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.
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.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|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.
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.
|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.
Mendenhall (knee; doubtful for the start of training camp) ... Casey Hampton (knee; probable for the start of training camp)