NFL.com and Gil Brandt made some bold predictions about stats leaders this upcoming season.
Antonio Brown was the only Steeler on the first-string list, as Brandt predicted he will finish the season with 1,700 receiving yards coming off of his 2014 1,698-yard performance. Ben Roethlisberger was cited as a reason Brown will lead the league in receiving yards this year, along with Brown's versatility and ability to gain so many yards after the catch.
Is Brown capable of hitting 1,700 yards? Certainly. Brandt assumes the Steelers will rely more on Brown during Le'Veon Bell's suspension at the beginning of the season, but the Bell situation could also be a reason Brown may see less productivity during the RB's driving-while-high-on-weed suspension. Why? Bell is key to establishing a passing game. Without a run game, the Steelers plan of attack becomes more predictable and play action is a less viable alternative. Finally, we cannot underestimate Bell's contribution in pass protection. Blocking is one of his many superpowers.
Hopefully, DeAngelo Williams' presence on the field will keep opposing defenses guessing. Otherwise, yes, the Steelers will rely more on Brown, but that might not automatically equate to more receiving yards. Another factor could be the rise of Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Sammie Coates. Big Ben has lots of weapons in his WR arsenal, so bigger contributions from these guys could result in fewer yards for Brown.
On the other hand, if D-Will can help the Black and Gold establish a run game and Bell, once his suspension is over, is a less frequent target for receptions, Brown could end up with insane stats that far exceed Brandt's prediction.
Brandt included one other Steeler on his list of top performers, but only as a runner-up. Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck was predicted to rack up the most passing yards at 5,100. Big Ben Roethlisberger was listed as an "also considered." There are a few reasons Ben Roethlisberger is a safe pick for topping the league in passing yards. These reasons are named Antonio Brown, Mike Munchak & the O-Line (sounds like the name of a cover band at some dive bar), and Todd Haley. Additional factors include his 4,952-yard season in 2014, up from an also-stellar 4,261 yard season in 2013. Big Ben's stock is on the rise.
Did Brandt and NFL.com get it right? I agree that Brown will lead the league in most receiving stats, but it will have nothing to do with Bell's suspension. I also disagree that Luck will outperform Roethlisberger in total passing yards. Ben Roethlisberger's 2014 season will hopefully be proven it was no fluke in regards to passing yards.