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2015 Team Report: Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Backup(s): Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, Tajh Boyd

Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger can make defenses pay with his arm or with his legs. He keeps plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley finally seems comfortable crafting an offense that works well with Roethlisberger's skill set. In 2014, Roethlisberger posted a career-high with 4,952 passing yards. He also tied his career-best with 32 passing touchdowns. Roethliberger posted these numbers while only throwing nine interceptions. It's not out of the question to think that Roethlisberger will put up even better numbers in 2015. He'll have better receiving weapons around him this season, and young receivers added over the last year or two will have more experience at the pro level. Superstar receiver Antonio Brown should continue to be one of the best in the league, and his chemistry with Roethlisberger is undeniable. Add in tight end Heath Miller, and Roethlisberger should be able to move the ball through the air with ease. Another factor that could lead to more production from the passing game is the suspension of starting running back LeVeon Bell. To start the season, Bell will miss the first two games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. DeAngelo Williams should fill in for Bell during that time, and the Steelers may choose to air things out more without Bell in the lineup.

Backup QB: The Steelers are set at backup quarterback with veteran Bruce Gradkowski. He's got the athletic ability to keep plays alive when chaos is swirling around him. If pressed into starting duty, the Steelers offense wouldn't fall apart with Gradkowski at the helm. Landry Jones could be in a make-or-break season, and he needs to prove that he can continue to develop as a pro. He's got the ability to diagnose coverage quickly, and Jones can throw with proper velocity when given time in the pocket. However, his mechanics and footwork still need work when he's under duress. Tajh Boyd has great athleticism and the arm strength to make every throw in the pros. He needs to prove that he can read things quickly and make accurate throws if he wants to make the final roster.

Running Backs

Starter: Le'Veon Bell
Backup(s): DeAngelo Williams, Josh Harris, Cameron Stingily, Ross Scheuerman
Fullback(s): Will Johnson, Roosevelt Nix

Starting RB: Fantasy owners are in love with Le'Veon Bell. They'll be heartbroken over the first two weeks of the season as Bell is going to be out due to a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. His average draft position is going to be slightly impacted by this suspension, but fantasy owners should still be considering Bell as a first-round pick and a potential top-5 player when the season is done. Bell had a fine rookie season, and his sophomore season was out of this world. He improved his yards per carry from 3.5 in 2013 to 4.7 in 2014. Bell matched his rookie season with eight rushing touchdowns in his second season. In 2014, he rushed for 1,361 yards while also snaring 83 passes for 854 yards and three receiving touchdowns. The offensive line in Pittsburgh did a better job of blasting open holes for Bell in 2014. He did a better job of running through arm tackles and showing swiftness to and through the hole. Bell continued to showcase his nose for the end zone as a second-year player, and that should continue during his third season. His best attribute may be his ability as a receiver out of the backfield. Bell can beat linebackers on swing passes or screen passes. He can line up in the slot or also out wide in certain situations. Bell may be out the first three two of the year, but he could tear up the league upon his return. He might even be fresher towards the end of the regular season and the fantasy playoffs. When he's on the field, fantasy owners want Bell in the lineup every single week.

Backup RBs: The backups will play a larger role while Bell is suspended. The main back during that time should be veteran DeAngelo Williams. He was on the open market after the Carolina Panthers cut him earlier this offseason, and his experience will be quite welcome in Pittsburgh. Williams was not used as much as he could have been over the last few years in Carolina. A hand injury limited Williams to only six games in 2014. Over the last two seasons, Williams has only had two games with 20 or more carries. Even though he's entering his tenth season, Williams could be fresher and healthier because of his timeshare with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina. He is not the caliber of back that Bell is, but Williams can be effective as a runner between the tackles or in space. Williams is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield who can help move the chains. Behind Williams, the Steelers will see a competition between Josh Harris, Cameron Stingily, and Ross Scheuerman. Harris, an undrafted back in 2014 coming out of Wake Forest, is likely to be the team's third-string back. He does a good job of hiding behind his blockers, and he has good vision to find his way to the second level of the defense. Stingily has only been playing running back for two years after transitioning from linebacker earlier in his college career at Northern Illinois. At 235 pounds, he runs with natural violence and has an aggressive rushing style where he does not shy away from contact. Ross Scheuerman has good speed, quick feet and the agility to make defenders miss. There's a chance he could be moved to slot receiver, and he can also contribute as a return man.

