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2011 Team Report: Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Backup(s): Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon

Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger got off to a rough start last season. He began the year suspended and missed the first four games of the year. When he returned to the lineup many expected the Steelers to be a more run heavy offense. Roethlisberger quickly put that notion to bed and debuted with a 3 TD performance in week 6 against the Browns. In the eleven weeks from week 6 to week 11 Roethlisberger averaged 33 passing attempts per game. The Steelers were still willing to take to the air in order to win games, and Big Ben was leading the way. He finished the season with 17 TDs but only 5 INTs on the year. Roethlisberger has matured a lot since last year and is now married. He should be able to pick up where he left off last year as the leader of this team. With a full season ahead of him Roethlisberger could throw for at least 25 TDs and 3,500 yards. He was a top 10 fantasy QB in 2009, and we believe Roethlisberger could finish in the top 10 again this season.

Backup QB: Byron Leftwich was released in September last season and Dennis Dixon was named the starter to begin the year while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended. However, a knee injury to Dixon in week 2 sent him to the sidelines and opened the door for Leftwich to return to the team. Leftwich should be the primary backup behind Roethlisberger this year. Dixon has expressed frustration with his role and some think he may be traded or released before the beginning of the regular season. Charlie Batch is a capable veteran backup who should stick around as the team's third Quarterback.

Running Backs

Starter: Rashard Mendenhall
Backup(s): Isaac Redman, Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch (IR), John Clay
Fullback(s): David Johnson

Starting RB: 2010 was a career year for Rashard Mendenhall, and he had a career high in carries (324), rushing yards (1,274) and rushing TDs (13). The team relied on him heavily while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the year. However, when Big Ben returned Mendenhall still averaged 20 carries a game. He seemed to find his rhythm as a runner early in the season and relished a bigger role. Mendenhall became more decisive as a runner and still ran with his trademark power. We expect more of the same from Mendenhall in 2011. His current ADP is RB8 which is about where he'll finish if he can stay healthy this year.

Backup RBs: Isaac Redman is a pure power back who sees most of his time when the Steelers are closing out a victory. Many of his carries come in the fourth quarter where he can use his power to grind down the defense. His role is important, but limited in the offense. Mewelde Moore is a savvy veteran who can work well as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. Jonathan Dwyer was supposed to make more of an impact last year as a rookie but failed to do so. He can be a good power runner for the team but he needs to adapt his game for the pros if he's to play up to his potential. Baron Batch was a seventh-round pick by the Steelers this year and he could develop into the eventual replacement for Moore. Batch is a tough inside runner who stands out as a receiver out of the backfield. John Clay was added as an undrafted free agent. Clay is a big back with plodding feet. We don't expect him to make the team.

Fullback: David Johnson is a hard nosed blocker who can also catch a few passes. He won't be much of a fantasy factor this year but is an important member of the team.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Wallace, Hines Ward
Backups: Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Arnaz Battle, Limas Sweed

Starting WRs: Mike Wallace has quickly emerged as one of the best young Wide Receivers in the NFL. He splashed onto the scene as a rookie in 2009 and had a fantastic sophomore season. Wallace finished 2010 as the 5th best WR in fantasy football. He's always been a super fast receiver and can get on top of a defense in a hurry as evidenced by his 20.9 Yards Per Catch. Wallace finished the season with 7 100-yard games and provided his fantasy owners with plenty of points consistently throughout the season. We're not expecting Wallace to improve on his numbers from last year, but they won't take a huge dip either. His current ADP is WR9 which sounds about right. Draft him as a quality WR2 for your fantasy leagues. Hines Ward is no longer the player he used to be. He'll still play effectively as a tough target for the Steelers, but we're not predicting a big fantasy year for Ward. Younger players like Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are emerging behind him and they will take away from his total number of targets. Ward should still be good for about 50 receptions on the year with 4-5 TDs.

Backup WRs: Sanders plays a lot like Mike Wallace. He has speed, speed, and more speed. He is emerging as a route runner but still has to develop that part of his game. Sanders is hoping to gain 1,000-yards receiving this year and could overtake Hines Ward sometime during the year. However, he had foot surgery at the beginning of August and will miss most of the preseason. The injury to Sanders could open the door for Antonio Brown. He was Dan LeFevour's favorite target in college and quickly earned the trust of Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie last year. Brown made big play after big play and did not shy away from the spotlight. The early training camp reports are very positive for Brown and he could win the #3 job is Sanders is slow to recover from his foot surgery. The team brought in Jerricho Cotchery as a very strong #5 because of Sanders foot issues, Ward's age, and Brown's inexperience. Arnaz Battle is a savvy veteran who should make the squad because of his special teams ability. Limas Sweed has never lived up to his draft status, and this is certainly a make or break camp for him. Injuries and personal/emotional issues have held him back to this point. Sweed suffered an Achilles injury last year and knows he'll need a strong showing in the preseason to make the team. He recently suffered a shoulder injury which could prevent him from making the cut.

