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Offseason Primers: Pittsburgh Steelers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Despite having one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the league and one of the most revered defenses in the league, the Steelers appear to be on the brink of a rebuilding year.

After going 6-3 to begin last season, the Steelers hit a rough patch in their schedule while losing Ben Roethlisberger to rib and shoulder injuries for three weeks. It sent the season into a tailspin and an 8-8 finish. That was followed by some salary cap-induced roster purges, leaving the team unable and/or unwilling to retain veterans like James Harrison, Willie Colon, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall and most notably Mike Wallace. Another key player -- tight end Heath Miller -- is questionable for the start of the season after tearing his knee up in Week 16 last year.

For the first time in a while it looks like the Steelers will have low expectations.

2012 Touches Leaders
766 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Jonathan Dwyer 174 (156 car., 18 rec.) 22.7%
Isaac Redman 129 (110 car., 19 rec.) 16.8%
Antonio Brown 73 (66 rec., 7 car.) 9.5%
Heath Miller 71 rec. 9.3%
Mike Wallace 69 (64 rec., 5 car.) 9.0%
Rashard Mendenhall 60 (51 car., 9 rec.) 7.8%
Emmanuel Sanders 45 (44 rec., 1 car.) 5.9%
All Others 145 19.0%

Perhaps this all started when the offense changed course before last season by replacing Bruce Arians with Todd Haley. Under Haley the offense averaged a clean 21.0 points per week but recorded over 24 points just three times. The run game, hindered by Mendenhall's recovery from a torn ACL suffered the January prior, recorded the second-fewest rush yards by a team since the NFL expanded to a 16-game season in 1978 with 1,537. A rookie in Washington had more rushing yards by himself.

While the team can find some help at running back, losing Wallace could prove to be a killer. Though many consider him to be less than a complete receiver, his game-breaking ability gave the Steelers an edge. Replacing someone as fast and as threatening as him will be tough. He had at least eight receiving touchdowns each of the last three years and over 1,100 receiving yards in two of those three seasons.

So far this offseason the team has done little to find help for its offense. As for the guy who Haley replaced, he helped lead the Colts to an improbable playoff run last year while earning Coach of the Year honors and has since moved on to run the Arizona Cardinals' ship. The Steelers have their work cut out for them if they want to be as successful as the guy they canned in 2011.

Ben Roethlisberger -- Bust

2012 Target Leaders
574 pass attempts
Mike Wallace 119 20.7%
Antonio Brown 105 18.3%
Heath Miller 101 17.6%
Emmanuel Sanders 74 12.9%
All Others 175 30.5%

Take away a quarterback's best threat and he becomes less potent. Take away his best threat and force another weapon to rehab an injury and possibly never be the same and he becomes likely to struggle. Roethlisberger was one of just seven quarterbacks to average 20-plus Fantasy points per game in 2012, proving that he's got the ability to throw the football and pile up stats. But for the fourth straight year he's failed to start 16 games; last season he suffered nasty rib and shoulder injuries that kept him out for three weeks. The potential for Roethlisberger to miss a game or three automatically takes him out of the elite Fantasy category regardless of what his receiving corps looks like. It just so happens that his receiving corps features one nice young player in Antonio Brown and another decent youngster in Emmanuel Sanders. After that it's like he's renting receivers from the mid 2000s as Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress are his next best options. Tight end Heath Miller's status is up in the air, the offensive line isn't promised to be fixed after two starters were given the heave-ho and the run game is among the least established in the league. With so many young quarterbacks breaking through last season now is not the time to trust Roethlisberger any more than you have to. In fact, even if you can get him with a late-round pick as a Fantasy backup (!!) you're taking a slight risk considering his situation.

