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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
Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


 
 
 
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