I'll put it plain and simple: I'm an FFF -- Fantasy Football Fanatic. When it comes Fall, my life becomes eat, sleep, and fantasy football (The American Dream), and when it comes to explosive fantasy football players, you don't have to look much further than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have atleast one quality fantasy player at each skill position, currently two consistent kickers, and a young defense that could develop into a fantasy relevant group. According to ESPN's Fantasy Rankings, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are ranked number one and number two, respectively, for their positions.
With mini-camp here and mock draft season in full effect, it's time to take a look at what viable fantasy options you can find on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster:
Ben Roethlisberger - Once a middle-of-the-road fantasy quarterback, Big Ben has quietly become a volatile threat in the fantasy world. Everybody that partakes in fantasy football knows there can be a difference between a great football player, and a great fantasy player. Roethlisberger has always been a great football player, but from 2004-2011 he was a subpar fantasy quarterback, averaging 14.4 ppg in ESPN standard scoring leagues. He was a consistent QB2 that was a solid fill-in for bye weeks and injuries. You knew what you were getting out of him-- nothing terrible, nothing amazing.
Suddenly, with one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the National Football League at his disposal, Ben has risen to elite fantasy status. With the measly 14.4 ppg average from 2004-2011, he jumped up to 17.5 ppg from 2012-2015, including 18.8 in 2014
Even last season, he was still getting drafted as a back-up quarterback. The 2016 season is the year that Roethlisberger claims his QB1 tag from week 1 in majority of leagues. I, myself, will be taking him as my starting quarterback for the first time ever. He is a quarterback that will allow you to focus on skill players in the early draft rounds, and snag him up in mid-to-late rounds. I would consider only two other quarterbacks that have a higher fantasy value: Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. With Peyton Manning retiring, and Tom Brady facing a four game suspension, it is Roethlisberger's time to rise to fantasy stardom.
My projection for Ben: Sets a new personal best of 19.3 ppg, finishing up as the 3rd best fantasy quarterback, and maintaining QB1 status.
Le'Veon Bell - As mentioned above, Le'veon Bell is the #1 ranked running back in ESPN's fantasy drafts. It does not take much convincing for someone to choose Bell, as he has proven he is a top option for the position, averaging 15.3 ppg in his three seasons. His one full season, 2014, Bell averaged 18 ppg-- insane numbers for any skill position. He is an obvious RB1, and if he is available when your bell rings, you take him.
One may be skeptical of drafting the great Le'veon due to his history of injuries, but in today's hard-hitting NFL, every running back should be considered injury prone and in danger. The Steelers, and Bell himself, are focusing on keeping him healthy this season. This entails possible less yards after contact, and more shared carries with DeAngelo Williams, potentially limiting Bell's fantasy ceiling.
My projection for Le'veon: A stellar, but not best, season at 14.8 ppg due to an increase in shared workload with DeAngelo Williams, finishing as the 4th best fantasy running back-- a clear RB1.
DeAngelo Williams - The (debatably) best back-up running back in the NFL returns to 2016 just as potent as he was in 2015. There's no doubt that a healthy Le'Veon lowers DeAngelo's value, but with an increased workload approaching, he is very well worth a roster spot. If you own Le'Veon, then DeAngelo is a must-have handcuff. Just as his career was deteriorating at Carolina, the 33 year old has found the fountain of youth in Pittsburgh.
In 2015, Williams averaged 19.1 ppg in Le'Veon's absence-- an unreal statistic for any running back. DeAngelo finished the season with the 4th most points among all running backs, even though he maintained a back-up role in weeks 3-8, as well as an injury in week 17.
He is well worth a roster spot, and can even be utilized at the flex position on a week-to-week basis.
My projection for DeAngelo: A healthy Le'Veon does not allow DeAngelo to surpass his 2015 numbers, but Williams still puts up a respectable 8.8 ppg-- earning an RB3 tag.
Antonio Brown - Very similar to the situation with Le'Veon Bell, drafting Antonio Brown requires absolutely no convincing. If he is available when your selection comes, you draft him. AB is heading into the 2016 season with a goal of 2,000 receiving yards, which means even more touchdowns.
This man is fantasy gold, finishing as the number one receiver in 2015. Once upon a time an overlooked draft prospect out of Central Michigan, Brown has become the most difficult receiver to guard in the National Football League. Antonio averaged 15.2 ppg throughout the entire 2015 season, and 18.2 with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm.
An offense without Martavis Bryant will provide Brown with even more opportunities.