Fullback: Will Johnson is a versatile player who can contribute as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield for the Steelers. He can line up at fullback, tight end or H-Back on offense, and he's a valuable blocker in front of Bell. Nix is a former linebacker from Kent State, and he's best known from his time with the Atlanta Falcons for breaking a blocking sled when he was featured on HBO's Hard Knocks.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton
Backups: Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Dri Archer, Eli Rogers, Tyler Murphy, C.J. Goodwin

Starting WRs: Some didn't think Antonio Brown could top the incredible production he had in 2013. Those people were wrong. Brown had a career-best 129 receptions for a career-best 1,698 receiving yards and a career-best 13 receiving touchdowns. Needless to say, Brown took his game to a different level. Is this the level fantasy owners can expect from here on out? The short answer is yes. Brown is a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger, and his big-play ability is on display every week for the Steelers. For the second straight year, Brown did not register a game with fewer than five receptions. In fact, this past season Brown had nine or more receptions in seven out of 16 games. He's not just a consistent targetóBrown makes defenses pay with his speed, quickness and run-after-the-catch ability. His 623 yards after the catch ranked fifth in the NFL. However, Brown was the third receiver out of those top five. His 180 targets in 2015 ranked second last year behind Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (185). His 631 routes run in 2014 ranked first by a wide margin as Golden Tate (Detroit Lions) came in second with 609 routes. It goes without saying, Brown is one of the NFL's best. That's not going to change in 2015. Behind Brown, we'll see Markus Wheaton if he can beat out Martavis Bryant for the job in training camp. Wheaton caught 53 passes for 644 receiving yards with two receiving touchdowns in 2014. He's a sharp route-runner with fearlessness when executing crossing routes. Wheaton has not yet played up to his potential as a pro. Part of that may be the inconsistent number of targets that comes his way on a weekly basis. The production of the second wide receiver in Pittsburgh is going to be capped by the design of the offense. Brown draws in a lot of targets as does tight end Heath Miller and running back Le'Veon Bell. If Wheaton does win the second spot on the wide receiver depth chart, he isn't going to be as involved as other second wide receivers across the league.

Backup WRs: Martavis Bryant could put up reception numbers that match or best what Wheaton does this year. He's likely to put up better touchdown numbers, and that makes him more fantasy relevant than Wheaton. Playing above the rim is not a problem for Bryant because of his size (6'4" 211 pounds), wingspan and leaping ability. Wheaton was only targeted 48 times last year, and he hauled in 26 receptions as a rookie. What stands out about his rookie season is the eight receiving touchdowns. Bryant didn't get started on the field as a rookie until Week 7. However, he scored six touchdowns in the first four games he played. Bryant started the fantasy playoffs with a smashing four-catch, 109-yard, one touchdown performance in Week 14. The following two weeks only saw him snare four passes for 74 yards. Fantasy owners want to see the touchdowns, but getting more receptions and being more consistent on a week-to-week basis would help his fantasy stock. Rookie Sammie Coates is going to be an interesting player to watch develop. He was plagued by drops during his time in college at Auburn, but he has incredible athleticism and leaping ability. If he can improve his focus, Coates could become a fine pro. Dri Archer can be listed as a wide receiver or as a running back. Regardless of where you put him, Archer is limited by his small size. He's mainly used as a receiver in space and return man for the Steelers. Darrius Heyward-Bey is a big blocker who drops too many passes and is not a fantasy factor at this point in his career. Eli Rogers, Tyler Murphy, and C.J. Goodwin are all vying or a spot on the practice squad as making the final roster has to be considered a longshot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Heath Miller
Backups: Matt Spaeth, Jesse James, Michael Egnew, Cameron Clear, Rob Blanchflower

Heath Miller is one of the most valuable players on this roster. He's a favorite of Roethlisberger, has a nose for the end zone and can consistently get open and move the chains (42 first downs in 2015). Improvements on the offensive line have helped Miller actually get out and run routes. In 2014, Miller was not asked to stay in and block as much as he was in 2013. He ran 511 routes last season, and he had a reception to route run ratio of 12.9 percent. He played a full 16-game season last year for the first time since 2011. Miller is a reliable target, but he only has four touchdown receptions over the last two years. He's a safe tight end for fantasy owners to draft and start on a weekly basis. However, he's not an exciting option-and DFS players usually pass on paying for Miller to be in the lineup. Behind Miller, the Steelers don't have any players who could be impact fantasy players. Matt Spaeth is a blocking tight end who has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. The Steelers added Jesse James in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft. He's got good size (6'7" 260 pounds) and knows how to find the soft spot in a zone defense. If he improves his concentration, he might be a (mostly blocking) starter at some point in his NFL career.

