The Steelers are the defending Super Bowl champions this year, and their team remains stout. They should be competitive again. The defense is intact, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense returns ready to go and they still play in a division they should win.
But while Pittsburgh is a great team, the Steelers don't have many great Fantasy options. For the most part, when you look at Pittsburgh, you're looking for reserve options, because the players never post overwhelming stats. Sure, you'll get moments with Willie Parker here or Hines Ward there, but they never do enough on a consistent basis to guarantee a starting spot. It's a source of frustration given the success of the team.
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Take away Roethlisberger's big year in 2007 when he passed for 32 touchdowns, and Big Ben is a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. In his four other seasons he never topped 18 touchdowns, and that's what you have to expect from him. Ward passes as a No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver, but at 33 and dealing with knee issues throughout his career, at some point he's going to break down. Santonio Holmes, who scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, is boom or bust every week. And in the running game, Parker can still start some weeks, but we expect Rashard Mendenhall and even Mewelde Moore to steal touches. The only lock as a starter in your Fantasy lineup should be the Steelers DST, which remain a dominant unit.
Sleeper ... Limas Sweed, WR
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The Steelers are expecting big things for Sweed this year with Nate Washington now in Tennessee. He assumes the No. 3 wide receiver spot behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and Sweed showed in the playoffs he could be a playmaker. He has to get over some drop issues, but we think he should be fine. He showed in college at Texas that he can be a star, and the Steelers are going to eventually make the transition from Ward to Sweed, just not this year. But with Ward getting banged up the last four years, there will some weeks where Sweed could start. Washington has averaged 35 catches, 568 yards and four touchdowns a year the past three seasons in this role, so don't be afraid to draft Sweed with a late-round pick. He could end up as a No. 4 Fantasy option in deeper leagues.
Breakout ... Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Mendenhall should have been a breakout player last season when Willie Parker missed five games due to injury. But Mendenhall was hurt also with a shoulder injury, and his rookie year was limited to four games. Mewelde Moore benefitted with both guys out, but we like Mendenhall to play well this year. He's still the backup to Parker, but Mendenhall could be the short-yardage back and also factor into games as part of a tandem. The Steelers likely want to make sure Parker is ready for the playoffs, and we've seen Parker struggle to score the past two seasons with only seven touchdowns over that span. Don't reach too early on Mendenhall on Draft Day, but he's worth taking as a low-end No. 3 option with a mid-round pick. Mendenhall is definitely a sophomore to target as a second-year breakout after a disappointing rookie season.
Bust ... Santonio Holmes, WR
Holmes definitely steps up in big games, there's no doubt about that. His playoff run and Super Bowl MVP last year were amazing, but he's not going to turn into Larry Fitzgerald or Randy Moss as a result. Holmes tends to disappear too much during the regular season -- he had eight games with three catches or less last year and six games with less than 35 yards receiving. If you started him during those weeks you were likely pulling your hair out. He also had no 100-yard games and just five touchdowns. Holmes plays great against AFC North opponents, especially when he returns to Ohio against Cleveland and Cincinnati since he played at Ohio State, but he's just a No. 3 Fantasy option. If you're expecting Holmes to start for you then you're going to be disappointed. Only Hines Ward is worth consideration as a No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver for the Steelers.
Training camp topics
The Steelers have to find the motivation to repeat as Super Bowl champions after winning the title last year. In 2006, after winning the title the year before, the team fell apart due to injuries and poor play. Ben Roethlisberger suffered the most with a motorcycle accident and appendectomy prior to the season and finished with a miserable year. Now, their offseason hasn't been nearly as tumultuous as that season, but there could be some complacency. That should be the Steelers only concern. Otherwise, pencil them in for the playoffs.
For Fantasy owners, making sure Willie Parker and Hines Ward are healthy is a key. There are capable backups waiting to take over in Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed if the starters get hurt, and Mewelde Moore could again be a waiver wire find if given a chance. The one thing Fantasy owners can definitely count on is the Steelers DST, which is an outstanding unit with James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu leading the way. You can safely draft the Steelers DST as the first option at that position and have little worries about their production.
Injury update ... Ben Roethlisberger (Knee; considered probable to start training camp).
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