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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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Alfred Morris running into tough matchup
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Morris has been productive in each game so far, and currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yardage through four games. Unfortunately, he faces one of the toughest tests in the league this week. The Seahawks have yet to allow an opposing running back to score even six points this season, and their lone touchdown allowed came from little-used Packers fullback John Kuhn in Week 1. Morris has yet to face Seattle in his career, and they are unlikely to give him a very warm welcome.

Morris is nearly a must-start Fantasy option on a weekly basis, but this is one time you might want to avoid relying on him. The workload should be there, but Morris ranks outside of the top-30 for running backs in both Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard's Week 5 rankings.   


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After a collegiate career that saw him total 1,840 yards in three seasons, Seferian-Jenkins has a chance to become a big part of this Tampa Bay offense. However, he obviously has a lot to prove before you want to rely on him. Keep an eye on Seferian-Jenkins' play in Week 5 against the Saints, and consider adding him if he and Glennon show a good rapport. 


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(5:42 pm ET) Former 49ers running back LaMichael James signed with the Dolphins, reports Fox Sports. San Francisco released the oft-injured back following the season opener.

Luke Willson has a lot to prove with increased role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:35 pm ET) The Seahawks will turn to Luke Willson to start at tight end in the coming weeks, with Zach Miller sidelined by ankle surgery. Should Fantasy owners take notice?

Miller had logged 83.5 percent of the team's snaps through three games, so Willson should be in line for a much larger role as the starter. Of course, Miller was nearly a nonfactor in the passing game so far, having been targeted just seven times. Between he and Willson, quarterback Russell Wilson has targeted tight ends just eight times on 87 attempts, after 20.6 percent of his passes went their way a year ago.

Willson might be the better pass catcher of the Seahawks tight end tandem, but we don't have much to go on here. There are better tight end options worth targeting on waivers, at least until Willson proves himself. 


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(5:28 pm ET) Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder took the first-team reps Monday and Tuesday while rookie Teddy Bridgewater watched with an ankle injury. "I'm preparing to play, but we're hoping the best for Teddy," Ponder told reporters.

"I've talked to Teddy. He's doing everything he can to prepare and be ready to play."

Ponder has started 35 games, but none with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He could be under center Thursday in Green Bay. "It's a very different style of offense than what we've ran the previous three years," Ponder said. "Without Adrian [Peterson], it's different. Defenses play us differently without Adrian. I'm comfortable and fit well in it."


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The Jaguars have relied on Toby Gerhart less and less as the season has gone on, and for good reason. He is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry through four games, with a long run of just 10 yards. And, while Robinson has not been much better (3.3 yards per carry), the team appears willing to give him a bigger role, if only for a change of pace.

Robinson might have some extra value long term in PPR leagues, even if he ultimately never overtakes Gerhart for the starting job. Robinson has been targeted seven times in 70 offensive snaps, compared to seven targets for Gerhart in 133 snaps.

Clearly, the Jaguars are not thrilled with their investment in Gerhart this offseason, so Robinson is going to get more chances to cut into his playing time if he can show a pulse. At this point, Robinson is a long way from starting, but in deeper leagues, he might have some upside.


Luke Willson gets starting opportunity
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:11 pm ET) With Seahawks tight end Zach Miller recovering from ankle surgery, Luke Willson will start Monday's game in Washington, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The second-year pro caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.

"When you're the backup guy, you're kind of always prepared for it," Willson said. "I don't really feel like I'm really entering any new territory."

A fifth-round pick out of Rice, Willson started two games last year when Miller hurt his hamstring.


 
 
 
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