The Pittsburgh Steelers could not be a more gratifying team to cheer for. I don’t really need to explain why. But in terms of fantasy football purposes, the six-time Super Bowl champions typically sport few, if any, players that excel. This is especially true when the Steelers are winning. In 2009, when the Steelers missed the playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger had a monster season with over 4,300 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. His primary playmakers - Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Santonio Holmes - all had solid seasons, but not one had more than six receiving touchdowns.
Last season, Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace were the team’s most productive fantasy options. Mendenhall found the end zone 13 times in ’10 while amassing 1,273 yards on 324 carries. Wallace, meanwhile, nearly led the league in yards per reception for the second time in as many NFL seasons. Despite catching just 60 passes, Wallace finished with near 1,300 yards and found pay dirt 10 times.
Common logic would suggest that those two would again be the best fantasy-wise in ‘11. Both will likely post solid seasons, but after such productive years, I imagine their productivity might taper off a bit as defenses spend even more capital on slowing them down. That’s not to say that they’re not worthy of high draft picks, but even if it pains you to do so, let someone else use too high of a pick on two of Steeler Nation’s favorite young stars. At the same time, take a look at these options as good value picks later on in your drafts.
2011 Fantasy Football Sleepers:
- Heath Miller - The Steelers’ reliable tight end is beloved throughout Steeler Nation, but typically doesn’t get much love from fantasy owners. For understandable reasons, I suppose. Miller has never ranked higher than seventh among TEs in fantasy points (2007). He’s coming off a mediocre statistical season in 2010, having caught just 42 passes for 512 yards and 2 touchdowns, good for only the 25th-most fantasy points by a TE. So why should he be considered a sleeper in ‘11? Well, Ben Roethlisberger won’t be suspended for the first quarter of the season like he was last year. Miller hauled in a mere 10 receptions for an even 100 yards and no scores while Big Ben was out. More importantly, though, defenses keyed in on Miller last season, daring Roethlisberger to look to his young wide receivers rather than his trusted, sure-handed tight end. Consequently, guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace faced single-coverage for most of the year. Now that all three of the Young Money Crew has established themselves as threats in the passing game, expect defenses to start paying more attention to them, which in turn should make life easier on the former 2005 first-rounder. Look for Miller to finish with somewhere around 65-75 passes for somewhere around 700 yards. Fantasy owners will have to cross their fingers that he gets ample opportunities in the red zone. You’ll almost assuredly be able to get Miller somewhere after Round 12, which in my mind, would be a solid steal.
- Ben Roethlisberger - I was really impressed by Roethlisberger’s play in ‘10. Knowing he had to win back the trust of his coaches, teammates and fans, Big Ben was hard at work in the film room last year, something he hadn’t done enough of during the early years of his career. As a reward for his efforts, Roethlisberger managed to cut down on his costly mental miscues substantially. His five interceptions were the lowest total of his career, and his interception rate of 1.3 percent was significantly lower than any rate posted in his previous six seasons. Roethlisberger’s 13.3 yards per completion led the NFL, an impressive feat for a guy who completed more than 61 percent of his throws. Finally, don’t sleep on the fact that Rashard Mendenhall assumed a huge workload last season, and that Bruce Arians might be inclined to scale down his rushing attempts a bit this season. I’m expecting Big Ben to come close to or surpass the 4,000 yard plateau and flirt with 30 touchdowns. If Roethlisberger slips to the fifth or sixth round of your draft, you’d be wise to scoop him.
- Isaac Redman - You know in those final rounds of your draft where you don’t really even think more than a second or two about who you should pick up? Well, use one of those final picks on Isaac Redman and stash him away on your bench. There’s a strong possibility his workload increases substantially this year. This may be conjecture, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Steelers give goal line opportunities to Redman rather than Mendenhall in ‘11 in order to keep Mendenhall’s market value a smidge lower than it might otherwise be when the Steelers begin negotiations with Mendu’s agent on a contract extension.
- Hines Ward - Everybody is expecting Mike Wallace to blow up in 2011, but I’m not so sure that’s going to happen. He’ll face double teams each week and be the center of defensive coordinators’ game plans most weeks. Like Miller, Ward’s stats were hurt in ‘10 by the absence of Big Ben for the first four games. He had zero 100-plus yard games while Roethlisberger was sidelined; three after his return. I hate to cite dancing in a football article, but Ward definitely benefited from the intense training schedule required of his participation in Dancing With The Stars. He’s been an afterthought for most of training camp and the preseason because of the finger injury that kept him out of action in early August, but his touchdown catch against the Eagles last week convinced me he’s in great shape and ready to have another 75-plus catch season and surpass the 1,000 yard plateau for the seventh time in his Hall of Fame career.
For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain, and for more on fantasy sports, check out Fake Teams.