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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Pittsburgh Steelers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Every year there are teams that are expected to bounce back after missing the playoffs.

The Steelers are one of those teams in 2014. They finished the second half of last season with a 6-2 record, winning those games on average by 11.5 points. That's thanks to a no-huddle approach adopted by the offense at the midseason, something that should stay in place. The key players on offense and the coaching staff also remain the same -- all the more reason to believe this team is on the rise.

Another thing this team did was get younger. Veterans like LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark were wiped out from the defense while Jerricho Cotchery, Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer left the offense. Emmanuel Sanders is also gone, though he's not exactly old. The draft netted do-it-all linebacker Ryan Shazier while free agency brought in safety Mike Mitchell and running back LeGarrette Blount. Lance Moore is also now a Steeler, though he isn't exactly young. All in all, only seven starters -- three on offense, four on defense -- from the Super Bowl XLV team in 2010 are still on the roster.

Everyone in Pittsburgh is hoping it works out, none more than Mike Tomlin, who has led the team to consecutive 8-8 records and, more importantly, zero playoff berths (close didn't count last year). The Steelers aren't known for moving on from coaches so easily but the franchise hasn't gone three straight years without a winning season since 1969-1971. That predates Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll. Suffice to say, the seat Tomlin is sitting on is already quite warm and will get progressively hotter if the team can't win games.

Good late-round investment ... Ben Roethlisberger

Big Ben finished last season very productive, putting up an average of 22.2 Fantasy points per game in his final nine, propelling him to a Top 10 finish at the position. But the loss of two receivers he found to be reliable could sting -- Sanders posted career-bests in a contract year and then bolted to Denver while Cotchery (10 touchdowns. Really!) moved on to Carolina. Moore, the former Saint, second-year receiver Markus Wheaton, rookie Martavis Bryant and perennial disappointment Darrius Heyward-Bey will attempt to pick up the slack. If those guys can pick up the offense then Roethlisberger should have no problem being helpful for owners, especially since he'll still have sure-handed do-it-all speedster Antonio Brown to throw to. Whether you take a quarterback with your first six picks or not, Roethlisberger should be on your radar starting in Round 10.

Sleeper ... Markus Wheaton

Last season was a wash for Wheaton as finger injuries kept him off the field. The reality is that he probably wouldn't have played much even if his digits were undamaged because the Steelers were flush with wideouts. That's not the case now, so the former third-round pick will be asked to step up and work in what used to be Sanders' role. Wheaton caught 227 passes for nearly 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in college, so he's not fresh off the turnip truck. The opportunity combined with his speed and skill set should give him a shot to be a contributor. He's worth a look late in every league but specifically in PPR and three-receiver lineups.

Late-round target ... LeGarrette Blount

True, the running back marketplace was sub-standard in the NFL this spring, but Blount was among the most efficient rushers available after gaining 5.0 yards per carry with the Patriots last year. And like New England, the Steelers figure to be running a lot of no-huddle offense, which is something Blount is plenty used to by now. But where Blount will end up making his hay is near the goal line, where seven of the Steelers' nine rushing touchdowns came from 5 yards or closer last year. Believe it or not, just four of Blount's 10 scores last season came from 5 yards or closer, but it's still something he can easily do. The Steelers' O-line is reloaded, the passing game should keep the safeties from cheating down and if anything were to happen to Le'Veon Bell, then Blount would be in line for a massive workload. At the very least Blount could be a source for Fantasy points as a bye-week replacement but offers plenty in the way of depth.

Schedule analysis

2013 Touches Leaders
771 total touches
Le'Veon Bell 289 (244 car., 45 rec.) 37.5%
Antonio Brown 117 (110 rec., 7 car.) 15.2%
Emmanuel Sanders 68 (67 rec., 1 car.) 8.8%
Heath Miller 58 rec. 7.5%
Jonathan Dwyer 57 (49 car., 8 rec.) 7.4%
Felix Jones 57 (48 car., 9 rec.) 7.4%
All Others 125 16.2%

The Steelers start the year with two games in five days, home against the Browns and at the Ravens on Thursday night. That's followed by a Week 3 jaunt to Carolina. Not the kind of start you'd draw up. But things ease up for them, helped by three straight home games in Weeks 7-9 against the Texans, Colts and Ravens. A late Week 12 bye makes their starters more appealing for Fantasy owners. Their final four games are at Cincy, at Atlanta, Kansas City at home in Week 16 and Cincinnati at home, all potentially tough matchups in crunch time. That Week 17 game might end up having some serious playoff implications. Overall, I'd say the schedule sets up better for Roethlisberger than for Bell, but the Steelers DST should really get off to a great start.

Training camp battles

How will the running backs shake out? We know Bell should start and be the main guy week in and week out. But if the Steelers are running the no-huddle, they might not give him every single series. There were times last season where Felix Jones was used a couple of series per game, for instance. Will the Steelers do something like give Bell two series and Blount one, or might they even rotate them in and out? How will Dri Archer, the rookie speedster who could be considered a Darren Sproles-type of back, be rotated on and off the field?

What is Lance Moore up to? Moore signed with the Steelers this spring, giving him the chance to continue doing what he had been doing with the Saints: Work out of the slot. If he's used like Cotchery was used last year, he'll play a little bit more than half the time in three- and four-receiver sets. Unless Wheaton struggles in camp, that'll be the best he can do. It is believed that Wheaton leads the race to be the No. 2 receiver and Moore leads to be the No. 3 with Heyward-Bey and Bryant backing them up.

