|By Shawn Childs, Tuesday, June 9, 2015|
The Steelers returned to the playoffs in 2014 after playing .500 ball over the previous two years. They averaged the second-most passing yards per game and saw Le'Veon Bell become one of the league's elite running backs. This combination led to Pittsburgh scoring 436 points, seventh-most in the league last season and the most in team history. The Steelers also ranked second in offensive yards (411.1). Their defense ranked just below league average in points allowed (368) and total yards allowed per game (353.4). Mike Tomlin returns for his ninth season as head coach. He has an 82-46 record with one Super Bowl title. The Steelers have made the playoffs 27 times over the last 43 years with six Super Bowl wins. Todd Haley returns for his fourth season as the offensive coordinator. He has 19 years of NFL experience. Keith Butler takes over as the defensive coordinator, replacing Dick LeBeau. Butler has been groomed for this job by LeBeau. Keith had been the Steelers' linebackers coach for the last 12 years. This should be a seamless transition.
Longtime safety Troy Polamalu retired. The Steelers also lost their second-best passer rush in the prime of his career to retirement, Jason Worilds. The 27-year-old had 7.5 sacks, 16 QB hits and 28 hurries last season. His decision to retire was motivated by personal religious desires.
Cornerback Brice McCain signed with the Miami Dolphins. He started 10 of the last 11 games while allowing 38 catches on 58 pass attempts for 498 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Wide receiver Lance Moore was released after having minimal value in 2014. He signed with the Detroit Lions in May.
The only other minor move was running back Ben Tate being released.
Pittsburgh tried to improve the second and third levels of their defense with three of their first four picks, selecting linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant. Dupree will add speed to the defense both against the run and as a pass rusher. He is still developing and needs to react quicker. Bud should have no trouble defending tight ends.
Golson is an undersized corner (5 feet 9, 176 pounds) with playmaking skills. He flashes upside in coverage, but he will struggle against elite wideouts with size. Senquez is a willing tackler despite his stature. He doesn't have elite speed to make up for his mistakes.
In the third round, Sammie Coates was added to an already deep WR corps. Sammie has a great combination of speed, quickness, size and strength, but there are some questions about his hands. Scouts paint him as more of a one-dimensional speed player with high upside when he develops his ability to run routes. His drops may just be the result of a lack of concentration while trying to do too much before he secures the ball.
After getting sniped earlier in the draft at tight end when the Baltimore Ravens took Maxx Williams in the second round, Pittsburgh selected TE Jesse James in the fifth. James earned multiple stars at the combine, but his talent and athletic ability don't play as well on the field. He tends to be soft blocker with below-average skills as a route runner. His future is in the NFL is as a backup, but he needs to improve as a blocker.
With their last three picks in the draft, the Steelers added three more defensive players: defensive tackle Leterrius Walton, defensive end Anthony Chickillo and safety Gerod Holliman. Watson is a converted offensive lineman who needs more time to develop. His skill set suggests he'll be more of a run clogger with enough quickness to improve as a pass rusher.
Chickillo has some quickness but can be easily neutralized in the pass rush, especially when faced with more than one defender to beat. Anthony may work better as a speedy run stopper on the outside who can serve well as a blitzer on play action.
Gerod is big safety who likes to hit and has playmaking skills. However, his willingness to watch the quarterback's eyes will lead to him making false steps against the better QBs in the NFL. Holliman tends to be a poor tackler, which is the biggest reason for his low draft ranking. His value should rise with more experience and better coaching.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Sammie Coates
As great as Bell looked last year, the Steelers really didn't block well for him. They finished 16th in the league in rushing yards (1,752) while averaging only 4.1 yards per rush and with only 10 rushing TDs.
Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was their best lineman even though he allowed seven sacks. Kelvin was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He grades out a below-average run blocker. His backup, Mike Adams, a second-rounder in 2012, hasn't developed as the Steelers expected.
Center Maurkice Pouncey tends to offer more upside as run blocker while minimizing the damage in pass protection. He allowed only one sack last year after missing almost the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Pouncey has been a Pro Bowler in each of his other four pro seasons.
Left guard Ramon Foster graded out as a below-average run and pass blocker in 2014 after starting 15 games, including the playoffs. In 2013, Foster played his best ball and allowed only two sacks. He signed with Pittsburgh in 2009 as an undrafted free agent.
