Summer Sleeper: Pittsburgh Steelers


sleeperseriesWith less than a month before all training camps have opened around the NFL, we begin our annual series focusing on one sleeper from all 32 teams in the NFL.

These sleepers all have varying levels of “sleeperness”, but all merit a little more talking about than we had room for in the dynasty capsules for each team. Some of these players are deep dynasty sleepers who could merit a spot on your bench in a deep league, while others are players who may contribute a little faster than the deep prospects, but deserve more attention than they may be getting. By definition, a sleeper could mean something a little different to everyone, but we’re simply doing the best job we can to unearth one player from each team who fits the category in some way, shape or form.

We’ll never insult you with a comprehensive list of “sleepers” that includes such names as Demaryius Thomas, Chris Ivory or Stevan Ridley. You’re all too good for that.

While many of these players will undoubtedly fizzle, there’s more value in looking more closely at these deeper prospects and players. We invite you to keep an open mind and either or re-assess your value on those who may be rostered in your league or consider adding a few of these deeper prospects we focus on this Summer who are free agents in your league – after all, some are destined to pan out, too.

Feel free to add your own comments about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own!

Pittsburgh Steelers

If you listen to NFL Network  personality Warren Sapp, the Steelers let time and talent pass them by at the beginning of 2012. While it might be the Steelers helmet tattooed on my right deltoid, I don’t share his thought process or his sometimes abrasive sentiments. The Black and Gold is a team in transition and it could be too soon to tell if they are declining or not.  I’d prefer to take a long look at a couple of their offensive role players and discern if there is something to see once you dig this deep. This article isn’t for the 10 team league owners with 18 roster spots, it is for the deep leagues that hold 53+ players and have 14+ teams.

The Todd Haley effect

The acquisitions of running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and rookie wide receiver Justin Brown are both tied into the genius and perhaps madness of the Pittsburgh native, offensive coordinator Todd Haley.  Haley strives to find creative ways to use the best offensive weapons that are at his disposal.  This first occurred when Haley was the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator in Dallas (2004-2006), as he helped guide a young Tony Romo and his older wide receivers, Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens to offensive success.  This led to his rise as the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals (2007-2008) where he resurrected the careers of Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James.  He was also quite successful with making Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin scoring threats when neither had scored in double digits before his arrival. When Haley went to become the head coach in Kansas City (2009-2011), he adapted his offensive scheme to fit their best offensive weapons: Thomas Jones, Dwayne Bowe, and Jamaal Charles despite the limitations at quarterback.  Now his attention directs to his father’s old team, the Steelers.

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB


production.  He has only 25 offensive touches (13 carries and 12 catches) for 133 yards total with one offensive touchdown.  In the return game over his first four years, however, LSH has racked up almost 4,100 return yards and scored three touchdowns.  The Steelers return game is wide open with the release of troubled running back/receiver Chris Rainey.  According to Stephens-Howling, one of the reasons he came to Pittsburgh is that he saw himself much like Dexter McCluster, who had limited success with Haley.

Stephens-Howling (LSH) was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.  In his four years with the Cardinals, the 26-year-old running back has not been a standout with his offensive

LSH has great open field vision along with soft hands, quick twitch agility and speed.  This style favors the new improved Pittsburgh offensive line that is more athletic and better suited to a zone blocking scheme than the power run schemes of the past.  With both guards and center being able to pull down the line of scrimmage, I expect more in space plays to be used by Haley.  Despite his small stature, 5′ 7″ 180 pounds, Stephens-Howling is great at avoiding hits and reading his blocks which makes him more effective with a quicker, smaller offensive line.

Unlike the other backs in Pittsburgh, LSH can lineup in any receiver spot and perhaps even run a little wildcat in certain situations. Other than rookie Le’Veon Bell’s collegiate touches, there are no other backs on the roster that have touched the ball over 175 times in a season.  I think Haley’s Pittsburgh rushing offense could be successful using Bell as the physical back role and Stephens-Howling as the versatile change of pace athlete.  Now before you get too excited, LSH will be at best a flex play in return yardage leagues as I do not expect him to produce more than 700 combined rushing/receiving yards, perhaps with 45 receptions and no more than five touchdowns.  The talent is there if Haley decides to use him in that role.

Justin Brown , WR

The rookie wide receiver stands at 6′ 3″ and weighs 207 lbs which makes him the second biggest receiver on the team to Plaxico BurressBen Roethlisberger is always asking for more receiving red zone threats and Brown could grow into that role.  With the knee injury that tight end Heath Miller suffered near the end of the 2012 season, the physical rookie may see some early playing time inside the 20.

Brown is physical enough to get off the line of scrimmage despite receiving press coverage and keeps his legs churning whether he is blocking or fighting for extra yardage with the ball in his hands.  He has good hands and can use his body to get separation from defenders.  The rookie receiver transferred from Penn State to Oklahoma during the Joe Paterno controversy.  This gave him a chance to try out a new offensive scheme that was more pass based.  Steelers new fourth round quarterback, Landry Jones, developed good rapport with the rookie wide receiver last year as Brown caught 73 passes for 879 yards with five touchdowns.  This was almost the same amount of production that Brown had in his earlier three years at Penn State.

There are a few warts with this rookie as he is not the fastest nor the most agile receiver and he tends to round off his routes.  Neither Oklahoma or Penn State ask their receivers to run complicated route trees that Haley or Roethlisberger expects.  The good news for Justin Brown is that other than Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh does not have any long-term receiving threats with Burress and Jericho Cotchery still on the roster.  Especially as Emmanuel Sanders could choose to stay on the team, but the chances are he will go elsewhere for a bigger payday.  I would expect Brown to be involved mostly on special teams and red zone packages in his rookie season.  If he can improve his route running, the rookie could see some significant playing time this season.

The best thing about taking a chance on either of these players is that your investment is minimal.  The earliest I have seen Justin Brown go is at the 85th rookie spot which is the end of the 6th round in a 14 team league. Stephens-Howling is going undrafted in over 95% of real drafts according to current average draft position.  Remember these are strictly end of your roster players that could become those diamonds in the rough.

If you have any fantasy questions that you need answered quickly, please follow me on twitter @AndrewMiley.