Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Fantasy Football Preview
Steelers’ fans and fantasy football players, can you believe it? Training camps open over the next week and it is once again time to dig into each NFL roster and find the top statistical producers for our fantasy squads.
In Pittsburgh, the excitement is buzzing around what Ben Roethlisberger said is, “The most talented offense I have ever played on.” Regardless of what the Pittsburgh Steelers defense develops into over the course of the 2015 season, one thing is certain; the Steelers have one of the most impressive offensive units in the NFL. With health on their side, the offense should be just as explosive as their 2014 campaign.
Last season, Roethlisberger tied Drew Brees for the league lead in passing yards with 4,952. Le’Veon Bell exploded onto the fantasy scene with the second most rushing yards (1,361) and most receiving yards (854) among running backs. Antonio Brown dominated opposing cornerbacks all season long, pacing all receivers with 1,698 receiving yards.
The improvement of the Steelers offense has directly coincided with the emergence of the offensive line. For years the Steelers battled with injuries along the offensive front and could never find a consistent rotation. With seventh round steal Kelvin Beachum solidifying the left tackle position, the offense has been able to flourish under overly criticized coordinator Todd Haley.
Despite Bell being suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season, the Steelers should have plenty of firepower to overcome their tough strength of schedule. It is hard to read into strength of schedule from year to year because of so many changes in the NFL, but the Steelers do have the “hardest” schedule on paper. It will certainly be more of a challenge than the 2014 season, but it seems that the Steelers under Mike Tomlin perform better against tougher competition.
Pittsburgh also improved weak points on the roster. Adding veteran DeAngelo Williams should help to stabilize the running back position behind Bell. Rookie Sammie Coates is an extremely exciting prospect that may be making waves by midseason.
Also at wide receiver, Martavis Bryant’s second half surge in 2014 was no doubt a factor in the Steelers offensive improvement. Bryant will take on the starting role opposite Antonio Brown, while Markus Wheaton slides into the slot position.
The Passing Game
If Ben Roethlisberger eclipses 32 passing touchdowns in 2015, it will be his sixth straight season improving his passing touchdown total. Big Ben is playing the best football of his career under Haley, and will look to build on his top five finish among fantasy football quarterbacks last season.
Roethlisberger stayed healthy last year for the most part and was able to play all 16 games for only the third time in his career. In 2014, he set career highs in completions, attempts, yards, yards per game and matched his career high in touchdowns with 32.
Volume hasn’t always been the answer to production for him in the past. Although Ben had more opportunities to throw in 2014 than any other season in his career, the key was his career high 67.1 completion percentage. I believe that he will see similar volume again in 2015, especially if Bell’s three game suspension is upheld.
Ben is being taken as the sixth quarterback off the board in standard fantasy drafts (12 team leagues) at pick 5.12. Last season, Ben was a great value when you could get him in the 11th or 12th round, this year he is priced correctly in drafts if he does indeed repeat his top five fantasy performance. Getting Ben in the late 6th or 7th round of your draft is where you should target him if he is still on the board. Don’t reach for him too early with other values like Matt Ryan and Tony Romo going off the board behind him.
Ben Roethlisberger 2015 Stat Projections: 385 completions / 590 attempts – 4,785 yards – 33 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
As mentioned in the open, the continuity along the offensive line has helped Roethlisberger stay upright and have more time to find Brown, Bell and Bryant down the field. Speaking of Antonio Brown, the Steelers have found themselves an absolute gem at wide receiver.
Concerns over a holdout at the beginning of OTA’s were quickly squelched when Brown showed up to minicamp ready to put in work toward another fantastic season. In 2014, Brown was first in fantasy points among wide receivers (251), first in receptions (129), first in yards (1,698) and second in touchdowns (13). Need any more reasons to draft him in the first round of your fantasy draft this year? Brown is the clear, premier wide receiver in PPR formats and can easily be taken as the top receiver in standard leagues as well.
Brown leads all fantasy receivers in receptions and PPR fantasy points over the past two seasons. The question among many fantasy analysts this off-season is could he see a dip in targets this season with the emergence of Martavis Bryant? To me, there is another way that you can look at it. Brown could be open even more this season with Bell and Bryant taking more of the defense’s attention. Even if Brown peaked last season, he is still in for a huge fantasy stat line. My bet is that he regresses just slightly but still leads the league in receptions and yards.
Brown is expensive in fantasy drafts; he is being taken as the first wide receiver off the board at pick 1.07 in standard leagues. In PPR, he is being taken as the third overall pick. If you are looking for consistent production with a high weekly floor and an occasional huge game, Brown is your guy. If you have a pick in the top half of the first round, snatch him up before someone else does!
Antonio Brown 2015 Stat Projections: 165 Targets, 112 Receptions, 1,530 yards, 10 Touchdowns
Brown’s running mate, Bryant is gaining steam quickly in the fantasy community. Playing only 26.5 percent of the Steelers offensive snaps as a rookie, Bryant still amassed eight touchdowns and a ridiculous 21.1 yards per catch average on 26 receptions.
Now, imagine what Bryant could do when he plays a full complement of snaps in 2015. When he finally got on the field after Week 6, the Steelers offense exploded. Looking at the week to week game-logs, from Week 7 on, the Steelers offense averaged 11 more points per game and 68 more passing yards per game. Roethlisberger has always wanted a big target in the red zone, and Bryant fits that mold extremely well. Reports note that he has put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, but it has not slowed him down at all. Already having to worry about Brown and Bell, Bryant is going to be a terror for opposing defenses.