My projection for Antonio: A healthy Roethlisberger provides Brown the ability to surpass the 2,000 yard milestone, with 12 touchdowns, finishing as the number one receiver again, averaging 18.8 ppg-- an obvious WR1
Markus Wheaton - Markus Wheaton has the highest possibility to see improvement in 2016. With the door to the Steelers' WR2 spot wide open, Wheaton will be first in line for the chance to inherit some of Martavis Bryant's fantasy value.
Wheaton averaged an unimpressive 6.25 ppg in 2015, and had minimal fantasy relevance. Though the numbers were subpar, he showed flashes of his potential, having outlier games of 13.2, 26.1, 12.2, and 11.7, randomly throughout the season.
The potential is there, but the biggest question will be is if the consistency is, as well. An offense without Martavis Bryant will give Wheaton a shot at having his breakout season. Markus is worth a late-round draft pick if you can hold off.
My projection for Markus: Takes advantage of the opportunity in front of him, and becomes the breakout star we all are hoping for. Averaging 10.8 ppg, finishes the season as a valuable WR2.
Darrius Heyward-Bey & Sammie Coates - Both Heyward-Bey and Coates are in similar fantasy situations. In a potent offense like the Steelers, any player can put out a double digit performance on a given week. Most NFL team's WR3 & 4 do not have much fantasy relevance due to their lack of workload.
The issue with Heyward-Bey and Coates is that they will have handfuls of very low scoring weeks, and then a random huge game that is hard to predict. Even with Ben Roethlisberger taking the snaps, there are only so many balls to go around.
I would not give either player any draft status, but they are worth looks as a free agent Flex pick-up if the match up is right.
Ladarius Green - The "Ferrari in the impound lot" comes to Pittsburgh in hopes to fill the void that Heath Miller has left. Averaging a measly 5.1 ppg in 2015, there is no doubt that the best is yet to come for Ladarius Green. Although he may not be able to actually fill the void of Miller, due to their different play styles and body types, this long-bodied tight end could become quite the vertical threat.
During his four seasons in San Diego, Green has been learning from one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, Antonio Gates. The back-up role he played as a Charger has preserved his body, and has allowed him lots of time to learn from one of the best.
Playing one of the most bare positions in fantasy football, Ladarius has a chance to gain very quick fantasy relevance due to the lack of depth in the NFL. He is not out to replace Rob Gronkowski as the premier tight end of fantasy, but to become a consistent target for Roethlisberger and a valuable red zone threat
My projection for Ladarius: A respectable 8.8 ppg affords him the status of a low-end TE1, high-end TE2 that should be used on a week-to-week basis, making him worth a late-round draft pick.
Jesse James - Seeing limited playing time in 2015, Jesse James enters 2016 ready to make that second-year jump. During the preseason, James showed glimpses of what he is capable of. If Ladarius goes down with an injury, James will be first in line to pick up the workload and become a red zone target.
Chris Boswell/Shaun Suisham - Whichever one the Pittsburgh Steelers decide to roll with in 2016, Steelers fans know what they are getting-- a consistent kicker that is capable of putting up big numbers. In fantasy football, one of the biggest beneficiaries of a great offense is the kicker. For a kicker to get points, you need an offense that can move the ball down the field and get him in kicking range.
In 2014, Suisham averaged 8.25 ppg, converting 29/32 field goals, while Boswell averaged 10.3 ppg in 2015, converting 29/32 field goals as well.
My guess is that they end up sticking with Chris Boswell as he has a significantly less salary, while just as consistent. Plus, Shaun Suisham still is not fully recovered from his ACL tear that he suffered in the 2015 preseason.
One thing to keep an eye on in 2016 is the possibility of the Steelers attempting more two-point conversions, which will take away extra points from the kicker.
Steelers Defense/Special Teams - Ah yes, the wonderful Pittsburgh Steelers defense. The once dominant unit that has become a common sight in fantasy free agencies. Is this the year they reclaim their dominance? Possibly, but it may take some time. Don't expect them to come out guns blazing with points in the first few weeks. This young, revamped defense needs some real, in-game experience before they can become the ball-hawking defense they are capable of being.
Surprisingly, the Steelers defense finished in 8th place in 2015, due to their ability to cause turnovers and get sacks. Their two biggest weaknesses, total points and total yards allowed, are what prevented them from becoming an elite fantasy defense.
Expect a finish similar to last years, in the 5th-8th position range. I predict less yards given up and less points allowed, but the possibility of less turnovers, as well.