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.
|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%|
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
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
|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|
|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.