Heath Miller -- Bust

When Adrian Peterson came back strong from a torn ACL and MCL suffered less than nine months prior, most people just chalked it up to Peterson being a freak of nature. There aren't many people who consider Miller a freak of nature. Sure, Miller figures to diligently rehab his knee from a torn ACL, MCL and damaged PCL but the guy was never a great Fantasy option until last year when he admirably posted 7 or more Fantasy points in seven games. Taking him with a low-risk, late-round pick is fine so long as it looks like he has a chance to play in Week 1 -- that won't be known until training camp is in full swing. There could be a chance Miller begins the season on the PUP list, which would mean missing at least the first six games. If that happens then Miller wouldn't be worth drafting at all. Tight ends like Martellus Bennett, Owen Daniels, Jermaine Gresham and even Jared Cook stand to have more upside than Miller, who before last year had just one season with over 650 yards and seven touchdowns (and they weren't in the same season).

Jonathan Dwyer -- Breakout

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Ben Roethlisberger 105-115 overall
Jonathan Dwyer 80-90 overall
Isaac Redman Late-round pick
Antonio Brown 75-85 overall
Heath Miller Late-round pick
Shaun Suisham Undrafted
Steelers DST Final-round pick

In the never-ending quest for capable running backs to draft with good value in Fantasy, Dwyer stands as the best of the Steelers' bunch. With Rashard Mendenhall gone to the desert, the only capable running-downs talent left on the team is Dwyer. Last season he led the team in carries and rush yards, tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns and averaged more yards per carry than any other back on the roster. The problem was, none of those numbers were very good. But Dwyer did something worth noticing this offseason: When the Steelers gave him his restricted free agent tender, he signed it immediately citing a desire to prove he was dedicated to the team. He's since worked on his own to become a better receiver and more importantly improve his conditioning (he admitted to wearing down last season). Obviously the young man has some talent as he had back-to-back games with 100 rushing yards last season, and if he can put it all together he'll be in a position to get paid as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 because he's in a contract year now. So as long as they don't add another back via the NFL Draft, Dwyer will be worth a mid-round investment as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with upside.

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

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Player News
Raiders RB Latavius Murray racks up 108 yards vs. Bills
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:18 pm ET) Raiders running back Latavius Murray rushed for 86 yards on 23 carries and added three receptions for 22 yards in his team's 26-24 win over the Bills in Week 16.

Murray and the Raiders running game started to take off once Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus exited the game with a knee injury and did not return. The yardage was his best since breaking out for 112 yards on four carries against the Chiefs in a Thursday night win. Murray has managed 470 yards on 85 touches going into a Week 17 matchup with the Broncos in Denver.


Coby Fleener does little with seven targets
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:18 pm ET) Colts tight end Coby Fleener caught four of seven targets for 36 yards in the Week 16 loss at Dallas. He's been held under 60 receiving yards in three straight games after breaking out for 127 yards and two touchdowns Week 13.

Fleener visits the Titans in Week 17.


Teddy Bridgewater turns it around in second half
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(8:17 pm ET) Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater got off to a very slow start in his NFL career, tossing five interceptions to just one touchdown in his first four games. However, continues to turn things around, as he put together another solid performance in Week 16 against the Dolphins.

Bridgewater tossed a pair of touchdowns to just one interception on 26 attempts Sunday, his fourth game with more scores than turnovers in the last five. He also passed for 259 yards, bringing his three-game total to 883 yards, by far the best stretch of his career.

Bridgewater now has 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions on the season, however he has been much improved of late. Over the last eight games, heading into the season finale, Bridgewater has 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, while completing 65.5 percent of his passes and racking up 237.3 yards per game.

He hasn't been a Fantasy star, but he has certainly shown flashes of that kind of ability. He has at least 17 Fantasy points in each of his last five games, and could finish the season with a flourish in Week 17 against the Bears. Bridgewater looks like a keeper, and could be in the discussion as a starting Fantasy option for his second season in the league.  


Jets DST surprises against Patriots
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(8:16 pm ET) Facing one of the league's most prolific offenses, the Jets defense continued its good run Week 16 against the Patriots, allowing 17 points on 231 yards. It was the third time in four games that the Jets allowed less than 20 points.