Right guard David DeCastro was selected in the first round in 2012. He was an excellent run blocker in 2013, but DeCastro regressed to below the league average last year. He allowed three sacks, two QB hits and 27 QB hurries.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert struggled in pass protection last season (seven sacks, four QB hits and 23 QB hurries allowed) after getting drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Gilbert has been a below-average run blocker in each of his four pro seasons.
The Steelers' offensive line has one elite player with a couple of serviceable pieces. They are thought of more highly than they should be as a result of Ben Roethlisberger's solid play and having one of the most talented backs in the league running behind them. In 2015, this line should be better as two players are coming off of down years, and Pouncey will be another year removed for his major knee injury.
The above chart shows the Browns' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Steelers have about a league-average run defense schedule with tough games coming against the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and two meetings with the Ravens. Three of those games will take place between Weeks 12-16, which is an important part of the fantasy football season. The Steelers' run game will have two favorable matchups against the Cleveland Browns. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers are not too daunting against the run either.
Pittsburgh has the eighth-toughest schedule in terms of their opponents' passing yards yards allowed. They have seven games against teams with pass defenses that are better than league average. Even matchups against the Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals aren't as favorable as they seem. Both of those teams should be better at defending WRs in 2015.
Steelers running backs caught 24.8 percent of Roethlisberger's completions. Pittsburgh was one of six teams in the league to complete more than 100 passes to the RB position. Wide receivers caught 57.9 percent of Big Ben's completions, totaling 237 catches for 3,220 and 25 touchdowns. The tight end position saw 17.6 percent of the action.
QB Ben Roethlisberger - Stud (low risk)
Over the past two years, Roethlisberger has seen his number of pass attempts spike under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. He set a career highs in completions (408), attempts (608) and passing yards (4,952) in 2014 while tying his career high in touchdown passes (32). In addition, Ben had a career-high 67.1 percent completion rate. His growth is due to the development of Le'Veon Bell and the electric talent of WR Antonio Brown. Last year, he had seven 300-yard passing games, one 400-yard game and one 500-yard game. Six of those nine performances came at home. He finished only two games with three TDs and had a pair of six-touchdown outings. A big part of his step forward was the improved play of the team's second- and third-year receivers. This season should be an exciting one for Steelers fans with Roethlisberger possibly having six viable receiving options when you add rookie Sammie Coates into the mix. I'd love to say he could throw 40 touchdowns, but Ben will face some tough defenses this year. Roethlisberger, with all that surrounding talent, should still finish as a top-five fantasy QB for the second straight year. I see 4,800-plus yards with 35-plus TDs.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Injury Status: Out - Knee
RB Le'Veon Bell - Stud (low risk)
When you look at the play of the Steelers' offensive line in 2014, you're left with feeling that Bell doesn't have a great opportunity in the run game. Pittsburgh gained only 4.1 rush per carry, and that's including Bell's 4.7 YPC average. The team's other running backs averaged just 3.7 YPC. Le'Veon caught 79 percent of his incredible target total of 105. He amassed 83 catches for 854 yards and three receiving TDs. All in all, he took 373 touches for 2,115 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs. Last year, Bell was electric in Weeks 11, 13 and 14 as he rushed for a total of 484 yards on 80 carries with four rushing TDs. Le'Veon also caught 16 balls during this span for 227 yards and one score. Bell's season ended in Week 17 when he suffered a hyperextended right knee. In the offseason, he was suspended for three games for violating the league's substance abuse policy last August. He is appealing the ruling. The best outcome a fantasy owner can hope for is a two-game suspension.
