QB Ben Roethlisberger
(2012 QB Rank – #21, 21.3 FPts/G)
With Big Ben, the question is which story do you believe? Is he the 31-year-old entrenched superstar coming off a superb season in which he threw for 3,265 yards with 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in only 13 games? The one who would have put up even greater numbers if not for three missed games, subpar play along the offensive line, Mike Wallace’s holdout and Antonio Brown’s injury issues? Or is he the declining veteran who has failed to play all 16 games since the 2008 season and who figures to struggle in 2013, given Wallace’s departure and tight end Heath Miller’s questionable health as he returns from a torn ACL suffered late last season? While Roethlisberger figures to benefit from having a year of experience in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense, there is no denying that the team has major issues at wide receiver and tight end, and an improved depth chart at running back. Pittsburgh’s talent level would seem to dictate a more balanced run/pass ratio in 2013, and that doesn’t bode well for Roethlisberger’s fantasy prospects. While he has been rated as a lower-tier QB1 or upper-tier QB2 for several seasons, he enters 2013 as a lower-tier QB2 because of his injury issues and the question marks among his receiving core.
RB Le’Veon Bell
(2012 RB Rank – N/A)
With Rashard Mendenhall having played and talked his way out of Pittsburgh and Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer having failed to prove themselves worthy of handling the lead running back role, the Steelers chose Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell in the second round of this year’s draft. The 6’1”, 244-pound Bell had a productive collegiate career, excelling both as a rusher and a receiver with the Spartans. Although he has solid size, the knock on Bell in college was that he too often tried to dance his way around defenders rather than just running over them. He will need to correct that to succeed in the NFL given his lack of ideal speed. However, there is no denying that Pittsburgh was an ideal landing spot for Bell because of their propensity for relying on large running backs that can move the pile, and their lack of talent on the depth chart at running back. Bell should land the starting spot on opening day and, given the young talent on the offensive line and the question marks among the receivers, he should be considered an upper-tier RB2 in 2013.
RB Isaac Redman
(2012 RB Rank – #44, 5.5 FPts/G; #44 PPR, 6.9 FPts/G)
Much like Jonathan Dwyer, Redman failed to make the most of a solid opportunity in 2012. After looking like a potential starter while backing up Rashard Mendenhall in 2011, Redman spent 2012 proving that he wasn’t worthy of fulfilling that role. With rookie Le’Veon Bell tabbed to start, Redman will need to fend off Dwyer to earn the backup role. Given his superior pass-catching and blocking ability, look for Redman to earn that job; but his 2012 production makes him one of the league’s lower-rated handcuffs. His yards per carry dropped to 3.7 and he managed just two touchdowns despite his solid size. Consider Redman a RB4 or RB5 in 2013.
RB Jonathan Dwyer
(2012 RB Rank – #40, 6.5 FPts/G; #40 PPR, 7.9 FPts/G)
After earning just 25 carries in his first two seasons, Dwyer, the Steelers sixth-round pick in 2010, opened 2012 in a timeshare with Isaac Redman while Rashard Mendenhall recovered from a torn ACL. That move failed to pay off for the Steelers as Dwyer continued to confound the organization with his inconsistency. While he looked the part at times, he failed to lock down a starting position and the organization used a second-round pick to acquire Le’Veon Bell in the 2013 draft. With reports indicating that the Steelers were looking to trade Dwyer, it’s clear his roster spot is in jeopardy. He will need to beat out former Cardinal LaRod Stephens-Howling—provided he isn’t traded before opening day.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
(2012 RB Rank – #46, 6.5 FPts/G; #47 PPR, 6.2 FPts/G)
After they jettisoned scatback Chris Rainey, the Steelers signed Stephens-Howling to provide receiving depth out of the backfield. In his four years in the desert, Stephens-Howling provided a few big plays but failed to earn consistent playing time. He’s not big enough to be a successful inside runner and his 17 receptions in 2012 were a career-high. There’s no upside here, folks.
WR Antonio Brown
(2012 WR Rank – #37, 8.5 FPts/G; #32 PPR, 13.6 FPts/G)
Forced to deal with a tight salary cap situation, the Steelers chose to let Mike Wallace sign with the Dolphins, thereby elevating Antonio Brown to their lead receiving position despite his struggles during the 2012 season. Their decision to sign Brown to a lucrative contract extension when they had not yet done the same for the more talented Wallace could be a decision the team regrets for years to come. In Brown the Steelers have a 5’10”, 186-pound receiver who excels in running intermediate routes and can gain yards after the catch but lacks Wallace’s deep speed. After a breakout season with 1,108 receiving yards in 2011, Brown’s production plunged this past season, as he hauled in just 66 receptions for 787 yards and five touchdowns. That isn’t the type of production most teams expect from their lead receiver, although a high ankle sprain did cause Brown to miss three games and likely hindered his play in several others. Looking forward to 2013, Brown’s production will be impacted by the extra attention he will receive from opposing defenses and his ability to outplay the league’s top cornerbacks. He shapes up as a lower-tier WR2.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
(2012 WR Rank – #64, 4.3 FPts/G; #66 PPR, 7.1 FPts/G)
After three largely lackluster seasons, Sanders will move into the Steelers starting lineup for the first time. The 2010 third-round pick will take over for the departed Mike Wallace, and Pittsburgh is hoping his deep speed can deliver some big plays and keep opposing defenses from stacking the box on early downs. While Sanders has the speed, he lacks ideal size at 5’11” and 180 pounds and has scored just five touchdowns in his career. His best season came in 2012 as he was healthy for all 16 games for the first time and set career highs in receptions (44) and yards (626) while finding the end zone once. The Steelers are hoping he can build on that production as his targets take a leap upward from the 74 he had last season. The opportunity is there for Sanders, but it feels like it found him more than he found it. Consider him a lower-tier WR4 in 2013.
WR Markus Wheaton
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
Having failed to re-sign starting wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Steelers used a third-round pick to acquire Wheaton, the 5’11”, 182-pound Oregon State product who is expected to open the season backing up Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Wheaton has outstanding speed and the ability to make defenders miss, making him an excellent fit in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s passing attack. To earn playing time as a rookie, Wheaton will need to unseat a pair of veterans in Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery. While that may not happen by opening day, look for Wheaton to become the team’s top backup by midseason—although Burress will likely fill that role in the red zone, provided he makes the team. While Wheaton isn’t worth owning in redraft formats, he is an excellent dynasty league prospect given that Sanders is working on a one-year contract.
WR Plaxico Burress
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
If there is one thing that Randy Moss’s 2012 comeback with San Francisco taught us, it’s that aging wide receivers that have missed extensive time don’t produce. While Burress may earn some red zone time and snag a few touchdowns, he has very little fantasy value in 2013.
TE Heath Miller
(2012 WR Rank – #4, 8.6 FPts/G; #4 PPR, 13.4 FPts/G)
After a pair of middling seasons in 2010 and 2011, Miller appeared to be a spent force entering 2012. However, at age 29, he proved his doubters wrong by having the best season of his eight-year career. Miller had career highs in yards (816) and touchdowns (8) while hauling in 71 receptions, the second highest total of his career. While that production would generally make for a mid-tier TE1, Miller suffered a torn ACL two days before Christmas and is unlikely to be ready for opening day. A spot on the PUP is possible, perhaps even likely, and it may take him much of 2013 to get back to where he was last season, if it happens at all. The truth is that Miller is only worth owning in larger leagues as a TE2 or TE3. He might be worth stashing on your roster in dynasty formats if the price is right.