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Dynasty Capsule: Pittsburgh Steelers

As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all Spring and Summer. This year, we also have a precursor to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Quarterbacks

Ben Roethlisberger

When most people hear Big Ben’s name, their first thought is about the off the field issues he had a few years ago. It’s sometimes difficult to separate the person from the player and because people don’t like Big Ben the person, they undervalue him as a fantasy asset – don’t make that mistake. Many people fail to realize that Ben has averaged 276 passing yards per game over the last three years – that is more than both Eli and Peyton Manning! It is also just a few yards per game off the pace of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Over that same three year span, he’s averaging over 1.5 touchdowns per game. That is slightly lower than the other quarterbacks mentioned, but it is probably better than most people realize. You can also add in about 120 rushing yards and two rushing scores per season as a little bonus.

The biggest concern for Roethlisberger is that he struggles to stay healthy. Only once in his eight year career has he managed to play all 16 games. For the most part, the injuries have been minor, only causing him to miss a game or two, but they almost always occur. The biggest reason for all of this is that Ben is almost always one of the league leaders in sacks taken. If this is a result of the offensive line or him holding the ball too long is a point of debate, but the bottom line is that he takes an awful lot of hits. As he enters his age 30 season, all of those hits start to become more of a concern. Typically, you can count on a quarterback going strong into their mid and even late 30s, but all of that wear and tear is bound to rear its ugly head sooner or later. He is a great target for solid QB1 production at a reduced price, but invest in a decent backup for the yearly injury and in case he does breakdown with a larger injury.

Byron Leftwich

Leftwich is a quarterback who has bounced around an awful lot over the last few years. He started his career with Jacksonville before injuries and ineffectiveness caused him to lose that job. Since then he has played for three different teams in a backup role. His production hasn’t been anything to write home about but he is the clear cut backup. Should he or Charlie Batch be called upon to start some games due to a Big Ben injury, you can downgrade the Steeler pass catchers quite a bit.

Running Backs

Rashard Mendenhall

Drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, Mendenhall was meant to be the next player to take up the mantle of the Steelers rushing game. He spent his rookie year learning from Willie Parker before taking over the starting job in the 2009 season. His season averages have been right about 1,300 combined yards with ten total touchdowns. While those numbers are respectable, he really hasn’t been the special running back the Steelers were hoping for when they drafted him.

His future became even more murky when he tore his ACL late in the 2011 season. Chances are pretty good he will start the 2012 season on the PUP list and will remain on it for several regular season games. Unless he can outproduce his career numbers towards the end of the season or is willing to accept a fairly cheap contract, expect the Steelers to allow him to test the free agent market after the season. It is hard to imagine him landing in a better spot than he has been over the last few years.

Isaac Redman

After serving as the backup for the last two years, he is set to take the reins this year due to Mendenhall’s injury. If he produces, he’ll keep that role for the entire year and be kept as a restricted free agent next year. If he doesn’t produce, expect him to return to his backup role by midseason. A long term contract with the Steelers isn’t very likely regardless of how he plays since he will turn 28 by midseason and they can keep him fairly cheaply next year. He is merely a short term investment in dynasty leagues.

The biggest question is what you can expect from him this year. There really isn’t a good answer to that. He has caught the occasional pass out of the backfield and his yards per carry as a backup has been a very solid 4.48. In the only game he started last year, he had 19 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. He also had three catches for 18 yards. The bad is that he had two fumbles as well. If he can keep the fumbling in check and hold up to the weekly demands of being a lead back, he could produce at a RB2/RB3 level.

Jonathan Dwyer

After a draft day fall in the 2010 NFL draft, Dwyer reported to Steelers camp out of shape. He barely saw the field outside of special teams during his rookie season. Last year, he was in much better shape and seemed to have matured a bit. He was their third string running back and put up an impressive 11 carry, 107 yard performance in a week five when he filled in due to injuries. Unfortunately, he only saw five other carries for the entire year though and ended the season with a broken foot.

He should be healthy by the start of the season and in line for some work behind Redman early in the season as the change of pace back. Dwyer has the skills to maybe even pass Redman in the pecking order this year if Redman struggles early in the year. The best case scenario would be securing the starting job for the 2013 season when he is a restricted free agent and then getting a contract extension. While that is possible, the chances are slim given the questionable work ethic and dedication that Dwyer has shown. Nonetheless, he is an attractive lottery ticket for those of you in deeper leagues.

