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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Pittsburgh Steelers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator for the Steelers for the past five seasons, but when his contract expired after 2011 he left the team. He was replaced by Todd Haley, and the move didn't initially sit well with franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

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Roethlisberger and Arians were close, and Roethlisberger's best years as a passer came under Arians. But Roethlisberger, after a rocky introduction with Haley, has expressed confidence in the new coordinator, and he is ready to run what he has described as "a 90 percent change" in the offense.

Under Arians, the Steelers became a pass-happy bunch, which is why Roethlisberger enjoyed playing for him. Haley's attack is more balanced even though he had success in his last stop as an offensive coordinator in Arizona with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Haley will try to run more than the 434 times Pittsburgh carried the ball in 2011.

The potential hold up for the Steelers running the ball more this year is Rashard Mendenhall (knee) could be out to start the season after suffering a torn ACL in the 2011 season finale at Cleveland. We have plenty of confidence in Isaac Redman to carry the load, as do the Steelers, but the strength of this offense remains in the passing game with Roethlisberger.

That is, of course, if Mike Wallace does not have a lengthy holdout. The standout receiver wants a contract extension, and the Steelers need him on the field for Week 1 at Denver if they want their offense to succeed. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are nice complementary options (Hines Ward has retired), but Wallace is their best receiver.

It would be nice if Mendenhall is active as well for the season opener, but we're not optimistic he will recover in time to avoid a spot on the PUP list. Mendenhall is actually someone to avoid in the majority of leagues on Draft Day.

We still expect Roethlisberger to be successful, and he should be considered a low-end No. 1 Fantasy quarterback. Even with the change in coordinators he should post quality stats, and he is worth drafting in Round 6 or 7 after most of the elite quarterbacks come off the board. If you're the owner who is inclined to wait on drafting a quarterback then Roethlisberger is a great player to target on Draft Day.

Pittsburgh Steelers Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Ben Roethlisberger 7
Running Backs
Isaac Redman 8
Rashard Mendenhall 11
Chris Rainey ND
Jonathan Dwyer ND
Wide Receivers
Mike Wallace 3
Antonio Brown 6
Emmanuel Sanders ND
Jerricho Cotchery ND
Tight Ends
Heath Miller ND
Kickers/Defense
Shaun Suisham ND
Steelers DST 13
ND - not expected to get drafted

Sleeper ... Isaac Redman, running back
Redman should have the opportunity to lead the way for the Steelers' run game with Mendenhall out or limited to start the season. Redman looked great in the playoffs against Denver with Mendenhall out, rushing for 121 yards on 17 carries with two catches for 21 yards, so he showed he can handle the role. The likes of Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey will compete for reps with Redman, but for now he seems to be the most likely candidate to not only pick up at least 15 touches per game but also work at the goal-line. We consider Redman a candidate to begin the season as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with the chance to start in most leagues sooner rather than later. He is worth drafting in Round 7 or 8 in the majority of formats.

Breakout ... Antonio Brown, wide receiver
There's a lot to like about Brown this year, and I consider him a potential starter in all leagues. You should be able to draft him as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but he can easily be a Top 20 option if he plays to his talent level. Last year, Brown had 69 catches for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns, and all he needs is a few more scores for his Fantasy value to skyrocket. He's entering his third year in the NFL, which is typically a breakout season for receivers, and the Steelers could lean on him more with Ward gone. If Wallace is a holdout because of his contract then Brown's value will rise, and I expect him to build off last year's performance in a breakout campaign. He's a great receiver to draft in Round 6 after all the big-name guys come off the board.