They also equaled a season-high with four sacks. They had just one takeaway, an interception by Marcus Williams, but still, the performance amounted to 14 Fantasy points for the Jets DST in standard CBSSports.com leagues, just its fifth game with double-digit points this season.

Of course, you probably shouldn't expect lightning to strike twice Week 17 at Miami. Even if the Jets have limited their opponents' scoring in recent weeks, it hasn't amount to much Fantasy production for their DST.


Hakeem Nicks leads the way in T.Y. Hilton's absence
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) With the Colts missing top wideout T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) on Sunday at Dallas, Hakeem Nicks drew a game-high 11 targets and set season highs with nine catches for 72 yards. It was Nicks' first game with more than 50 receiving yards all season.

Rookie wideout Donte Moncrief got the start in place of Hilton but ended up with two catches for 5 yards.

Veteran Reggie Wayne hauled in three of five targets for 23 yards. Wayne dropped one pass and recorded his fifth straight game with 31 or fewer receiving yards.

Hilton is expected to be available Week 17 when the Colts visit the Titans.


Raiders QB Derek Carr throws two TDs in Week 16 win
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:14 pm ET) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed just 17 of his 34 pass attempts for 214 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in his team's 26-24 win over the Bills in Week 16.

Carr opened the second quarter by finding a wide-open James Jones in the back of the end zone for a three-yard score. He hit his fullback on a one-yard flare route with less than three minutes left in the game to extend his team's lead to nine points, an insurance touchdown that came in handy when the Bills were able to answer with a score a few minutes later.

Carr opened the season with 10 straight losses but has won three of his last five games, with all three of his wins coming at home. He'll hit the road for a Week 17 matchup with the Broncos in Denver.


Bills K Dan Carpenter scores six points vs. Raiders
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:09 pm ET) Bills kicker Dan Carpenter made his only field-goal attempt and added three extra points in his team's 26-24 loss to the Raiders in Week 16.

Carpenter closed out the first half by nailing a 54-yard kick, giving him six makes in eight attempts of at least 50 yards this season. He's made 33 of his 37 field-goal attempts on the season. The kicker has a trip to New England on tap for Week 17.


Bills' Robert Woods, Scott Chandler catch TDs in Week 16
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:06 pm ET) Bills wide receiver Robert Woods and tight end Scott Chandler both caught touchdowns in Buffalo's 26-24 loss in Oakland in Week 16.

Chandler caught a pass over the middle at about the 10-yard line early in the fourht quarter and outmuscled a defender into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown that cut his team's deficit to two points. Unfortunately, the Bills were again down by two scores when Robert Woods hauled in a 30-yard touchdown with just 69 seconds left on the game clock, and the team was unable to recover the successive onside kick.

Woods finished the game with seven receptions on nine targets for 52 yards while Chandler managed four receptions on six targets for 37 yards. Both players will square off with the Patriots in Week 17.


Colts RBs average 0.1 yards per carry in blowout loss
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:06 pm ET) Colts running backs Dan Herron and Trent Richardson were non-factors in the Week 16 loss at Dallas. Herron ran seven times for 3 yards, while Richardson rushed twice for 1 yard. Running back Zurlon Tipton  had one carry for minus-3 yards, leaving the team with an average of 0.1 yards per carry.

Herron did catch three of four targets for 37 yards, and Tipton caught all four of his targets for 23 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown. Richardson secured both his targets for 8 yards.

Look for Herron to lead the backfield Week 17 at Tennessee, and in the playoffs.


Bills WR Sammy Watkins scores 42-yard TD vs. Raiders
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:01 pm ET) Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins caught just three of his seven targets but racked up 75 yards and a touchdown in his team's 26-24 loss to the Raiders in Week 16.

Watkins hauled in a 42-yard pass in the end zone for the first score of the game in the first quarter but was held relatively in check over the rest of the day. His touchdown was his first since the end of October. The rookie is up to 62 receptions, 925 yards and six touchdowns. He'll be looking for a 1,000-yard season when the Bills head to New England in Week 17.


 
 
 
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