Place Kicker

Garrett Hartley, Shaun Suisham(inj): Hartley was signed when the Steelers lost Shaun Suisham for the season. He had a stint as New Orleans' kicker from 2008-2013, but has failed to catch on elsewhere since he lost the job. The Steelers' job is his to lose, and the offense should be very productive, even if the home field is one of the toughest places to kick in the league. Hartley could lose his job at any time in the season with a prolonged cold streak, or even before the season, but since it costs nothing to pick up another kicker, he's worth drafting outside of best ball leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Markus Wheaton, Jordan Todman, Jacoby Jones

The Steelers return game was solid overall in 2014. Markus Wheaton was a middle of the road kick returner by NFL standards, ranking 15th in yards per return. Dri Archer underperformed expectations for him. Archer entered the season seeing the majority of the returns, but was released when Jacoby Jones was claimed from waivers after Week 8.

Punt Returners: Antonio Brown, Jacoby Jones, Markus Wheaton

Receiver Antonio Brown had another top ten season as a punt returner, maintaining a 10.6 yard average and taking one return the distance for a touchdown. The coaching staff has so far shown no inclination to keep their star receiver away from the extra workload of the return game, so Brown looks like a good bet to see the added punt return yards again in 2015.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Kelvin Beachum, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David Decastro, RT Marcus Gilbert
Key Backups: T Mike Adams, G Chris Hubbard, T Mitchell Van Dyk, C Cody Wallace

We don't talk alot about offensive line positional coaches but the Steelers' line has one of the best in the business in Hall of Famer Mike Munchak. Several beat writers praised the coach for simplifying the line calls and providing quality leadership last season. The line enjoyed very good results under his tutelage and they return all five starters in all the same positions. The best player on the line is clearly center Maurkice Pouncey, who was selected to his fourth career All-Pro team. Pouncey is stepping up as a team leader and has the respect of not only his linemates but the entire organization. The guard situation is well above average as left guard Ramon Foster and right guard David Decastro were rock solid in protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was signed by the team to a long term contract and has been excellent in the run game. Both he and left tackle Kelvin Beachum could stand to improve their pass protection. Beachum is an overall solid player who didn't miss a snap last season, but at 6'3" he's undersized for the position. As he's heading into a contract year, the team could be looking to move on to a more prototypical athlete. Former second round pick Mike Adams is one possible name that could replace Beachum and he did get reps at right tackle last year when Gilbert was injured for four games. Adams did decently but overall he has been relatively slow to develop and might never be ready for starting responsibility. In the long term this line could have a question at the left tackle position but in the short term expect the Steelers to have one the league's better units up front.

Team Defense

The Steelers defense could only improve by the net substraction of aging cornerstones Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. Second-round pick Senquez Golson is a gamer, but undersized, and Shamarko Thomas will be put on the spot after not returning much so far in his young career. First-round edge rusher Bud Dupree is more of a project than a typical first-round pick with his lack of comfort in a 3-4 scheme, and 2013 first-rounder Jarvis Jones has been a bust. If there's one place this defense could excel, it's at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons putting as much speed on the field at the position as any team in the league. The Steelers offense could stake the team to leads and allow an undermanned defense to make more big plays, but in yards and points allowed leagues, the Steelers will struggle to be consistent.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Steve McClendon, DE Cameron Heyward, DE Stephon Tuitt
Backups: DE Cam Thomas, DE Anthony Chickillo, NT Daniel McCullers, NT Matt Conrath, NT Leterrius Walton, DE Clifton Geathers, DE Ethan Herner

Starting DL: The Steelers have never been shy about investing early draft picks in their front three. That approach has paid off for them over time. Pittsburgh defensive linemen rarely post impressive numbers. In fact the entire DL unit accounted for only 10 sacks in 2014 with Cameron Heyward accounting for 7.5 of them. The design of the zone blitz scheme requires the front three to hold the line of scrimmage and eat up blockers so that the linebackers are free to make plays. This demands a very specific skill set. Big bodies with the strength to hold ground against double teams is the first requirement. In Steve McClendon, Cameron Heyward and last year's second round pick Stephon Tuitt, the team has three players who fit their template perfectly.

