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Now, let's get this out of the way up front -- I'm probably the last person you should ever take advice from when it comes to Fantasy Football. Well, that's not exactly true. I mean, I am chock full of pointers and opinions throughout the course of an NFL season, but when it comes to managing a fantasy football team, I sure have a piss poor track record. That's why you should always jump at the opportunity to play in a league that I'm administering and offering a prize for. If it's a 12-man team, you are really only competing against 10 others after subtracting yourself and me as potential obstacles to your FF triumph.
But I digress.
Let's take a quick look at who might surprise fans and scribes in 2011 with their statistical contributions for the Steelers; and conversely, who might be in line for a disappointing season, at least compared to expectations.
Ben Roethlisberger -- Folks are still hung up on Big Ben's unfortunate gaffes in SB XLV, but the bottom line is Roethlisberger progressed nicely in 2010 with his command of the offense and his decision making. Roethlisberger threw just five interceptions compared to 17 TDs in 12 starts, he posted a career low interception percentage of 1.3, and his 13.3 yards per completion led the NFL. After Rashard Mendenhall's 324 carry season in '10, I'm expecting the Steelers to lessen his workload, which should mean more carries for other backs, but also more passing attempts for Roethlisberger. You know he and Bruce Arians are fiending to get back to a hyper-aggressive aerial assault after being reigned in a bit last year.
Heath Miller -- Fresh off a career year in '09, Miller caught a mere 10 passes for an even 100 yards and zero touchdowns in the first quarter of the season. His productivity did increase with Roethlisberger back under center beginning in Week 6, but he was still bottled up for most of the season, finishing with just 42 receptions for 512 yards and 2 TDs. Don't let the statistical decline fool you into thinking that Miller is still not one of the NFL's best TEs. Opposing defenses made it clear that they'd rather force one of Pittsburgh's younger receivers to beat them as opposed to the battle-tested Miller. For the most part, the Steelers had little trouble taking advantage of the single-coverage teams were using on the outside, and even when a safety was shaded towards Wallace, the second-year speedster still burned teams all season long. Because Wallace is clearly a game-changer that needs to be game-planned for, Miller should see his numbers tick back up in 2011. Look for opposing defenses to be more willing to grant Big Ben the underneath stuff to Miller than risk getting beaten in the intermediate and deep areas of the field by the Steelers 'Young Money Crew.'
Hines Ward -- I think Ward's DUI arrest and injury to start training camp will lull most fantasy players into thinking he's on his last legs. He may be, but I think those legs are still strong enough to turn in a 75 reception, 1000 yards season, replete with a useful 6-8 TDs. Ward is not sidelined at the outset of camp with a troublesome knee or hamstring injury, or anything to that effect. Instead he's just healing an injured thumb that shouldn't keep him out for more than another week and a half or so. I don't want to overemphasize anything relating to dancing, but don't forget that Ward was hard at work training for up to 6 or 8 hours a day while competing on ABC's Dancing With The Stars. You'll have to reference the FF geeks' draft charts to get an idea of where he'll likely be taken in drafts, but I guarantee you that he's going to outperform whatever very modest projections most have for him in '11.
Steelers Defense -- Now, let's be clear. I think the Steelers defense will be outstanding in 2011. I just don't think they'll create the same high volume of turnovers that they did a season ago. I don't have my notes handy, but the Steelers' 35 forced turnovers were I believe the most in over two decades. For better or worse, bend but don't break defense isn't rewarded nearly as heavily in most leagues as is turnovers forced. And I just don't see the Steelers getting quite so fortunate in the turnover department this coming season, even if all signs point to them being a top three defense in terms of points allowed.
Emmanuel Sanders -- Even if the 25-year old comes back from the foot injury he's struggling with, I don't think the promising second-year WR out of SMU will blow by the 28 reception, 2 TD season he turned in as a rookie. He may very well catch 40 balls and 4 TDs, but I still wouldn't advise investing heavily, if at all, in Sanders unless you play in the deepest of leagues where you can afford to stash him away on the bench in September while waiting to see the status of his foot.
- Troy Polamalu -- If you're in a league that allows you to pick an individual defensive player, I'd suggest just cheering for No. 43 as the team's strong safety, not your lone individual defensive starter. Like I mentioned previously, history suggests that the Steelers will regress a bit in the turnover department. That might mean two or three fewer interceptions in '11 (Polamalu picked off seven passes last year).
By all means, dissenting opinions and other thoughts welcomed. Like I said, I'm no huge authority in this regard. Hopefully though this is a decent start towards getting you ready for your upcoming drafts if you're in fact one of the millions of fans across the country and globe who partake in fantasy football league(s) each year.