Every year for the past several NFL seasons the Steelers have had players who were clear picks to target in a fantasy football draft. Between Hines Ward, Willie Parker, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes and Rashard Mendenhall many of the Steelers' most attractive fantasy players have either departed from the team or retired.
Today we are left with the offense's primary weapons featuring Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, rookie Le'Veon Bell, an injured Heath Miller and Jonathan Dwyer. Although Roethlisberger is a consistent threat to gain solid fantasy points as a middle-round-drafted-quarterback, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and every other offensive weapon outside of Heath Miller have not yet established themselves as a consistent offensive weapons.
So who among the Steelers' skill players will produce the most fantasy points? Let's review the best options going into the 2013-2014 season:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger has always been a player I like to take in the middle rounds as a second quarterback for my fantasy teams. Last year he was outside the top 20 of quarterbacks in fantasy points, but that was also after a freak injury that sidelined him and had an affect on his play throughout the season after he returned to the field. Prior to the injury Ben was playing at a very efficient level that had the league talking about him being a potential MVP candidate. This year we can point to many positive signs that could help Roethlisberger be more productive in the offense. Some of these preseason thoughts are that he will be more seasoned in Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley's offense or that the offensive line will--hopefully--finally be healthy going into the season with a group of promising young players that can in-turn keep Ben healthy. Ben's 26 touchdowns last year was tied for the 11th most in the league and as long as the injury rain cloud stays away, he could have his most productive season as far as fantasy points, while not receiving much attention from other competitors on draft days.
Wide Receiver Antonio Brown
This will be "Cash Money's" first opportunity to prove himself as the primary target for Pittsburgh. With Mike Wallace gone and Heath Miller injured, Brown becomes a much more significant target for Ben Roethlisberger. Although he produced more than 100 fantasy points in the 2011-2012 season, he saw a drop off this season and failed to eclipse the 1,000 yard receiving mark. He did score five receiving touchdowns in this regular season, which was three more than he had in his entire career before last season, but he needs to have a complete year. Steeler fans have been excited to see Brown prove to be the better choice between him and Mike Wallace, which mean Brown will have to outdo Wallace's best performances as a Steeler. Mike Wallace's best season in Pittsburgh came in 2010 when he gained over 1,200 receiving yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Despite Wallace's reputation as a one-trick-pony, he averaged eight touchdowns in his four seasons with the Steelers. Brown won't be a high target in drafts because of his past productivity, but with his skills and a more potent Roethlisberger, he may be a breakout fantasy option.
Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders
"Easy Money" is much like Antonio Brown in the sense that he is a speedy receiver who has yet to have a complete season. However in Sanders' best season statistically--this past season--he only compiled 626 yards. Considering that Sanders was drafted 2 rounds ahead of Brown in the same draft, it is imperative he establishes himself this season. Now that he looks to be second on the wide receiver depth chart the team may finally see what they wanted to get in the 2010 draft. Sanders has certainly shown flashes of talent here and there, but the Steelers need consistency, not flashes, in the receiver position. When Brown was given the full opportunity as the second option for Ben Roethlisberger he exploded for over 1,000 yards. Sanders may deliver this year, and could be a late round steal.
Running Back Le'Veon Bell
As a rookie it is always difficult to determine how a player will make their mark in the league. However Haley's history of taking youthful running backs--Jamaal Charles--and putting them to good use may show a bit of promise that Bell could excel as the leader in Pittsburgh's ground game. Without any statistics to analyze as professional fantasy production, Bell may just be a mid-to-late round gamble in larger fantasy leagues. But if Haley can find a good use for him in the Steelers' offense, and if Pittsburgh's offensive line can live up to the amount of high draft picks the Steelers have spent on the unit, this could be a gamble that pays off in the same way as Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris did for fantasy owners last season.
Running backs Jonathan Dwyer & Isaac Redman
2012 was both of these players' opportunity to take command of the running back corps. Now with Bell on the roster, these players will need to be veterans who can help quicken Bell's coming into the starting roster and provide occasional relief. Both Dwyer and Redman may only be good for very late picks in large leagues and/or occasional mid-season pickups due to injuries. However with the Steelers' misfortune with injuries over the past few years, there may come a few games where either player will be given the opportunity to carry the load for a game or more.
Tight end Heath Miller
Miller's late injury last season puts a big question mark on his fantasy stock going into the season. When Heath has been available he puts up substantial numbers for a tight end. Last year he tied with Mike Wallace for most receiving touchdowns (8) for the team. Ben Roethlisberger believes that Miller can return to the team by the start of the season, but that is still a long shot. It might not be a while until Miller can be a sure bet again.
The Steelers are a team with players that might provide some solid fantasy options this season without being attractive on draft day to pressure owners into investing earlier picks for Pittsburgh players. Check the ESPN projections for the 2013 Steelers' playmakers.