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Spotlight: Ben Roethlisberger

posted by Jeff Pasquino on Jul 15th


Jeff Pasquino's thoughts

Ben Roethlisberger is an accomplished veteran quarterback who is entering his ninth NFL season, all as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the past six campaigns, Roethlisberger has only missed one game per season aside from two years ago when he was suspended for the first four games on the 2010 season. He is a tough guy who can take a hit, as evidenced by many battered and bruised snapshots of him on the sidelines for the past few years. His durability has always been a big part of who Roethlisberger is, as he has been resilient both on and off of the field - bouncing back from legal issues, questionable behavior and even an infamous motorcycle crash. As long as Roethlisberger is in one piece or even close to it, he can be counted on as the weekly starter under center for the Steelers.

So we know now that Roethlisberger is likely to play most or all of the games for 2012 - what can we expect as far as his performance? Well, if you look at the past three years, he has more than a 2:1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (64:31). Last year was rough with a 21:14 split, but anyone can have a difficult year and the Steelers were transitioning away from the aging Hines Ward to the younger and more capable Antonio Brown as their second receiver. His top target will once again be Mike Wallace, a Top 10 wide receiver without question - but the concerns about Wallace are not about his play between the lines but more about getting him to suit up. He is not happy with his contract and is considering holding out, but the odds are good that he will not only play this year but be ready to go for Week 1. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery round out the top four wideouts in Pittsburgh for this season, comprising three youthful and talented targets all above of stretching the field and breaking off big plays on after any reception.

One player unlikely to be a go for Week 1 is running back Rashard Mendenhall, who blew out his knee in Week 17 last year. That puts him on a very accelerated schedule to try and get ready for Opening Day, one that Mendenhall claims that he can make but do not hold your breath. It would be of no surprise to see Isaac Redman as the starter in Week 1, which would steer much of the offense towards a passing attack for Pittsburgh. That would mean much bigger numbers are likely for Roethlisberger in 2012, as Pittsburgh will be leaning on his arm to drive the offense for most - if not all - of the regular season.

The story for the Pittsburgh offense would not be complete without a mention of the new offensive coordinator heading to the Steel City. Bruce Arians is gone and former Kansas City head coach Todd Haley is taking over, a role that Haley last had in Arizona where he helped the Cardinals and Kurt Warner put up big offensive statistics while Arizona made it all the way to Super Bowl XLIII. Roethlisberger was against the offensive coordinator change at first - after all, Arians had been in that role for Pittsburgh for the past five seasons - but since then Roethlisberger has changed his tune. Haley's offense has grown on Roethlisberger throughout OTAs and the rest of the offseason and now the big quarterback believes that he can put up strong numbers and lead a more dynamic offense for Pittsburgh in 2012.

Roethlisberger enters this year with favorable circumstances (suspect running game, young and talented receivers, new offensive coordinator, competitive division and aging defense) that should push his fantasy numbers upward from last year. The big quarterback has topped 4,000 yards passing in two of the last three seasons, and in the third averaged that pace for the 12 games in which he was able to play (3,200 yards in 12 games, a pace for about 4,300 yards). Now factor in a weakened ground game and a quarterback with some scrambling ability (averages 30+ rushes a year) and you can definitely see a path for Roethlisberger to have a Top 10 fantasy season.

Positives

  • Rashard Mendenhall is likely to begin the year on the PUP list, forcing the Steelers to be a pass-first, run-second offense
  • Two strong wide receivers (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown) to start every snap, both of which are likely to be Top 20 fantasy players give Ben Roethlisberger great starting targets. Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, along with TE Heath Miller are all solid second tier options
  • New starting running back Isaac Redman is likely to get the majority of the workload in the backfield - but he is better as a receiver (especially in comparison to Mendenhall), which should help boost Roethlisberger's numbers
  • Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has a reputation of instituting a dynamic and high-powered passing game
  • Pittsburgh spent its two top draft picks in April on the offensive line, a clear effort to address that weakness
  • Without Mendenhall, Roethlisberger may get more carries and scoring opportunities

Negatives

  • The Pittsburgh offensive line is not top notch once again, which may put Roethlisberger under pressure more and could lead to injury
  • Mike Wallace could hold out, which would be a major hit to the Steeler passing game
  • Wallace's lack of an offseason with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley could be a detriment to Wallace and Ben Roethlisberger being on the same page in the new playbook from Day 1

