25th in a series.
The Steelers are built on defense and a strong rushing attack but have lost their way at times and were pass-happy last season. That could continue with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the former Chiefs head coach and offensive coordinator for the Cardinals when they were flying high with Kurt Warner. He will play to the team's strength, while incorporating a rushing attack as he did in Kansas City.
Can Ben Roethlisberger become a No. 1 fantasy QB?
Big Ben never has been a consistent No. 1 fantasy QB, but he teased in 2010 leading many to believe he could take the next step in 2011 — he did not. He had seven games with one touchdown pass and three without a TD. Ten games with one or less TDs do not make a fantasy starter. He was inactive one game and his TD total (21) is skewed by a five-TD game in Week Five. Remove that and he managed 1.1 TDs per game. Overall, he threw for 4,077 yards with 21 TDs and 14 interceptions and chipped in with 31-70-0 rushing, which showed that his legs aren't a strength. His average of 271.8 yards passing, 1.4 TDs and 0.93 interceptions makes him a No. 2 fantasy QB.
Will RB Rashard Mendenhall start the season on the PUP list?
Mendenhall suffered an ACL injury in Week 17 and he might not be ready for training camp at the start of 2012. He likely will start the season on the PUP list and there's no way he will be able to perform at the level we're used to, even if he can play in nine months. It takes one year to heal and pre-injury numbers will return in the second year. Mendenhall disappointed last season with 228-928-9 rushing and 18-154-0 receiving on 28 targets — an average of 16.1 utilizations for 72.1 yards from scrimmage and 0.6 TDs. He enters with no fantasy value in either single-season or keeper leagues, unless the keeper league has an injured reserve that doesn't count against your roster.
Isaac Redman finds himself atop the Steelers' depth chart as he enters his fourth season. In spot play, he has been solid, such as in Week 17 when he produced 19-92-1 rushing and 3-18-0 receiving on five targets for a total of 110 yards from scrimmage. A short-yardage specialist at 6 feet, 230 pounds, he never has been a receiving back. He likely will be part of a committee, as Haley's track record shows he prefers a RB-by-committee. He had Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells with the Cardinals and Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones with the Chiefs. Redman will be the inside runner and is a keeper hold, making him a late-middle-round pick right now.
Jonathan Dwyer enters his third season in 2012 and is a strong inside runner who is quick with some ability. Despite not being used as a receiver, he could adapt. He will be given a chance to compete with Redman but most believe he's just depth. I say watch him because he's an unknown, as he played in a triple-option attack in college. He's not a keeper hold, but let it play out. Dwyer did have a great Week Four, as he rushed 11-107-0 with a long of 76 yards. Active in seven games, he touched the ball in only three, posting 16-123-0 rushing before going down with a foot injury and being placed on injured reserve.
Mewelde Moore and Baron Batch are what I call long-shot sleepers. Both are players to watch entering 2012, as Haley will need someone with speed and soft hands to get to the outside. They will battle for that role unless the team brings someone in. Moore ended the season with 22-157-0 rushing and 11-104-1 receiving on 14 targets. Batch spent his time on injured reserve after suffering an ACL tear in training camp. Watch-list them both but don't hold on to them in keeper leagues.
This RB position is wide open going into the offseason and I've seen reports stating Mendenhall's optimistic time frame is 6-9 months. Don't believe it.
What will be the pecking order at the WR position?
The Steelers plan to let Mike Wallace test the market because of salary-cap issues preventing them from using the franchise tag on him. The tag for wide receivers is about $9 million and the team could lose him as a restricted free agent. He will have a first-round tender, meaning the team would receive a first-round pick if he signs elsewhere. He will have suitors such as the 49ers, Ravens, Patriots and Bears to name a few. Wallace ended the season with 72-1,193-8 receiving on 113 targets — an average of 4.5 catches for 74.6 yards and 0.5 TDs on 7.5 targets, a bit below 2011 expectations. His value is unknown until after free agency, but no matter where he's playing, Wallace is a keeper hold.
Antonio Brown came out of nowhere last year, totaling 69-1,108-2 on 124 targets — an average of 4.3 catches for 69.25 yards and 0.13 TDs on 7.75 targets — and led the team in targets. He's entering his third season and will see an increased role in 2012 as a full-time starter. He was the No. 3 WR at the start of the season, but is now a keeper and will be a solid middle-round pick with great upside if Wallace stays in Pittsburgh. If Wallace goes, Brown will have to adjust to a new offense and facing No. 1 corners and that could overvalue him.
Emmanuel Sanders dealt with injury and personal issues that derailed his season and forced him to miss five games. Originally expected to surpass and eat into Hines Ward's playing time, he ended up as the No. 3 receiver, getting thoroughly outplayed by Brown. If Wallace returns, Sanders will resume the No. 3 role but would play both the slot and outside depending on the package. He ended with 22-288-2 receiving on 43 targets and is not a keeper-league player. He will be a late-round draft pick.
Hines Ward has had a spectacular career but no longer is fantasy-relevant and has no value. He wants to play but the Steelers might not want him back after he totaled 46-381-2 receiving on 63 targets, all career lows.
Can the TE position be a consistent fantasy contributor?
Roethlisberger wants to involve Heath Miller more in the offense but that won't happen. With the Cardinals and Chiefs, Haley did not make the TE position fantasy-relevant. While Miller has soft hands, his use will remain as it has been — inconsistent with a few big games. He's only a matchup play. He's the best tight end that Haley has had as offensive coordinator but Miller is unlikely to change Haley's offensive focus. Miller ended the '11 campaign with 51-631-2 receiving on 75 targets and has a little upside in 2012 but remains a No. 2 fantasy tight end.
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