2014 Team Outlook: Pittsburgh Steelers
QB Ben Roethlisberger, PIT - Quality Backup
At the age of 32, Big Ben is coming off one of his best fantasy seasons. Roethlisberger threw for 4,261 yards and 29 TDs. He attempted the most passes of his career last season by more than 70 attempts. This stat could take a drastic downward turn in 2014. The Steelers allowed Roethlisberger's second and third receivers (Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, respectively) to walk via free agency in favor of an aging Lance Moore and promising, yet still unproven talents Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Pittsburgh will also have a healthy Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in the backfield to help them get back to Steelers' smash-mouth football. Roethlisberger was sacked 42 times and turned the ball over 20 times. The offensive line must better protect him. In spite of the questions with the offense, the former Miami of Ohio QB is still a seasoned veteran with two Super Bowl rings on his hand. His fantasy value has been underrated his whole career. He knows how to make something out of nothing and get the job done. It also helps to have budding superstar Antonio Brown at his disposal. The duo connected for 110 receptions in 2013. If healthy, Roethlisberger can be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
QB Bruce Gradkowski, PIT - Not Draft Worthy
Gradkowski is a career backup and journeymen quarterback who saw his most playing time with Oakland Raiders in 2009 and 2010. He is a very serviceable backup, but he will not outplay Big Ben like he did JaMarcus Russell and Jason Campbell in Oakland. Gradkowski's only hope at playing time is an injury to Roethlisberger or garbage time. Even if Gradkowski does get a shot to start, he would be nothing more than an emergency replacement in the deepest of formats.
RB Le'Veon Bell, PIT - Stud (low risk)
SECOND-YEAR STAR: Former Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell is a workhorse who will be asked to carry the majority of the workload in Pittsburgh. Bell was hindered early last year with a foot injury. Regardless of that, he proved to be durable over his college career. The Steelers historically love this type of back and have been searching for him since the departure of Rashard Mendenhall. Bell is coveted RB1 and will be drafted and started in all formats. Don't be surprised if he is a Top 5 back in 2014 due to his strengths both on the ground and via the pass. This every-down potential buoys his fantasy value and ensures he is a safe choice in the back half of the first or early in the second round.
Editor's note: The signing of and presence of Blount is a reasonable concern, especially after the former Oregon Ducks runner went nuts last postseason by rushing for 166 yards and four TDs against the Colts. A better way to look at it is that Pittsburgh needed to protect their investment in Bell. Blount can immediately come in, absorb about five to eight carries per game and give Bell a breather. Without Blount, the backfield's depth chart would be a whole lot more flimsy.
RB LeGarrette Blount, NE - Fantasy Handcuff
Blount has performed well when given limited opportunities. His rookie season in Tampa was a great success. In 13 games Blount rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged five yards a carry. Blount appeared to be the Bucs' back of the future, but that wasn't the case. In 2011 Blount dealt with a knee injury that cost him two games, and seemed to linger for most of the season. Set to bounce-back in 2012, Blount found himself in rookie head coach Greg Schiano's dog house. Doug Martin took over from there, limiting Blount to 41 carries. The following offseason, he was traded to New England. In 2013, Blount performed very well. In a very crowded backfield, Blount averaged five yards a carry, and punched in seven touchdowns. Now on yet another team, he must prove himself once again. Blount will be the No. 2 back in Pittsburgh behind second-year man Le'Veon Bell. Blount will most likely get limited touches in his new role. His running style appears to be a great fit in Pittsburgh and he should succeed in coming in occasionally in the second-half to further wear down defenses. If you own Bell, Blount is a desirable handcuff with enough talent to be worth the occasional start if he ever needs to start a game or two.
RB Dri Archer, PIT - Dynasty Only
Dri Archer was recently compared to Jamaal Charles. That's a bit of a stretch. Archer will most likely get some chances on returns and play a part in the passing game. Behind Bell and Blount on the depth chart, a high volume of carries is unlikely, especially considering his slight frame. He is very dangerous in the open field and has the ability to break off a big play. He was the fastest player at this year's combine, although his size will limit him. Besides the occasional big play, Archer only has value in deep PPR and dynasty leagues. In an interesting side note, Archer has been given jersey No. 13 (a wide receiver number), and is officially listed on the Steelers roster as WR/RB. That is something to keep a close eye on. This follows in the career path of Percy Harvin, who technically played RB in college and transitioned to receiver once in the pros.
WR Antonio Brown, PIT - Stud (low risk)
Antonio Brown was a dominant force last season. He finished second in both receptions (110) and receiving yards (1,499). Brown is locked in as a Top 5 fantasy receiver, particularly in PPR formats. Believe it or not, Brown may be even more of a focal point for the Steelers' passing game due to the departure of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Aside from tight end Heath Miller, Brown will be the only pass-catcher on the team that has proven chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. Markus Wheaton leads the pack to assume the No. 2 role. If he doesn't perform up to expectations, even more of the offense will flow through Brown. Brown is an elite WR1 and will be a starter in all formats.
Editor's note: When the Steelers allowed Mike Wallace to depart via free agency last offseason, it was clear they were very high on Brown. The decision may have been based on finances; however, teams don't allow one of their better players leave without a contingency plan or solid backup. Needless to say, Brown turned out to be more than just a backup. A more balanced offensive attack should increase efficiency and lead to longer drives with more first downs.