Keeper-league target ... Chris Rainey, running back
The Steelers took Rainey out of Florida in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Rainey might not help Fantasy owners right away, but he could be a contributor on offense for the Steelers in the passing game. Rainey has explosive speed (4.37 second 40-yard dash) and was a dual threat with the Gators, where he ran for 861 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. He also caught 31 passes for 381 yards and two scores and has done work on punt returns. He is small and has a history of shoulder injuries, so chances are he won't be a regular player -- at least not right away. But with Mewelde Moore gone and the Steelers needing someone to potentially play on third downs, he could be useful. We wouldn't draft Rainey in standard leagues, but he is someone to monitor in PPR formats. Otherwise expect him to go late in dynasty/keeper leagues and with a mid-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@DEN NYJ @OAK bye PHI @TEN @CIN WAS @NYG KC BAL @CLE @BAL SD @DAL CIN CLE
The Steelers are going to have their hands full with quality offenses this season, but they'll also be able to move the ball at will in most games. They'll get Peyton Manning with the Broncos before anyone else and will get a good look at the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow dynamic in Week 2. They should be in a number of close games that should border on high scoring -- that's good for Fantasy owners and not necessarily good for the Steelers' win column. Some quirks: Haley will get a chance to call plays against his former team (Kansas City) in Week 10, and the Steelers play the Ravens twice in three weeks starting in Week 11. Their season ends well with three home games in four weeks, including the Chargers flying in for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff in Week 14.

Training camp topics

The Steelers are changing things on offense with Haley now calling plays, and it would be great to see Mendenhall and Wallace on the field in camp. Mendenhall needs to prove he's healthy, and Wallace needs to have his contract sorted out.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Rashard Mendenhall 228 carries, 18 catches
Isaac Redman 110 carries, 18 catches
Mike Wallace 72 catches, 5 carries
Antonio Brown 69 catches, 7 carries
Heath Miller 51 catches, 1 carry

If Wallace does show up on time he would remain a solid No. 1 Fantasy option worth a pick in Round 3. A lengthy holdout would lower his value, especially since he won't get a chance to work on the new plays in Haley’s system.

We also want to see how Roethlisberger adjusts to Haley, and the Steelers are trying to revamp their offensive line after drafting rookie guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams. If both pan out then the Steelers offensive line should improve, which would help everyone.

Fantasy owners should also keep an eye on the No. 3 receiver battle between Sanders and Cotchery. We hope Sanders wins the job because he has more upside, and he could turn into a solid waiver wire addition if he starts off the season playing well.

Injury update

Mendenhall (knee; doubtful for the start of training camp) ... Casey Hampton (knee; probable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Steelers LB Ryan Shazier expected to play Week 8
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, who's missed four straight games with a sprained knee, is expected to suit up Week 8 against the Colts, reports ESPN.com.

LeSean McCoy should see bigger role if Darren Sproles is out
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) With Darren Sproles likely out for Week 8 against the Cardinals, how will the Eagles fill the hole in their offense this Sunday?  

Chris Polk is the third running back on the depth chart, but he might not have the skills to fill in for Sproles. He has just four career receptions in the NFL, and wasn't much of a pass-catcher in college, with a career-high of 31 catches as a senior. And, of course, he is dealing with his own injury issues, with a hamstring that may still keep him sidelined Sunday.

Of course, the Eagles already have a pretty fantastic option to catch passes out of the backfield in LeSean McCoy. McCoy has taken a step back as a pass-catcher this season, with just 16 through six games, but he does have at least 50 in three of the last four seasons. He should do just fine.

This is a tough matchup for McCoy, as the Cardinals have allowed just 10.7 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Still, with McCoy likely to get a steady workload given the injuries, he has to be in your starting lineup for Week 7, even given his struggles.


Report: Ray Rice's appeal to be held Nov. 5-6
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) The appeal hearing for former Ravens running back Ray Rice will be held Nov. 5-6, reports NFL Network. Rice is appealing his indefinite suspension from the league for a domestic violence incident in February.

Former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones will hear and decide the appeal.


Giants RB Andre Williams asked to show more patience
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Giants rookie running back Andre Williams often fails to let his blocks materialize, making it harder to find a crease, according to The Star-Ledger. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry over the past two weeks as Rashad Jennings' replacement.

"I think for all young players, they have a tendency to really get in a hurry, but I think that he is getting more patient as he continues to go," running backs coach Craig Johnson said.

The Giants are on a bye Week 8 before hosting the Colts in Week 9 on Monday Night Football. Jennings hopes to return from his knee injury against Indy, but if he can't Williams will make his third start.


