Steelers Fantasy Football: Breaking down the candidates

Rich Schultz

The Steelers do not typical cater to the Fantasy Football culture. There are a few intriguing options on this year's team, however.

The Steelers aren't usually a great source of Fantasy Football studs. Most fans don't care, but for the ones big into the new National Pastime, the Steelers have a few sleepers on this year's team who could be great later round picks.

The Steelers have a bye in Week 5, which is after their game against Minnesota in London.

QB Ben Roethlisberger

In just his third game in Todd Haley's offense last year, Roethlisberger shredded the Oakland Raiders for 386 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He has that kind of potential each game he plays, but injuries and a general level of mediocre Fantasy production (in comparison to some of his pass-happy peers) pushes Roethlisberger's Fantasy value down a bit.

However, Roethlisberger was playing at a top five level until his injury in Week 10, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him closer to his pre-injury level in 2013. Depending on how your draft goes, he may be worth a lower-end starting selection, and he'd definitely be an outstanding back-up.

RB Le'Veon Bell

The Steelers' second round draft pick out of Michigan State is picking up a ton of preseason buzz as a workhorse kind of runner who could get 20 or more touches a game. With the number of running backs who get that kind of action dwindling, Bell could end up being the best Fantasy producer on the roster.

The main issue, obviously, is whether he will get that many touches. The Steelers ended the season without a focus on one player. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman were both given restricted free agency tender offers from the team, and the Steelers could use a rotational system again this season.

On the other hand, they spent more time with Bell this offseason than any other potential draft pick. It's obvious they see a future with him, and neither Dwyer nor Redman were consistently productive last year - although each had outstanding games.

That may drop Bell a little bit, but a fourth or fifth round selection is not out of the question.

WR Antonio Brown

If Roethlisberger figures to have a big year, someone needs to be catching the ball. Brown is the easiest choice for a prediction. Brown had a reasonable amount of targets in 2012 - 105 in 13 games (eight a game), but did not have outstanding production. Even before a high ankle injury cost him Weeks 10-12, his production was average, appearing to be a victim of an evenly distributed passing game plan.

Brown didn't have a 100 yard game in 2012, nor did he have a game in which he scored more than one touchdown - he only had five touchdowns and 787 yards. But with 119 targets to Mike Wallace now gone (signed with Miami), and 101 targets to Heath Miller possibly starting the season on the PUP list (knee injury), Brown will have even more opportunities. It may be worth a later round pick.

WR Emmanuel Sanders

This year's Fantasy Wild Card player on the Steelers' roster, Sanders will take over the usually lucrative Steelers' split end role.

A Steelers split end (Wallace and Santonio Holmes) has led the team in receiving yards each year since 2009. While there is plenty of indication the Steelers may run the ball more in 2013, the fact Sanders had career highs in receptions (44), yards (626) and yards per catch (14.2) in 2012 bodes well heading into this year, with, again, a lot of targets having departed.

TE Heath Miller

At this point, Miller appears to be too much of a risk to draft. He tore the three main ligaments in his knee at the end of the 2012 season, and it isn't clear whether he'll be ready to play in Week 1. In fact, he may not even participate in training camp. If he is placed on the regular season PUP list, he would be out for the first six weeks of the year.

Stranger things have happened, and it's possible Miller - A Pro Bowl player with 816 yards and eight touchdowns last year - could rehab to the point he could participate, but it may not be until midseason.

He's worth keeping an eye on as a roster addition during the season.

K Shaun Suisham

Two things stood out with Suisham in 2012; he had as good a season as any Steelers kicker ever has at Heinz Field, and he's a liability from 50-plus yards. This is somewhat par for the course, considering there have only been five field goals of 50 yards or longer made at Heinz Field - Jeff Reed hit from 50 in 2006 against Tampa Bay and from 52 (a Heinz Field record) in a season-opening win against Atlanta in 2010. Joe Nedney hit from 50 yards in 2007 when he was kicking for San Francisco, and Billy Cundiff hit from 51 in 2011. San Diego's Nick Novak hit from 51 yards in 2012.

Suisham was perfect at Heinz Field, something no kicker in Steelers history has ever done, until he missed from 50 yards in their Week 16 loss to Cincinnati. He missed two others from 50-or-more yards last year, finishing a solid 28-for-31 overall. However, he simply won't get many opportunities from 50-plus yards, home or away. If your league gives bonuses for length of field goals made, Suisham isn't worth a pick. But he's a good bye week replacement, having netted a respectable top 12 finish with 118 points last year.

Steelers defense/special teams

Last year, it seemed like an aberration that the Steelers defense was so ineffective in terms of Fantasy production. They backed 2011 up with another subpar season, finishing in the middle of the league in sacks and near the bottom in turnovers.

It's hard to see this team putting up pedestrian-at-best numbers for a third straight year, but doing it two years in a row seemed unlikely too. It's hard to endorse them now, but it should be mentioned a healthy Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley could ratchet them back around the top of the league.

The Steelers didn't have a healthy Polamalu for half the 2012 season, and Woodley and James Harrison (who's now with the Bengals) battled injuries all year.

There's some optimism surrounding third-year cornerback Cortez Allen, who will take over for Keenan Lewis this year. He caused five turnovers in the team's final two games, starting in place of an injured Ike Taylor. The Steelers haven't seen those kind of takeaway numbers from a cornerback since Rod Woodson. Obviously, Allen is not Rod Woodson, but if Allen can bring that momentum into the 2013 season, they could be looking at a revitalization on defense.


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