Tight Ends

Starters: Heath Miller
Backups: John Gilmore, Weslye Saunders, David Johnson

Heath Miller is still a favorite target of QB Ben Roethlisberger. However, the Steelers passing game has transformed and features more of the big play wideouts than it does Miller. He has great chemistry with Roethlisberger and should still be a factor when the team is in the red zone. Miller could finish the season as a top 15 fantasy Tight End, but is best drafted as a backup TE in fantasy football. John Gilmore comes over from the Buccaneers and has spent 9 years in the league because of his work ethic and blocking ability. Weslye Saunders is a freakish athlete who creates mismatches every time he's on the field. Saunders was dismissed from the South Carolina football team in 2010 and off field issues could be a concern. A foot injury that required surgery earlier this year could also prevent him from making an impact.

Place Kicker

Shaun Suisham, Swayze Waters : After parting ways with kicker Jeff Reed last season, Shaun Suisham was signed to finish the year and then re-signed following the lockout. Although Suisham is certainly the favorite to keep the job, Swayze Waters has been in various NFL camps in recent years and could conceivably challenge. The biggest question is at punter/holder. Can Dan Sepulveda bounce back from his second serious knee injury? Or, will his replacement from last year, Jeremy Kapinos, retain the job? Sepulveda can look for inspiration via long snapper Greg Warren, who bounced back last year after two years of ACL injuries. The Steelers ranked 4th and 12th in attempted kicking points the past two years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Mewelde Moore

Punt Returners: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Antwaan Randle El

Last year, rookie WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown shared the return specialist role, often rotating from week-to-week. This summer, Sanders has been out with a foot injury (hoping to return for the final preseason game) and Brown has been busy on both special teams and offense (making a strong showing). Brown commented, "I've been capable physically. I've just got to put it together mentally. There's no question about my physical assets and skills... I worked hard and added a little speed and pounds. I'm definitely a little quicker and faster." Veteran backups on returns include WR Antwaan Randle El and RB Mewelde Moore.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Willie Colon, LG Chris Kemoeatu, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG Ramon Foster, RT Marcus Gilbert [R]
Key Backups: Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky, Trai Essex

Team Defense

The Steelers have had a top-5 defense in the league three of the last four seasons. This is due to a fantastic mix of talent and coaching schemes. They pride themselves on stopping the run, which starts front and center with veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton. He occupies and often beats multiple blockers so the middle linebackers can make uncontested tackles. Veterans Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith are prototypical 3-4 ends. They seal the edge and clog up run lanes for opposing teams. 2009 first-round draft pick Ziggy Hood and 2011 first-round pick Cameron Heyward can fill in on the ends if either Keisel or Smith go down to injury. The hallmark group of Steelers defenses dating back to their Steel Curtain days is the linebackers. The outside tandem of LaMaar Woodley and James Harrison are two of the most talented pass rushers in the whole league. If one is double teamed, the other will thrive. In the middle is grizzled veteran James Farrior and uber-athletic Lawrence Timmons. Timmons, a former first-rounder, can play all four linebacker positions and should be a Pro-Bowl player in the very near future. The back four is the only somewhat suspect unit in this defense. The team re-signed its best corner, Ike Taylor, after the lockout was lifted. Taylor is an above-average cover guy who is very important to the scheme. Bryant McFadden was brought back last season after one year with Arizona. McFadden's cover skills are suspect (Jordy Nelson's huge Super Bowl can attest), but his tackling skills are among the best at the position -- a necessity to be a corner for Pittsburgh. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are a dynamic tandem. Polamalu can play anywhere on the field, often leaving Clark as "center-fielder," but Clark has shown a great knack for bone-crushing hits on receivers crossing his middle. Barring injuries (as it is a rather old defense), this unit should be elite once again.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Cameron Heyward, DE Evander Hood, NT Casey Hampton
Backups: DE Brett Keisel, DE Aaron Smith, NT Chris Hoke

Starting DL: In a 3-4 scheme the defensive line gets little glory but sets the foundation for the unit to be successful. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is a 4 time pro bowler who may well be the best 3-4 nose tackle in the game. He doesn't put up great numbers but his contribution to the perennial success of this defense is unquestioned. He is the quintessential 3-4 nose tackle, a massively strong fireplug of a player with a very low center of gravity, whose responsibility is to tie up multiple offensive linemen and clog up the middle of the field. Twelve year veteran Aaron Smith is the Steelers longest tenured lineman and may open the season with the title of starter. He has battled injuries for the past two years and will likely have a limited role at best. Smith's heir apparent is rookie Cameron Heyward who was drafted in the first round this spring. In the short term Heyward will battle veteran Brett Keisel for the starting job. The Steelers rarely miss on early defensive picks so in the long term Heyward will be the guy. Evander Hood was the Steelers first round pick in 2009. There will be little box score production from these guys but the Steelers are now set up front for the next several years.