Patriots' running back situation mostly clear
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:22 pm ET) Forget about Brandon Bolden. The Patriots' use of him against the Jets in Week 7 -- he played only one snap -- pretty much tells the story there. Granted, they've had their share of about-faces at the running back spot over the last few years, so I wouldn't dare claim to know what they're thinking, but if they've decided their next-best choice at the position is Jonas Gray, who at least saw the field for 11 plays Thursday, it's pretty clear what direction they intend to go, right?

With that in mind, I cautiously, carefully and with a preemptive tinge of regret plan to start Shane Vereen Week 8 against Chicago and hopefully every week thereafter. Yes, he played 80 percent of the snaps in Week 7, and yes, he scored two touchdowns. But you'll notice both of them came through the air. True, he also got more than two-thirds of the Patriots' carries, but I can't help but wonder if in a different matchup, one that encouraged them to pound the ball instead of rushing just 15 times as a team, they would have been more creative. That would work to Vereen's detriment, obviously.

For more of my biggest takeaways from Week 7, be sure to check out my latest post to the Fantasy Football Today blog.


Darren McFadden still carries limited value
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:16 pm ET) Raiders running back Darren McFadden has fallen on such hard times that even a three-week span with one double-digit Fantasy performance counts as a career renaissance. Does he have another level he can take his game to?

McFadden ranks 29th among running backs in Fantasy points over his last three games, but has just 25 Fantasy points. This might be more indicative of just how bad the position has been recently, as he isn't exactly lighting the world on fire. McFadden has topped 4.0 yards per carry just once this season, and has registered one or more Fantasy points through the air in just two games.

McFadden gets work, which will always make him an interesting Fantasy option, no matter how mediocre he is. Still, there are higher upside options out there than McFadden, who also carries the constant risk of injury. As a third Fantasy running back, McFadden is fine, but he doesn't have much more value than that at this point.  


Dolphins RB Lamar Miller wearing brace on right knee
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Dolphins running back Lamar Miller practiced Tuesday wearing a brace on his right knee, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Miller has been on the injury report lately with a knee injury, but it's not believed to be serious. He has not missed a game.

Martavis Bryant a threat to Markus Wheaton
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:11 pm ET) Wide receiver Markus Wheaton didn't impress through the first six weeks of the season, so the Steelers saw fit to give someone else a chance Week 7 against Houston. Active for the first time this season, Martavis Bryant had as productive a day as any pass catcher not named Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell, hauling in two passes for 40 yards, including a 35-yarder in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. His five targets were third-most on the team, and no one after him had more than two.

That includes Wheaton, who was among those with two targets, going without a catch. He actually played 48 percent of the Steelers' snaps compared to Bryant's 34 percent, which makes his lack of production even more discouraging. Considering he's been up around 80 percent most of the year, he may be in danger of being overtaken.

Of course, Wheaton probably wouldn't disappear completely, and because Antonio Brown is still the go-to guy in the Steelers passing game, Bryant probably wouldn't have the opportunity for big numbers in his place. But in leagues deep enough that Wheaton is relevant, Bryant is now, too.


Bills put C.J. Spiller on short-term IR
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:10 pm ET) The Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve/designated for return, meaning he's eligible to return Week 16 at Oakland. Spiller had surgery Monday to fix the broken collarbone he suffered Sunday against the Vikings.

Outlook for Le'Veon Bell continues to improve
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 pm ET) Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell averaged 4.7 receptions per game through his first six games, but because he was involved in the passing game only intermittently as a rookie, you had reason to wonder if you could rely on him for that long-term.

But then he went and caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against the Texans in Week 7, putting him second among all running backs with 36 receptions, behind only Matt Forte (who remains in a class of his own). In PPR leagues, he's also third among running backs, behind Forte and DeMarco Murray, in Fantasy points to date.

Even better, his touchdown came from the 2-yard line -- a situation where the Steelers may have gone to LeGarrette Blount earlier in the season. Only one of Blount's seven carries even came in Texans' territory in this one.

Bell's touchdown total seven weeks into the season may be disappointing, but in terms of his receiving ability and role on offense, the verdict is in. If we were re-drafting today, he might be one of the first five running backs off the board.


 
 
 
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