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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
Packers' Davon House unlikely to return in regular season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Packers cornerback Davon House is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season while recovering from an injury to his right shoulder blade, the Journal Sentinel reports.

"I have the mind-set, I'll be back tomorrow," House said. "Will I be back tomorrow, most likely not. I can't give a time frame. Hopefully, sooner than later. Talking to Doc (team physician Patrick McKenzie), we're going to take it week by week, day by day. But they said my improvement is where we want it to be. The good news was that I was able to start running today, which was great."

House may be able to return during the postseason, so the team has decided not to place him on injured reserve at this time.


Jaguars DT Roy Miller will need surgery for meniscus injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller will require surgery on his meniscus injury, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Miller sustained the injury during the team's Week 15 loss to the Ravens and was inactive Thursday. He'll end the season with 30 tackles and one sack.


Titans kicker Ryan Succop hits both field goals Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans kicker Ryan Succop hit both his field goals Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Succop was tested early, but managed to convert on a 50 yard attempt. Things got easier late in the contest, as Succop hit from 23 yards. He added one extra point. Succop will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Leon Washington makes an impact Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Leon Washington made an impact Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Washington wasn't a huge factor in the running the game, gaining 11 yards on four carries. He excelled in the passing game, however. Washington hauled in seven catches, gaining 62 yards. He finished second on the team in receiving for the game. Washington was the only player on the team to score, pulling down an 8 yard touchdown pass on the team's first drive. 

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans WR Kendall Wright leads the way Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans wideout Kendall Wright led the team in receiving Week 16.

Wright came into the game questionable due to a broken hand, but was able to excel despite the issue. He only hauled in four passes, but was able to connect on some deep passes. In the fourth quarter, Wright pulled down a 39 yard reception. He finished with 73 yards on five targets.

Wright will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Shonn Greene receives seven carries Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Shonn Greene carried the ball just seven times Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Greene took a backseat to Bishop Sankey during the contest, though neither did all that much on the ground. Greene gained 28 yards, good for a 4.0 yards per carry average. Greene was not involved in the passing game, and did not receive a target.

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Bishop Sankey fails to do much Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Bishop Sankey failed to do much Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Sankey led all Titans runners, carrying the ball 14 times for 44 yards. He was held to just 3.1 yards per carry. Sankey had a hard time breaking anything loose, with his longest carry going for just 8 yards. He wasn't all that involved in the passing game either, coming up with one reception for 9 yards.

Sankey will hope for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst tosses one score on Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst tossed one touchdown on Thursday against the Jaguars.

Whitehurst completed 24 of 35 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over during the contest. Whitehurst looked to attack Jacksonville down the field, averaging 8.2 yards per completion. This sometimes came back to bite him, as he wound up taking four sacks. Whitehurst's only score came on the team's first drive. On the 13th play of the drive, Whitehurst found running back Leon Washington for the 8 yard score. Whitehurst also picked up 12 rushing yards on three attempts.

Depending on the team's injury situation at quarterback, Whitehurst may be in line to start next week against the Colts.


Jaguars K Josh Scobee scores three points vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee was limited to just three extra points in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

It was the third time this season Scobee wasn't called upon to attempt a field goal. Thursday's win marked just the second time this season Scobee kicked three extra points in a game. He'll travel to Houston to face the Texans in Week 17.


Jaguars WRs quiet in Week 16 win vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars wide receivers Marqise Lee led his team with four receptions and 65 yards in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

The Jaguars managed to pick up just 124 receiving yards on the day and Lee was responsible for more than half of that total while seeing six targets. Allen Hurns was also targeted six times, picking up 26 yards on three receptions. Cecil Shorts caught just two of his seven targets for 15 yards but also completed a nine-yard pass.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis managed just six yards on two receptions but did secure the team's only receiving touchdown on a four-yard strike at the end of the first half. The Jaguars will hit the road to face the Texans in the season finale next Sunday.


 
 
 
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