In standard leagues, Bryant is being taken as the 19th wide receiver off the board at pick 4.10 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. To return his draft day price, Bryant will need to finish as a WR2 with a couple of huge fantasy weeks. If he does indeed see around 80-85 percent of snaps like he did against the Ravens in the playoffs, I believe Bryant will eclipse 1,000 receiving yards and post solid touchdown numbers again this season.
Martavis Bryant 2015 Stat Projections: 108 targets, 67 receptions, 1,075 yards, 8 touchdowns
The two other wide receivers of note on the Steelers roster are slot receiver Markus Wheaton and rookie Sammie Coates.
Wheaton has been moved to the slot full time with Bryant being bumped to the outside to start alongside Antonio Brown. The slot role is very important in Pittsburgh and Wheaton will still get his chances to contribute. Last season, slot receiver Lance Moore ran the most “slot routes” in the league with 153.
In 2014, Wheaton saw 86 targets, but it must be noted that his playing time was cut by nearly 33 percent when Bryant was added to the mix in Week 7. Wheaton could provide some deep PPR value for teams looking for a flier at their 5th wide receiver spot. In the playoff game against Baltimore, Wheaton had 5 receptions for 66 yards. 11 PPR points could provide solid value to many fantasy squads. Look for him very late in your fantasy drafts in deeper 14-16 team leagues.
Markus Wheaton 2015 Stat Projections: 68 targets, 42 receptions, 515 yards, 3 touchdowns
Sammie Coates, a rookie from Auburn, is an intriguing prospect that is similar to Martavis Bryant in measurables. At 6’2” 201 pounds, Coates provides the Steelers offense another big target for Roethlisberger.
During his last two seasons at Auburn, Coates averaged 21.6 yards per reception. Sound familiar? Coates will need to learn quickly under wide receiver coach Richard Mann to see any significant playing time. I see Coates taking a similar path as Bryant; slowing working his way into the lineup over the middle portion of the season, and making a significant impact during the second half of the year.
According to Player Profiler, Coates compares most favorably to former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Coates runs a 4.43 40 yard dash, and could be used very similarly to Smith in the sense of running a lot of go routes to stretch opposing defenses.
Coates is a great target in rookie drafts and dynasty leagues. I would not draft Coates in redraft leagues, but leave him on the waiver and track his progress throughout the year.
Sammie Coates 2015 Stat Projections: 39 targets, 21 receptions, 380 yards, 2 touchdowns
Aside from the wide receivers, there are two other crucial pieces in the Steelers passing game, tight end Heath Miller and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Miller has been a stable force in Pittsburgh for a decade now. His run blocking and reliable hands have been an extremely valuable asset to the Steelers franchise, but he may not be that much of a factor in your fantasy leagues.
Miller finished the 2014 season as the 11th best fantasy tight end and I foresee more of the same this season. Aside from Miller’s outlier 2012 season, in which he scored 8 touchdowns, he has averaged only 2 touchdowns per season since 2010. Miller is used primarily as a chain mover, but does have some value in PPR formats. I love to target Miller as a backup after I have drafted one of the top tier tight ends like Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.
At 33 years old, it would be unwise to rely on Miller as your primary fantasy tight end. He is best served as a weekly matchup play or TE2 in all formats.
Heath Miller 2015 Stat Projections: 78 targets, 57 receptions, 595 yards, 4 touchdowns
Last but certainly not least, is Le’Veon Bell. Bell exploded onto the fantasy scene in 2014 as a PPR monster. With 2,215 yards from scrimmage, he’s made his case to be the top fantasy back in the league.
Bell had a whopping 105 targets, and 83 receptions in 2014, second in both categories to the Bears Matt Forte. If his three game suspension holds, plus some regression, Bell will fall back to the pack in his receiving statistics this season.
Still, he’ll be a very valuable running back, especially in PPR formats. Even with the suspension, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, Bell is being taken as the 4th player overall in the first round. Follow suit, and take Bell with confidence as your first round pick this season.
Le’Veon Bell 2015 Receiving Stat Projections: 82 targets, 64 receptions, 560 yards, 3 touchdowns
The Running Game
The Steelers running back position has been well documented this off-season. After the Steelers offense flamed out against Baltimore in the playoffs without Bell, DeAngelo Williams was added in free agency as a proven veteran backup. Bell is still awaiting word on whether or not his appeal will be heard before the 2015 season, so Williams may be given the running game keys early in the season.
As for Williams, I believe that he will be used sparingly in Pittsburgh. I could see him getting 12-15 carries when Bell is out and 7-8 touches per game when he’s back. Williams is a good handcuff to target for Bell owners, but not a good stand-alone fantasy option.
DeAngelo Williams 2015 Stat Projections: 115 rushes, 380 yards, 2 touchdowns, 12 receptions, 105 yards
For now, I am assuming that Bell will indeed serve his three game suspension. In 16 games last year, he had 290 rushing attempts. If he averages around the same amount of touches again this season, the former Spartan will see about 235 rushes in 2015. At 4.5 yards per carry, expect him to accumulate around 1,060 rushing yards this season.
On a per game basis, Bell will be one of the top running backs in the league and for your fantasy team. I can’t stress enough, do not allow the suspension to scare you away from taking Bell in the first round. You can easily draft Williams or even a running back like Tre Mason of the St. Louis Rams late in your draft to fill in during the first three weeks of the season. The Steelers’ star running back is a top notch fantasy option that could carry your team to a title.
Le’Veon Bell 2015 Rushing Stat Projections: 240 rushes, 1,120 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns
Follow me on Twitter at @TonyD_12 and @SteelersDepot for more Steelers fantasy analysis and projections throughout the 2015 season.