Ben Roethlisberger is likely to be undervalued this season. In 2009, he missed one game but was the ninth-ranked fantasy quarterback, while averaging 22.8 FP/G. In 2010, he averaged 22.1 FP/G but missed four games and ranked 17th - on a points per game basis he was tied with Drew Brees for sixth at the position. Last season, Roethlisberger missed one full game with an ankle injury and ranked 12th in fantasy points, but his FP/G dropped to 19.2.
After 14 weeks (the injury occurred in Week 14 against the Browns), Roethlisberger was the 10th-best fantasy quarterback and averaged 20.5 FP/G. But his upside is considerably higher than that, considering the fluky circumstances that the Steelers encountered last season. Pittsburgh's defense was outstanding in many respects: the Steelers led the league in points allowed, yards allowed, and first downs allowed. But Pittsburgh, long one of the most aggressive defenses in the league, had terrible turnover luck in 2011. Despite great success in other areas, the Steelers forced just 15 turnovers on the season, the lowest number in the league. As a result, the Steelers offense had 165 drives last season, the fewest number in the league. Pittsburgh also ranked 25th in average line of scrimmage per drive. In other words, no quarterback had fewer opportunities - and fewer good opportunities - to score fantasy points.
The Steelers will surely force more turnovers next season, giving Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger more possessions and better field position. With the injury to Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh will complete its transformation into a passing team. With Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, and Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers have a deep and talented set of receivers. Pittsburgh drafted Stanford's David DeCastro - an elite guard prospect - and Ohio State tackle Mike Adams in the first two rounds of April's draft. Roethlisberger will surely be considered a low-end QB 1 or high-end QB 2, but I think his upside is greater than that.
Pittsburgh ranked 19th in pass attempts last season, but Roethlisberger ranked eighth in yards per attempt. The Steelers forced 35 turnovers in 2010, so it's reasonable to expect a large jump in turnovers from the anemic 15 created last year. With more drives, better field position and more attempts, Roethlisberger should have no problem ranking in the Top 10 as long as he's healthy. Add in a couple of rushing touchdowns (he had two in every season from 2007 to 2010 before having none last year), and he could have a top-five season if he catches a few breaks. If you miss out on a few quarterbacks, Roethlisberger is likely to provide great value in most fantasy drafts.
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