and was an absolute workhorse for the Steelers, ranking fourth among rushers in snaps per game (52.1). Bell scored a touchdown in each of his final three games, ultimately finishing as a top-12 fantasy back almost 70 percent of the time.
Meanwhile, the Steelers brought in LeGarratte Blount, and a lot of people are worried about Bell’s prospects with Blount in the mix. While Blount may seem like the better goal line back, he actually hasn’t been very productive from up close, while last year, seven of Bell’s eight rushing scores came inside the five-yard line. It may not have been pretty (3.5 YPC), but Bell got the job done, and proved to be a good short-yardage back. Plus, I don’t see Blount as the guy they would have in the backfield in the hurry-up. Bell is going to catch a ton of passes this year, too. Consider him a low-end RB1, high-end RB2.
Before last year, I wrote an articled titled “I Love Antonio Brown And You Should Too.” Well, it’s June of 2014, and I still love him. Brown had a career campaign in 2013, finishing second in both receptions (110) and yardage (1,499), while finding the end zone eight times. Per FootballGuys, he ratio of receptions-per-route-run was 20.6 percent, the 7th-best among wideouts. The guy is always on the field, too, averaging 65 snaps per game. Now, with the hurry-up, he should see even more volume, a year after seeing 166 targets. Draft him, set it and forget it.
The Steelers receiving corp is a bit deeper this year. Markus Wheaton looks to take a step forward and they drafted a big target in the passing game in Martavis Bryant. Pittsburgh hopes this can be the first big target since the days of Plaxico Burress. Meanwhile, Jericho Cotchery isn’t there to snag 10 touchdowns, somehow.
If you miss on some of the top tier tight ends, look for Heath Miller late. Last year was kind of an anomaly, as he rushed back from an injury and never really saw the same production. However, I absolutely love him for 2014. Pittsburgh is going to throw the ball a lot more than people think, and Ben loves targeting his security blanket, especially in the red zone. In 2012, Miller led all tight ends in red zone targets (20), en route to eight touchdowns. Don’t sleep on him.