Backup DL: A 7th round pick in '02, Brett Keisel saw very little action prior to '05 but has become a solid contributor over the past six seasons. He will contend for a starting job this year but is destined to return to his role as the team's third DE. There is very little step down in play when Keisel is on the field. Aaron Smith's time as an every down player has passed but the team may still try to use him as a situational sub and backup. Chris Hoke is an excellent backup for NT Casey Hampton. In the past it has been business as usual for the Steelers when Hoke has stepped in to spell or replace Hampton

Linebackers

Starters: ILB James Farrior, ILB Lawrence Timmons, OLB James Harrison, OLB LaMarr Woodley
Backups: ILB Larry Foote, OLB Jason Worilds, OLB Christopher Carter, ILB Stevenson Sylvester

Starting LBs: By design linebackers are the heart of any 3-4 scheme, and the Steelers are loaded at the position. James Farrior has been a mainstay at ILB for the last 9 seasons. He's been durable having missed just 4 games over that span, and has been a playmaker totaling 28.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, 10 recoveries and 8 interceptions since 2002. At age 36 Farrior is in the twilight of an excellent career but he has shown little sign of decline thus far. Lawrence Timmons was the 15th overall pick in '07. His career started slowly due to injuries but 2010 was a breakout season for him. Last year he took the torch from Farrior and became the center piece of the Steelers defense. His 96 solo tackles along with a knack for the big play, made Timmons a top 5 LB in most leagues. He should pick up this season right where he left off. Strong as the team is on the inside, it's their outside linebackers who steal the show. Over his four seasons as a starter James Harrison has racked up huge big play numbers including 45 sacks, an amazing 25 forced fumbles, 6 recoveries and 3 picks. Harrison's 72 solo tackles were tops among all 3-4 outside linebackers last season. He is one of the few 3-4 OLBs who has carries excellent value even in leagues that do not over emphasize the big play. In 2010 the Steelers used a second round pick on Jason Worilds who may be the eventual replacement for the now 33 year old Harrison, but for now it should be business as usual for the veteran. LaMarr Woodley has quietly blossomed into a star as well. His three seasons as a starter have produced 33 sacks and 17 turnovers.

Backup LBs: Larry Foote is one of the best backups in the game among inside backers in a 3-4. He has plenty of starting experience and is a smart, tough player who can step in and play like a starter. He lacks the big play ability and natural talent of Farrior and Timmons but gives the club a level of comfort that few backups can provide. Jason Worilds is a talented young player who continues to develop as the likely heir to James Harrison's position. The Steelers do an outstanding job of picking up young, under the radar players who fit their scheme, then developing them for a couple of years before eventually getting a quality return on their investment. Over the past two seasons they have used fifth round picks on ILB Stevenson Sylvester and OLB Christopher Carter. Both are players who fit the description. They will continue to contribute on special teams for now but we never know who come out of nowhere to be the next James Harrison.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark, CB Bryant McFadden, CB Ike Taylor
Backups: CB Keenan Lewis, CB William Gay, CB Curtis Brown, FS Will Allen, SS Ryan Mundy

Starting DBs: The nature of Pittsburgh's zone blitz scheme puts a lot of pressure on the secondary. Corners are often left on an island and must be able to handle man coverage while the safeties have to make split second decisions in a system that is very complicated. Of course it's much easier to do these things when the team leads the league in sacks. Ike Taylor fits the bill well and is entrenched at one corner position. His best season came in '07 when he recorded 69 tackles, intercepted 3 passes and defended 16. Those numbers have slipped a bit over the past few years and the Steelers would like to see more big plays from him. Bryant McFadden returned last year after spending 2009 in Arizona. He is a very similar player to Taylor. Good cover skills, a sure tackler who allows few big plays but makes few as well. At this point there is no immediate danger of either starter being bumped from the lineup but the club may look for a playmaker in the near future. A healthy Troy Polamalu is one of the best big play safeties to ever play the game. He tied a career best with 7 interceptions in 2010 but again battled injuries. Even when he stays healthy Polamalu's modest tackle production is enough to hold back his fantasy value. He has not reached 60 tackles in a season since 2005. Ryan Clark doesn't have impressive statistics but his steady presence and solid tackling allows the Steelers to turn Polamalu lose to make all those big plays. He may not share the spotlight but is just as instrumental to the Steelers overall success

Backup DBs: 2007 5th round pick William Gay stepped into the starting lineup in 2009 when Bryant McFadden was in Arizona. He did a good job in coverage and was a solid tackler, but his complete lack of big play ability had the coaching staff looking for a better option. Gay will compete with third year player Keenan Lewis and rookie third round pick Curtis Brown to establish the pecking order behind the starters. Former Dolphins starter Will Allen and 2009 6th round pick Ryan Mundy provide the depth at safety. Either of them would be a considerable step down from the starters.

Last modified: 2011-08-26 09:35:45

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