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2010 Draft Prep: Score big with Big Ben

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Rare is the story that breaks down a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. Then again, there haven't been many No. 2 Fantasy quarterbacks like this one.

From a talent perspective, Ben Roethlisberger is among the Top 10 in the league at his position. He's a big-bodied, big-armed passer with reliable receiving weapons who plays in an offense that hasn't been shy to put the ball in the air early and often. You'd want him to be your Fantasy quarterback. But because he'll be suspended to start the season due to an off-field incident in Georgia, no one can or should draft him to be their starter.

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Drafting him to be your backup, however, will pay huge dividends.

Let's start with Roethlisberger's average draft position: 116th overall, or just before Round 10 in a 12-team league. That makes him, on average, the 16th quarterback off the board, behind the likes of Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb. That's a safe estimate on where you can find Roethlisberger, but when you consider that he outproduced each of those quarterbacks last season playing in roughly the same amount of games, you start to realize just how much of a bargain he'll be.

Granted, the Steelers' offense is altered from last year's version. Gone is Santonio Holmes, who is now with the Jets and slated to serve a suspension of his own following an off-field incident. Replacing him is Mike Wallace, who destroyed defenses with the deep ball several times in 2009. While he'll take Holmes' spot, other receivers will be left to fill in as the slot guy for Wallace, including Antwaan Randle El and rookie Emmanuel Sanders, who actually has some Wallace-like qualities. Heath Miller remains at tight end, which is a positive since he caught more than 20 percent of the passes Roethlisberger completed last season. And the run game is still bolstered by Rashard Mendenhall, who has good enough hands to catch passes too, though all elements of the Steelers' offense should be tempered by the offensive line, which is banged up and has playing players out of position before the regular-season gun has gone off. Still, it's clear that Roethlisberger will have good tools to work with in 2010.

Any quarterback with that kind of potential and supporting cast should be on Draft Day wish lists. But what keeps Roethlisberger off said lists is the suspension, which doesn't have a cut-and-dried timeframe. Originally, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave Roethlisberger a six-game suspension but said he'd consider cutting it if the quarterback complied with a behavioral evaluation and also stayed in good graces. Roethlisberger has gone above and beyond what's been asked of him and signs point to his suspension being reduced to four games (an official verdict might come following the Steelers' final preseason game).

If that's the case, Roethlisberger would miss the Steelers' first four games and rejoin the team for their Week 5 bye week before presumably playing in Week 6 vs. the Browns. That means he'd be a very sought-after one-week replacement for any quarterback with a bye week from Week 6 on. That would include all three of the elite Fantasy passers out there (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers) as well as Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Kevin Kolb, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Matt Schaub. There is no shortage of starting Fantasy passers who could be easily be replaced for a week by Roethlisberger.

And once Roethlisberger makes his fill-in appearance, he can be traded. Naturally this is assuming that someone in your league needs a quarterback and that you're comfortable trading Big Ben away. But at the onset of the season it's perfectly reasonable to draft Roethlisberger with the idea that he'll be a one-week starter who you can trade for roster help.

That's something no other No. 2 Fantasy quarterback can deliver. There are some with potential (Matthew Stafford, Chad Henne, Matt Cassel) and others who are considered known quantities (Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith, Vince Young), but none have the solid statistical track record that Roethlisberger can offer. And none of these guys will fetch as much in trade as Roethlisberger should, either.

Drafting Roethlisberger to be your No. 1

Let's put you in a situation on Draft Day: You land a stud running back in Round 1, stud receivers in Rounds 2, 3 and 4, a second stud running back falls to you in Round 5, a quality receiver falls into your lap in Round 6, another capable rusher ends up on your team in Round 7 and somehow the best tight end on the board is there for the taking in Round 8. Suddenly, it's Round 9 and your team is loaded everywhere -- except at quarterback.

Believe it or not, the case can be made to take Roethlisberger to be your No. 1 option. Is it an ideal avenue for you to travel on Draft Day? Obviously not since he'll be gone for at least the first five weeks of your Fantasy season. But it doesn't mean that it cannot be an option.

First off, which quarterback -- or quarterbacks -- should owners consider starting in Big Ben's place while suspended? Right off the bat you could roll with Byron Leftwich, who is replacing Roethlisberger on the Steelers. Leftwich's four starts come against the Falcons at home, the Titans in Tennessee, the Buccaneers at Tampa Bay and the Ravens at home. Not exactly a cakewalk, but certainly an opening slate that compares favorably to other quarterbacks who aren't being picked regularly as Fantasy starters. Owners could draft Leftwich, then drop him after Week 4 for a passer with a favorable matchup in Week 5. Such quarterbacks you could find off waivers include Sam Bradford (at Detroit), Trent Edwards (vs. Jacksonville) and David Garrard (at Buffalo). Once Week 5 is over, Roethlisberger becomes your starter, and your team frees up a roster spot if you so choose since you won't need a backup quarterback anymore.

A second option is to play the waiver wire for quarterbacks until Roethlisberger is eligible to return. Here's a quick grid of non-obvious quarterbacks with favorable matchups who you could use on a week-to-week basis for the first five games of the season.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Sam Bradford, STL
vs. Arizona
Sam Bradford, STL
at Oakland
Matt Leinart, ARI*
vs. Oakland
Sam Bradford, STL
vs. Seattle
Sam Bradford, STL
at Detroit
Jake Delhomme, CLE
at Tampa Bay
Jason Campbell, OAK
vs. St. Louis
Donovan McNabb, WAS
at St. Louis
Jason Campbell, OAK
vs. Houston
Trent Edwards, BUF
vs. Jacksonville
Josh Freeman, TB
vs. Cleveland
Matt Cassel, KC
at Cleveland
Alex Smith, SF
at Kansas City
Matt Hasselbeck, SEA
at St. Louis
David Garrard, JAC
at Buffalo
Chad Henne, MIA
at Buffalo
Jake Delhomme, CLE
vs. Kansas City
  Mark Sanchez, NYJ
at Buffalo
Matthew Stafford, DET
vs. St. Louis
Matt Leinart, ARI*
at St. Louis
Josh Freeman, TB
at Carolina
     
Kyle Orton, DEN
at Jacksonville
Donovan McNabb, WAS
vs. Houston
     
Alex Smith, SF
at Seattle
Matt Moore, CAR
vs. Tampa Bay
     
Vince Young, TEN
vs. Oakland
       

Curiously, the name that appears the most on this list is Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who opens the season with the Cardinals at home, the Raiders on the road, the Redskins at home, the Seahawks at home and the Lions on the road. That's as good as it gets as far as early-season schedules for non-stud quarterbacks. Bradford isn't getting drafted in the majority of leagues, so if you found yourself looking for an early-season starter to pick up the slack while Roethlisberger sits, Bradford is a decent choice.

Ultimately, Roethlisberger won't have 4,000 yards passing or 25 touchdowns this season because four games are being taken away from him right off the bat. But for a guy who averaged over 275 yards passing per game last season, he's certainly a value no matter how you slice it.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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