QB Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger entered last year coming off his best season as a pro when he finished as the eighth-ranked fantasy quarterback. Despite having to serve a four-game suspension to start the 2010 season, he proved that his fantasy production in 2009 wasn’t a fluke, throwing for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games. He also chipped in 176 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, helping to pad his fantasy point total. The Steelers are clearly a pass-based offense when Roethlisberger is in the lineup, and his projections for 2011 remain solid with Mike Wallace entering his third season and second-year receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown coming off impressive rookie campaigns. Throw in the reliable Hines Ward along with Heath Miller at tight end, and Roethlisberger could have six quality receiving options in 2011. Roethlisberger will be drafted after the big six at quarterback and ranks in the second tier with Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Eli Manning, and Josh Freeman.
RB Rashard Mendenhall
With the Steelers forced to open the season without Roethlisberger, Mendenhall burst out of the gate over the first four games, gaining 411 yards on the ground with four rushing touchdowns. At that point, he looked like a sure bet to establish himself as a top five fantasy running back. However, when Big Ben returned to the lineup, Mendenhall’s production took a hit. Over the last 12 games of the season, he ran for 863 yards and nine touchdowns. To sum it up: without Roethlisberger, 17.0 points per game; with him, 12.8 points per game. Without Big Ben, Mendenhall is a top five running back, but having Roethlisberger in the lineup likely lands him just outside of the top ten. There’s little reason to believe that Roethlisberger won’t stay healthy for all but a game or two in 2011. A pair of divisions that feature weak run defenses (the AFC South and NFC West) are on tap for the Steelers, so draft Mendenhall as a low-end RB1 or a high-end RB2, but he shouldn’t be considered among the league’s elite fantasy running backs.
RB Isaac Redman
Redman essentially came out of nowhere to win the backup role behind Rashard Mendenhall in 2010. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, gaining 247 yards on 52 carries and playing well enough that the team decided against adding to the backfield in the draft. Redman also showed some nifty moves as a receiver, scoring twice on just nine receptions. He shapes up as needed insurance for Mendenhall owners, and he displayed enough last season to suggest that he could provide solid fantasy production if Mendenhall were to be out of the lineup for an extended period.
RB Jonathan Dwyer
The 2010 sixth-round pick lost the backup role to Isaac Redman last season and rarely saw the field during his rookie year. Dwyer has good size at 5’11” and 230 pounds and was the lead runner for Georgia Tech, but he has failed to impress with the Steelers so far. Head coach Mike Tomlin essentially called him out after the season, stating that he needed to improve greatly in 2011. Don’t bet on that happening. Unless he can beat out Redman (which seems unlikely), he isn’t worth a roster spot in dynasty leagues.
WR Mike Wallace
Wallace played well as a rookie in 2009 and was given a major opportunity when the Steelers unloaded Santonio Holmes to the Jets before last season. He didn’t disappoint. With 60 receptions for 1,257 yards and ten touchdowns, Wallace earned distinction as one of the league’s top ten wide receivers. Over the course of his two-year career, Wallace has averaged 20.3 yards per reception, making him perhaps the best big-play receiver in the league. Simply put, quarterbacks can’t overthrow him, and he has worked hard to develop his game on short and intermediate patterns as well. He was the sixth-ranked fantasy wide receiver last season and averaged 12.7 points per game with Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup. There is no reason to suggest he can’t duplicate both feats in 2011.
WR Hines Ward
Ward finally showed his age last year, posting his lowest receiving total since his injury-shortened 2007 campaign. Removing that season, his 755 receiving yards in 2010 was his lowest total since 2000, his third year in the league. A knee injury may have hindered him last season, but with Mike Wallace now firmly entrenched as the team’s top wide receiver, and with second-year players Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown coming off solid rookie seasons, Ward will likely struggle to match even his 2010 production. He is little more than a possession receiver at this point. While the temptation will be to draft him as a WR3 based on his previous production, he should be considered a backup or a solid flex option for leagues that employ the position.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
Drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, Sanders enjoyed a reasonably productive rookie season as he shared the third receiver role with veteran Antwan Randle-El and fellow rookie Antonio Brown, catching 28 passes for 376 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sanders started slowly with just four receptions over the first half of the season, but then he became the team’s main option in three-receiver sets, catching 24 passes for 300 yards and a pair of scores over the second half of the season. That production bodes well for the future as he appears set to take over Hines Ward’s spot as starter as early as 2012, provided he can build on his rookie performance in 2011. Bank on that happening. Consider Sanders a solid prospect in dynasty leagues and a player to watch on the waiver wire in redraft formats.
TE Heath Miller
Miller entered last season coming off a career year, when he caught 76 passes for 789 yards and six touchdowns in 2009. There were warning signs for 2010, however, with Ben Roethlisberger serving a four-game suspension, Miller having been a fantasy dud in 2008, and his 2007 season having been saved only by seven touchdown receptions. Sure enough, he suffered a huge drop-off in 2010, with 42 receptions for 512 yards and just two touchdowns. With a wide receiver depth chart that features four quality options, Miller doesn’t figure to rebound in 2011. Consider him a mid-tier backup with little prospect of a big season.