How many old people will start on defense? The Steelers ranked 21st against the run last season and have since ditched a number of vets who were either ineffective, on the wrong side of 30 or both. Keisel, Woodley, Clark and Ziggy Hood are gone, replaced by younger players, the most notable of which being ex-Panthers safety Mike Mitchell and first-round pick Ryan Shazier at middle linebacker. As of now, the only starters that are long in the tooth are Troy Polamalu (33) and Ike Taylor (34) with Will Allen (32 when the season starts) adding safety depth. While it's exciting to see the youth movement in Pittsburgh, it could make for some growing pains. Luckily, the Steelers' early season schedule might alleviate some of those pains.

Bold prediction

There's a real love-fest with Le'Veon Bell and Fantasy owners after last season, but don't count on marriage proposals in 2014. Don't mistake this as calling Bell a bust, because he is not, but the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer are intriguing. Archer is the type of out-in-space type of back that coordinator Todd Haley tried to produce when he was the head coach in Kansas City with Dexter McCluster. There's no doubt that he'll try to get Archer involved the same way -- and that will take snaps from Bell. And Blount hurts Bell's value if only because he'll get called on to help carry more of the workload than Archer, and it might include valuable touches at the goal line. Bell took on 77.6 percent of the snaps as a rookie (691 total) and handled it well, averaging 96.8 total yards per game. But the Steelers had the long-term interests of Bell in mind when they signed Blount, who was superb for the Patriots late last year and should be a part-time grinder and (ugh) a potential touchdown vulture at the goal line. Of Bell's eight total touchdowns last year, seven came from 5 yards or closer. He's still a candidate for over 1,400 yards and even eight total touchdowns, but owners should feel more comfortable with another lead back who won't lose touchdown snaps. You'll be disappointed if you draft Bell in Round 1.

Injury report

Matt Spaeth (foot), questionable for start of training camp. ... Nick Williams (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Miguel Maysonet (undisclosed), questionable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu looks forward to being healthy
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu believes that he is regaining his health and he's ready to make an impact this season, according to the team's website.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said Monday. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This (year) is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL toward the end of the 2013 season. He recently said that the comeback was "way harder than I thought."

Head coach Bruce Arians talked about how Mathieu was not himself last season.

“You saw him fight through it last year,” Arians said. “He was not the player he was used to (being) and it was very frustrating for him.”

Mathieu was aware of the chatter from the outside world and he is using that as motivation going forward.

“You hear people talk and I had time to listen to them talk, so it’s like … I hear it,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I didn’t feel like I made enough plays last year to help our team. I am looking forward to this year because I know I can do it.”

The 22-year-old has registered 106 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 26 games played during his two-year career.


Saints plan to rework Jahri Evans, Cameron Jordan contracts
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Saints coach Sean Payton said that the team has a plan in place to rework guard Jahri Evans' contract to help create salary cap space, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

Evans is scheduled to make $6.8 million salary in 2015 and cost $11 million against the cap. 

The team might also extend defensive end Cameron Jordan's contract. Jordan is entering the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make $6.969 million this year.


Rams have agreed to terms with OL Tim Barnes
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Rams have agreed to terms with offensive lineman Tim Barnes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The one-year deal has a maximum value of $1 million. 

Barnes recently visited had a visit with the Chiefs before signing with the Rams. The 26-year-old spent all three of his previous seasons with the Rams, starting four of the 45 games he appeared in.


Report: Brandon Tate visits Chiefs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Free agent wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate visited the Chiefs on Monday, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, citing a source.

Tate had 17 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals last year. He also had a combined 571 yards in kick and punt returns. 


Lions' Riley Reiff open to playing right tackle
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Riley Reiff might start at right tackle next season. 

Reiff has started 32 games at left tackle over the last two seasons. The Lions aren't sure that last year's right tackle LaAdrian Waddle will be fully recovered from knee surgery, and backup tackle Cornelius Lucas is better on the left side. 

Reiff told the Daily Republic he doesn't care where he plays. 

 "I like playing, and wherever they want to put me, that's fine. I'll play," he said.


Broncos OL Michael Schofield looking to compete for starting job
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Broncos offensive lineman Michael Schofield is ready to come in and compete for a starting job this season, reports the Denver Post.

After not dressing for a single game as a rookie, Schofield added weight and he looks forward to fighting for a starting job.

"I am going in there with that mentality. In the NFL everybody is competing," Schofield said during a road trip to see family in Illinois. "They are looking for someone to step up and take over. I want to make that jump."

The third-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2014 struggled with weight issues, but he is now up to 305 pounds. He also recognized that his pass protection needs improvement.

"Personally, I felt there were reasons I wasn't out there (for games). I wasn't consistent enough in pass pro (protection). And my weight was really fluctuating," Schofield said.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak believes that the team's zone-blocking scheme can help Schofield elevate his game, and Schofield agrees.

"We like the Schofield kid, so we'll see. We think he's got some flexibility (in where he can play)," Kubiak said. "It will be very competitive."

"I feel like I am better suited for this," Schofield said. "You have to be able to reach block, and I feel the steps required fit me better."


 
 
 
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