All off-season, people were salivating over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.
Thursday, their mouths got a little drier.
It was revealed standout sophomore wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for a failed drug test. Last year, Bryant led the NFL with a 21.1 yards per catch average, doing all his damage from week seven on.
Losing Bryant is a significant blow to the Pittsburgh offense. According to the NFL Network, the Steelers averaged 330 yards per game when Bryant played and 260 yards when he did not. Couple that with a two-game suspension for superstar running back Le’Veon Bell and the early season slate could be a rocky one in the Steel City. The Steelers open with the Bills, Panthers, Patriots and 49ers.
This suspension shouldn’t affect Bryant’s dynasty value in the slightest. There’s no reason to think that even with missing four games he won’t improve on last season’s number of 26 catches, 549 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s currently ranked as the WR36 by DLF. That number might dip a little in light of this news, but it would be shocking if it moved below 40.
Because this is a suspension and not an injury, once Bryant returns it should be business as usual. In fact, with four weeks off, he could be a really good piece to try and trade for if a fantasy team gets off to a slow start.
Let’s take a look at how Bryant’s absence will affect the rest of his squad.
Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
I noted above the difference in yardage when Bryant is missing. What that means for Big Ben is he will now be forced to either force targets to Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, or look for players who he has less time and probably faith in. While his overall numbers probably won’t change, his distribution pattern definitely will.
Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver
Already the unquestioned leader of the receiving corps, Brown should see a slight bump in targets early on in the season, but don’t expect anything crazy. Brown is already in the conversation for the first overall wide receiver drafted, so in his case the rich will only get richer.
Markus Wheaton, Wide Receiver
When Big Ben told the world early in preseason Wheaton, not Bryant, would be the WR2 for the Steelers, eyebrows were raised. On the heels of the latest news, it doesn’t seem so crazy anymore. This is Wheaton’s third season and this could be his coming out party. Last season he had 53 catches, 644 yards and two touchdowns. Wheaton will be the person getting the lion’s share of Bryant’s leftover touches and should have a nice healthy little bump early on. If Wheaton comes out and lights the world on fire during the first four weeks, it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see his value rise. He is currently ranked as the WR64 by DLF.
Le’Veon Bell, Running Back
Yes, he’ll miss the first two games along with Bryant, but when he returns in week three, expect Pittsburgh to lean on him heavily to offset the loss of Bryant. He will come out of the blocks on fire and with his hands and should pick up extra targets in weeks three and four.
Sammie Coates/Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wide Receivers
These are the next two men up while Bryant sits. Coates is an athletic dynamo, but is just a rookie and has issues with drops. Heyward-Bey is a veteran speedster who has bounced around the league but has never really had any consistent success. One or perhaps both will find their way to the field and for at least for the first two games, should see some action. When Bryant returns, that could be a different story.
Other Steeler News
Michael Vick was signed this week by Pittsburgh to back up Roethlisberger. I highly doubt he sees the field outside of an injury or garbage time. He has almost zero dynasty value at this point. That said, this is the team that turned Kordell Stewart into Slash, so crazier things have happened. Not much crazier mind you, but there have been some.
One player who won’t be found on any fantasy roster but will definitely have an impact on how the Steelers’ season is the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey. The anchor of the offensive line went down with an ankle injury in the same game Green Bay lost Jordy Nelson. His loss is significant because not only does he provide protection for Roethlisberger, but he also opens holes for Bell. Without Pouncey, there could be less time to read the field along with fewer and smaller holes in the run game.
If you have a jumpy owner in your league, I would definitely put in an offer for Bryant. He is an emerging force and I still think he’ll put up plenty of points this season and beyond.