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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
Lions' Caldwell: Don't expect Stafford's numbers to change much
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:36 am ET) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is just one of five quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards. However, since he accomplished the feat in 2011, his passing yards have declined each season.

Stafford passed for 4,257 yards and attempted 602 passes in 2014 -- his first year under coach Jim Caldwell. While at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix this week, Caldwell said it's probably safe not to expect Stafford's numbers to change much in 2015.

"Here's the thing I want to make certain you guys understand, and see what I see just in terms of my vision," Caldwell said, per MLive.com. "When I tell you we're not going to throw the ball anymore than we threw it, that's a fact. We're probably not going to throw it (more).

"If we do throw it more, that means we're struggling, we're not winning, we're not a very good football team. OK? Plain and simple. Maybe that ball's got to be distributed a little bit differently, but I don't anticipate those numbers changing, overall, a significant amount."


Nick Foles' acquisition won't change Rams' plans to draft QB
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:26 am ET) Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the team is still looking to draft a quarterback this year, despite the acquisition of quarterback Nick Foles, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“It’s our intention to draft one,” Fisher said. “The Nick (Foles) trade has no bearing over what we do in the draft.”

The Rams have the 10th pick in the first round. It's unlikely Jamies Winston or Marcus Mariota fall that far, so unless St. Louis trades up, then they are likely looking to draft from the second-tier of quarterbacks, which includes Bryce Petty, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Garrett Grayson.

“There’s some outstanding players once you get beyond (Winston and Mariota),” Fisher said. “We’re just starting the process. My understanding based on our first-wave draft meetings is that there’s some young quarterbacks that can play.”

Petty, who played at Baylor, said in a radio interview earlier in March he intends to visit with the Rams before the draft.

“Good combine,” Fisher said. “Got a very strong arm. Good athlete. You don’t see him do things that we’re gonna ask him to do, so I think you have to see him actually work out, private workout, things like that.”


Cowboys' Garrett: DL Nick Hayden an 'important signing'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett made it a point of emphasis to mention to reporters at the NFL Meetings that re-signing defensive lineman Nick Hayden was important, reports the Dallas Morning News.

“Well, we’re always trying to get better and we have to get better,’’ Garrett said. “We have to bring some impact players into our defense. But Nick has been such a good player for us as a leader of that defensive line and he’s a really productive player. There’s a lot of the dirty work but he’s one of those guys who makes a lot of hits on the ball, is around the football a lot and simply makes a lot of plays.

"That was an important signing for us.’’

Hayden has started all 16 games with the Cowboys for two consecutive seasons. Over his seven-year career, he has 135 total tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.


Giants' Coughlin: WR Victor Cruz looks 'really good'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is encouraged that wide receiver Victor Cruz can return to form, according to the NY Daily News. Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon that forced him to miss 10 games last season.

“I think he will be back to the player that he was and hopefully better. Victor looks really good, he’s starting to run, I was in the field house watching him rehab, he’s coming along well.” … As for when Cruz will be back at practice, full-time, Coughlin added, “I don’t know. I shouldn’t say this, because medically I really do not have a definite answer, but by training camp, hopefully. He will work his way through.”

Through his five years in the NFL, Cruz has 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower to miss at least six months
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower is going to miss between six and seven months, according to the Boston Globe.

Hightower had surgery this February to repair a torn right labrum. The team is concerned that he might not be able to be ready for the start of the reguar season. He played through the injury for a good portion of the 2014 season prior to surgery.

The 25-year-old started all 12 games he played, collecting 89 total tackles, six sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.


Packers to use pistol formation more often this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) After implementing the pistol formation into the offense to help take stress off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' leg in 2014, the Packers are considering to use it more often this season, according to the Journal Sentinel.

"I like the pistol," head coach Mike McCarthy said during a break at the NFL owners meetings this week. "I think there's a lot of value regardless of the injury to Aaron. I know he likes it. There's a place for it year-round in your offense."

Although McCarthy has no intention of turning Rodgers into an option quarterback, the system provides unpredictability for opposing offenses.

"I would say this is about the third year it's been part of our pace and installation," McCarthy said. "Really, when we moved to it exclusively there at the end of the year it really wasn't a change for us.

"I liked it from a self-scout standpoint. It gives you another self-scout variable when you're in the gun, but you also have the tailback behind you. (There are a) lot of benefits to it."


Report: Vikings sign CB Terence Newman
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) The Vikings have signed cornerback Terence Newman to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with $750,000 in guarantees on Thursday, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. 

Newman spent the last three seasons with the Bengals after playing nine years for the Cowboys. The 36-year-old has had at least one interception in each year of his 13-year career. The cornerback has recorded 741 total tackles, two sacks, 147 passes defensed, 37 interceptions, and eight forced fumbles. 


Kubiak wants Peyton Manning comfortable with playbook
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak wants to make sure that all of his players are comfortable with the new offensive playbook, including quarterback Peyton Manning, reports ESPN.

“I think you prepare to help him call that game throughout the course of the week," Kubiak said. “A lot of people put emphasis on him calling plays at the line, but you’ve also prepared to do that throughout the course of the week, so you, as a coach, 'Here’s what I think is best in that situation.' In a lot of ways you’re still working together. You’re just going about it a different way."

“You never want to put a player in a position where he’s doing something he’s uncomfortable with," Kubiak said. “One of things about having a veteran, especially like Peyton, he’s going to let you know, 'This is what I do best and this is what I feel comfortable with.' That’s what you need to go do as a coach. You might tweak things here or there that you think may help, but you’re never going to take him out of his comfort zone and what he feels like he does best.”

Manning, 39, recently took a pay cut of $4 million to help clear salary cap space for the team.


LB Brandon Magee still committed to playing in NFL
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) After being released by the Buccaneers, linebacker Brandon Magee is going to participate in spring training with the Boston Red Sox. That being said, he is still committed to playing in the NFL, according to Pro Football Talk. 

Magee's agent, Blake Baratz, emailed Pro Football Talk regarding his client's desire to resume his NFL career.

“There have been rumors circulating that Brandon Magee, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, has given up football with the intention of playing professional baseball. This could not be further from the truth,” Baratz wrote. “While he does attend spring training for a few weeks up until the beginning of the NFL off-season program, he is 100% fully committed to playing in the NFL.”

Magee, 24, has seen action in 17 games the last two seasons, nine of which were in 2014 with the Buccaneers. He has registered 10 total tackles in his career.


Bill O'Brien: 'Sky's the limit' for WR DeAndre Hopkins
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) With Andre Johnson now in Indy, DeAndre Hopkins enters the 2015 season as the Texans' undisputed No. 1 receiver.

“He had a really good year last year and the sky’s the limit with Hop (Hopkins)," coach Bill O'Brien told NFL Network. "He’s an excellent young player who works extremely hard and we’re looking forward to putting together our whole receiving corps and he should be the leader of that.”

Hopkins led Houston with 1,210 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns last year. He has 128 catches for 2,012 yards and eight scores in his two NFL seasons.


 
 
 
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