So, what do you make of his 2015 fantasy value? Last year, Le'Veon scored 370.50 fantasy points in FFWC scoring, which breaks down to 23.16 fantasy points per game. With similar success minus three games, Bell would still be a 300-point back. There were only three other RBs who scored more than 300 fantasy points in PPR leagues last season. The first option a fantasy owner has is to respect Bell's talent and pay full price by drafting him No. 1 overall. You would then have to make sure you choose wisely for your RB2 and especially your RB3, who will have to start for you during Bell's suspension and in the two weeks when he and your RB2 are on bye. The best option for me would be drafting Bell's backup as long as I don't have to pay a premium. A fantasy owner would then be hoping to get 60 percent of Bell's production from the backup (possibly 13-plus fantasy points per game). This would lead to Bell and his backup combining to score about 340 fantasy points. Both strategies are viable, and draft flow will determine the best path to victory. I think Le'Veon is still worth the No. 1 pick despite his tough fantasy playoffs schedule -- at the Cincinnati Bengals, versus the Broncos and at the Ravens. It's really tough to ignore Bell's ridiculous upside if he can just score a few more touchdowns. He has excellent chance at gaining 1,800 total yards with 65-plus catches and 12 or more TDs in just 13 weeks.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell
RB DeAngelo Williams - Bust (overvalued)
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RB Dri Archer - Dynasty Only
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WR Antonio Brown - Stud (low risk)
Opposing defenses just don't have an answer for Brown. He is a pass-catching machine with value in all areas of the field. Antonio finished second in the NFL in wide receiver targets (181) and posted an elite catch rate (71.3). He finished last season with a league-high 129 receptions and 1,698 receiving yards. He scored 13 times on offense and twice more as a returner. Brown had at least seven catches in 15 games of his 17 games and saw at least nine targets in all but one of those contests. In PPR leagues, Antonio has scored more than 10 fantasy points in 32 of his last 33 games. For his career, Brown has three 1,000-yard seasons with two years with 110 catches or more. He can't match the top receivers in the league in size, but he more than makes up for it in talent and heart. Antonio is a rock-solid piece to any fantasy team in PPR scoring and has great chemistry with Roethlisberger. In his last four years, Brown has missed just three games. With the Steelers' offense on the rise, he has a very good chance of catching 120-plus balls for 1,500-plus yards and double-digit TDs. He may even break Marvin Harrison's record for catches in a season (143).
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown
WR Martavis Bryant - Sleeper (undervalued)
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WR Markus Wheaton - Deep-league Only
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WR Sammie Coates - Dynasty Only
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TE Heath Miller - Quality Backup
Miller had a solid season in 2014 and was a top-12 fantasy TE. He finished with 66 catches for 761 yards and three TDs, marking the third-most productive season of his career. A big part of his success was his high catch rate (72.5 in 2014, 71.5 for his career). Heath tends to be Roethlisberger's safety value, and the team's talent at RB and WR creates a bigger window for him to catch passes. Miller has had only one season with more than 100 targets and has 43 TDs in 152 career games. This year, he will remain the Steelers' third-best target in catches and continue to have some value at the goal line. Pittsburgh will throw the ball enough that Heath has an opportunity to be a top-10 fantasy tight end if he scores a little more often. However, this 10-year vet will start the season at age 32.
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Heath Miller
Pittsburgh - Low Potential
Just like the other teams in the AFC North, the Steelers' run defense has a tough schedule with six games against ground attacks that are better than league average -- the 49ers, the Seahawks and two games each against the Bengals and the Ravens. Pittsburgh has two games against teams with a weak run offense -- the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders. The Chargers added a top RB in the draft, so that game may fall more into the neutral range. On the passing side, the Steelers face nine teams with a below-average passing attack. Their toughest matchups will come against the Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.
The Steelers allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards last season (1,605), but they allowed 4.4 yards per carry, which was above the league average. Their opponents ran the ball just 23 times per game, the third-lowest total in the league. This overrated run defense allowed just nine rushing TDs.
Their best run defender last year was linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Their defensive line has only one elite player: defensive end Cameron Heyward. He provides only a slight edge against the run but did set a career-high with 7.5 sacks last season. He also recorded 12 QB hits and 38 QB hurries. With linebacker Jason Worilds retired, the Steelers really need 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier to make a step forward. He has plus quickness and upside against the run and the pass.
Pittsburgh notched only 33 sacks in 2014 while allowing the sixth-most passing yards (4,049). They allowed 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 30 passing TDs and snagged only 11 interceptions.
Their biggest weakness was their secondary. Steelers cornerbacks allowed 20 TDs last year and 2,537 yards. William Gay doesn't have the skill set to be a No. 1 cornerback, and Pittsburgh might be forced to wheel out 2015 second-rounder Senquez Golson. I have a tough time believing he will make an impact in his rookie year. Gay allowed 66 completions on 110 pass attempts for 936 yards and five TDs last year. When you add in the weak pass rush, it could be a long year for this defense.
At safety, Pittsburgh has below-average talent with questionable coverage skills.Overall, the defense has two proven players and an upside linebacker in Shazier. They added another stud linebacker in Round 1 this year in Bud Dupree. It's tough to believe this defense can handle an elite passing attack, and their success against the run will fall on their linebackers. I don't think this group has any fantasy value.