Final thoughts

Ben Roethlisberger is a talented and experienced NFL quarterback who is available in the third or fourth tier of fantasy drafts this year. He has had two Top 10 fantasy finishes in his career (2007, 2009), the two seasons in which he broke the 25+ passing touchdown barrier. With Rashard Mendenhall trying to recover from a knee injury at the end of last season, Pittsburgh is unlikely to be a run dominant team especially for the first half of 2012. Ben Roethlisberger will have to carry the offense on his arm, but the good news is that he has talented targets in the passing attack. Putting all of it together, Roethlisberger has great upside for this coming year, especially if you factor in how weak the proposed Steeler ground game may be until Mendenhall comes back. Roethlisberger is a relative steal given his ADP that puts him as a late QB1 or early QB2 in most fantasy drafts. Grabbing him as one of the last starting quarterbacks or even as part of a QBBC for your fantasy team offers excellent upside for this coming year.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

FFNinja said:

After Ben's 32 TD performance on only 404 attempts, I was avoiding him like the plauge in drafts because I perceived him to be a QB on a running team who just got lucky. That proved to be a good move despite the 16% increase in pass attempts the next year (only 17 TD). However, he's been a value play ever since then as the Steelers have make a quick shift to a passing team. In the last 5 years, here are his att/gm:

2007: 26.9
2008: 29.3
2009: 33.7
2010: 32.4
2011: 34.2

I specifically targeted Ben last year and I'll be even more locked in on him this year, as he is being drafted as QB15. I was excited to get a guy who was a lock for 4k yards last year and I'm even more excited this year given his weapons. Wallace, Brown, and Sanders look like a top 5 trio. I recently read Waldman talking about Heath Miller as a TE with elite talent that is underutilized due to the OC keeping him in to block, but Haley has mentioned possibly featuring him. So the potential for 4 productive, talented receiving options should have everyone excited rather than sleeping on a guy who finished QB12 last year with an offensive line in shambles. That line should be revamped in 2012, giving Ben more time and forcing him to throw on the run less frequently.

TheDirtyWord said:

I've long thought Big Ben has been one of the more chronically underappreciated FF players in all of the NFL. For whatever reason, be it that people still have in their mindset that Pittsburgh is a run first team, or that BB doesn't profile as a prolific QB...he always outperforms his ADP IMO.

His 16 game season average over the last 3seasons is as follows:

4421 Passing Yards
24 TD's
12 INT's
8.24 YPA
125 Rushing Yards
1 TD

That has earned Big Ben a late 8th round ADP, or currently 5 spots ahead of Jay Cutler. Let's also review what has occurred these last 3 seasons.

- 4-game suspension in 2010.
- Complete turnover of core WR's (leading WR's in 2008 were Hines Ward/Santonio Holmes). Now - Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown
- Terrible pass protection by O-Line

Yet, he's still been incredibly productive over the last three seasons on a per game basis which shows a certain degree of resiliency. Now, the cloud hanging over the Steelers offense is the change in OC, from Arians to Todd Haley. I'm not sure I get this reasoning in terms of this being a bad thing for the PIT passing offense. I know that Haley was a run-centric HC with the Chiefs. But he had the backfield to execute such a run-heavy scheme...plus, Matt Cassel almost required being protected in this manner. With ARI, he threw the ball 600 times/season when he had a deficient run game and veteran passer. With Mendenhall doubtful to be ready by the start of the season, who can take on such a load? Isaac Redman? You're not going to overwork him although he'll be a solid contributor as an RB1. But bottomline - PIT simply doesn't have the horses and RB depth to be a 50/50 run:pass team. Not to mention that as the Steelers defense gets older and hence less productive, the need t=for the Steelers to put points up on the board will increase.

So Roethlisberger should be in line to throw the ball at least 550 times again in 2012. And with an 8.24 YPA...I'm bullish on Big Ben having a big year. The bug aboo for Roethlisberger has been avoiding injury. Last year, his ankle/feet took a pounding and it's clear the Steelers placed an emphasis on protecting Big Ben by drafting his LT/LG combo potentially for the remainder of his career in DeCastro/Adams.

The thing I love about BB is you can draft him a round ahead of his ADP and still feel optimistic about feeling like you made a value pick. Honestly, I would draft him as early as Round 5-6, but you just don't need to. Assuming he stays healthy, I'm predicting a career year.


Ben Roethlisberger projections

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