Wide Receivers

Mike Wallace

Entering his fourth season in the league, Wallace has stepped up to become one of the best deep threats in the league. He doesn’t have the best size, checking in at only 6’0” and 200 pounds, but that hasn’t slowed him down at all. In his two seasons as a starter, he has posted lines of 60/1,257/10 and 72/1,193/8, both of which are easily WR1 numbers. Having just turned 26 years old, this makes him quite value or at least it did until the last few weeks.

Even with those stats, Wallace is one of the bigger gambles right now due to his contract situation. He is a restricted free agent this year and was tendered by the Steelers. He says he won’t play for that kind of money and is holding out for a contract more in line with his production. The Steelers seem unwilling to give him that kind of money since they already have him under contract. This has led to a rather nasty holdout and Wallace has yet to show up for camp or sign his tender. To make matters worse, the Steelers have a new offensive coordinator and a new game plan this year, which means Wallace is missing the vital installation of that system. He’s going to be behind when he does show up.

This situation boils down in one of four ways. 1) Wallace gets traded. This isn’t necessarily a good outcome. It is doubtful that he would end up in a better situation than he currently has. If he ended up somewhere like Seattle it could definitely hurt his value. 2) Wallace shows up before the season. This would most likely lead to a slow start as he learns the new system. 3) Wallace holds out for the first ten games and plays the last six to get credit for the season. He then finds a new team next year.  4) He gets his contract and spends the next five years producing like he has. No one really knows which option will happen, which makes him a high risk, high reward player right now. If you can get him for cheap, it is well worth it. Even on a bad team, you’re looking at a WR2 at worst.

Antonio Brown

While Wallace wants to get paid, Brown is the guy who did this offseason. It was a bit of a surprise move when the third year, former sixth round pick was signed to a five year contract that averages right around $9 million a year, because that is money that could have gone towards Wallace. Brown is also a smaller receiver at 5’10” and 186 pounds, but has great speed and hands. While starting opposite Wallace last season he put up a 69/1,108/2 line. While the touchdowns are a lot lower, the rest of the line is on par with Wallace, making Brown a very solid WR2.

The best thing about Brown in terms of dynasty leagues is his long term outlook. At worst you have a solid WR2 for the next several years. If Wallace holds out into the season and/or ends up playing elsewhere this year or down the road, you have a guy who could very easily make the transition to a WR1. It isn’t a sure bet though, because there are some questions about how he would handle more attention from defenses since Wallace has always drawn the double teams. We could very well soon find out.

Emmanuel Sanders

The biggest beneficiary of all of this is Sanders. He was our sleeper choice for the Steelers. Please take a look at that article for more details.

Jerricho Cotchery

Cotchery will continue to play the role of veteran insurance for the receiver group. If Wallace, Brown and Sanders are all in camp and healthy, he won’t see the field much. Should Wallace holdout or an injury occur, Cotchery will fill in as the third wide receiver. Don’t hope for too much as his best days are behind him and he is already 30 years old. He could still make a decent play in deeper leagues if he is seeing the field.

Chris Rainey

Rainey was a running back in Florida, but there are reports that he will most likely see the field as a pass catcher. Depending on your league rules and host, he might be listed as a running back or a wide receiver. At this point, he is little more than a pure speed guy as he was one of the fastest at the combine drills. Look for the Steelers to try to get the ball in his hands with little screen plays or on special teams just to see what he can do. He is little more than a lottery ticket, though.

Tight Ends

Heath Miller

Entering his eighth season with the Steelers, Miller is one of those guys who is a lot more important to his NFL team than your fantasy team. He isn’t going to have too many huge games that win you the week – his average season is right along the line of 40/500/4. There are definitely better options out there for your TE1, but if you have an injury or need a bye week fill in, Miller is someone to keep in mind. There isn’t a whole lot of upside here, but he works as a band-aid or a backup.

Leonard Pope

A free agent acquisition, Pope was brought in mostly as a blocking tight end for two tight end sets and to possibly free up Miller a little bit more. Like Miller, you can’t really count on much fantasy value here. The bottom line with the Steelers tight ends is to look elsewhere for your starters and your prospects with upside; they just aren’t a big part of the offense.

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