Backup DL: Unlike many NFL teams the Steelers do not like to rotate a lot of defensive linemen into the game. In 2014 four players accounted for all but 5 of the team's solo tackles that were credited to the defensive line. Cam Thomas was among the four players who saw considerable action. Thomas has been a starter for the team over most of his five seasons and may continue to see time ahead of Stephon Tuitt into this season. Thomas can play either end or nose tackle in the 3-4 and could be used as the top substitute at both positions. The Steelers have a long history of successfully developing late round picks. Daniel McCullers, Leterrius Walton and Anthony Chickillo are all first or second year developmental players that were drafted in the sixth round. This gives the team plenty of long term upside but leaves the Steelers a little short on defensive line experience behind the starters.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Lawrence Timmons, ILB Ryan Shazier, OLB Jarvis Jones, OLB Arthur Moats
Backups: ILB Sean Spence, ILB Vince Williams, ILB Jordan Zumwalt, ILB Terence Garvin, OLB James Harrison, OLB Bud Dupree, OLB Joe Kruger, OLB Shawn Lemon

Starting LBs: In 2013 The Steelers started a youth movement at linebacker by drafting Jarvis Jones in the first round. They continued last season by adding Ryan Shazier in round one and followed up by selecting Bud Dupree in the first this year. Both Jones and Shazier have already taken their places in the starting lineup. Dupree is not a sure thing to join them as a rookie but he is expected to see a good deal of action. Arthur Moats is penciled in at the spot with veteran James Harrison in the mix for time as well. Moats is not a long term answer and Harrison is at the end of his career, so the position opposite Jones is anything but settled. With veteran inside backer Lawrence Timmons (who is also a former first round pick) filling out the starting lineup, the Steelers are a little light on experience but have a lot of talent to work with at the linebacker positions.

Backup LBs: The coaching staff had high expectations for 2012 third round pick Sean Spence before a serious injury early in his rookie season derailed his career. He was able to get back on the field in 2014 and saw action when Shazier was banged up. Spence did an adequate job in relief but not the explosive player the team had expected him to be. He and Vince Williams will be the top backups on the inside. They would be a considerable step down if called upon. The Steelers have a good mix of young talent and veteran experience at the outside linebacker positions. The pecking order for playing time is yet to be steeled and will depend greatly on how quickly rookie Bud Dupree pick up the pro game and the Steelers complex defense.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Shamarko Thomas, FS Michael Mitchell, CB Cortez Allen, CB William Gay, CB Brandon Boykin
Backups: S Will Allen S Robert Golden, S Greg Holliman, CB Doran Grant, CB Antwon Blake, CB B.J. Webb

Starting DBs: With the retirement of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor the Steelers will have some new faces in the starting secondary in 2015. 2013 fourth round pick Shamarko Thomas has been groomed for this situation. He is no Polamalu but Thomas had a history of big play ability during his time at Syracuse. His speed, cover skills and knack for the big play should make Thomas a good fit. He will pair with speedy veteran Michael Mitchell to give Pittsburgh a solid safety tandem. The Steelers used a second round pick on Senquez Golson to take the roster spot vacated by Taylor, but Golson is battling a potentially season ending back injury. It is expected he will eventually move into a starting job but he will likely spend his rookie in rehab. The Steelers traded for Brandon Boykin who will compete with veterans Cortez Allen and William Gay to determin the pecking order. Boykin has been a nickel corner for the Eagles over the past couple of years and may settle into that role with the Steelers as well. All three of these players are good, experienced cover men who fit the profile for Steelers corners. Much has been made of the Steelers losses in the backfield but when it comes time to play, this unit will not look much different on the field.

Backup DBs: Veteran Will Allen gives Pittsburgh an unspectacular but dependable third option at safety. He may even throw his hat into the mix for a starting spot if Thomas stumbles. Fourth year pro Robert Golden and rookie seventh round pick Greg Holliman round out the depth chart at safety. Holliman is an interesting prospect. He has excellent speed and cover skills but needs to improve as a tackler. Pittsburgh added rookie Doran Grant in the fourth round to provide depth. He will join veterans Antwon Blake and B.J. Webb who will all compete to establish the pecking order behind the starters. Grant's high football IQ and solid physical traits could help him to move up the depth chart quickly.

Last modified: 2015-12-08 17:06:09