Rashard Mendenhall had 242 carries for 1,108 rushing yards and seven TDs in 2009.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In Part 16 of the series, we head back to the AFC North and check out the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were 9-7 in 2009 with an offense ranked 12th of 32 teams at 23.0 ppg and a defense which yielded a surprisingly high 20.2 ppg (12th best).
Ben Roethlisberger - Roethlisberger's disastrous offseason is a dilemma for fantasy owners. Not whether "Big Ben" committed a crime, that's not important to fantasy owners, but whether he will be suspended for six games or just four? And when he comes back will he be up to speed or take additional games to get into the flow and speed of the game? These questions are important because when playing up to his ability, Roethlisberger is one of the top-six or seven best quarterbacks in the league (4,328 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs in 2009). But if he is only available for seven of your 13 regular season games, then his value drops significantly. A four-game suspension would fit nicely into the Steelers' schedule which sees them on a bye week in Week 5 giving "Big Ben" two weeks to practice with the offense. He'd open up at home against a weak Cleveland defense and could give you eight solid weeks of production. On the other hand, I expect the Pittsburgh offense to emphasize the running game more in 2010, even when Roethlisberger returns. And the trading of Santonio Holmes is a significant loss to the Steelers offense which should not be minimized. I'm of the belief that you should stay away from Roethlisberger this year, however, early mock drafts have only seen a small drop in his ADP versus 2009. He's currently got an ADP of around 111 and the 15th quarterback off the board against No.101 and 14th in 2009.
Byron Leftwich - Leftwich and Dennis Dixon are going to wage a preseason battle for the Pittsburgh quarterback job. The winner, no matter which player gets the nod, should not be of starting fantasy value. Management will likely deliver a very conservative approach to the first four games (Atlanta, at Tennessee, at Tampa Bay, Baltimore). Leftwich has a current ADP of 270.
Rashard Mendenhall - Mendenhall should be a primary beneficiary of the Roethlisberger absence and the trade of Holmes. He had 242 carries (1,108 rushing yards, 7 TDs) in 2009 despite not being the starter until Week 4. He'll likely increase that workload to around 280-290 carries this year, but beware he did wear down in the final month. There is also the matter of the offensive line which isn't the juggernaut of the past. The team did try to address the situation in the draft, selecting Maurkice Pouncey a center out of Florida and Chris Scott from Tennessee. Still, a running back who is not in a shared situation is rare these days and worthy of extra fantasy value. Fantasy owners are showing Mendenhall plenty of respect, maybe too much, as the eighth running back off the board and an ADP of 10. That's a bit too high given the question marks surrounding the Steelers offense.
Mewelde Moore - Moore was less and less involved in the Steelers offense as the season wore on because the team allowed Mendenhall to stay on the field in third down situations. It doesn't bode well for Moore's fantasy value which is only as "insurance" at this point.
Jonathan Dwyer - Many scouts thought Dwyer had "first-round talent" but he went to Pittsburgh in the sixth round because of concerns around "work ethic." With his size, 230 lbs, he might end up being a short yardage and goal line guy.
Hines Ward - The Steelers' passing game is back squarely on the shoulders of Ward with the trade of Holmes to the Jets. In his 13th season, Ward is 34-years old and has taken, and given, his share of big hits. He finished 2009 with 95 receptions for 1,167 yards and six scores. He'll need to be at least that good in 2010 which could be difficult with a backup quarterback to start the season. Fantasy owners are expecting solid numbers from Ward, based on the fact that his ADP has risen from No.75 last season to No.59 in early drafts. If you draft him, have patience, he might not reward you until "Big Ben's" return to the field.
Mike Wallace - Wallace came out of nowhere in 2009 (actually Mississippi) to post some interesting numbers - mainly 19.4 ypc on 39 receptions. But that was as a third receiver where either Ward or Holmes was getting doubled most of the time. Now he's expected, at least by fantasy owners, to start and produce alongside Ward. He's got an ADP of 75 which given his lack of experience and the quarterback situation might be a little bit too high.
Antwaan Randle El - Randle-El has had at least 50 catches in each of the last three seasons, but as a fantasy factor, has been invisible. He might actually have some value this season as the slot receiver, return man and passing option. However, none of that will likely happen until Roethlisberger returns. He's a 20th-round selection at the moment and might be worth a "flyer" there. Veteran Arnaz Battle and SMU rookie Emmanuel Sanders will try to battle Randle El for the third receiver spot.
Heath Miller - Miller could be in for a nice season because Roethlisberger and the coaching staff have finally caught on as to how good he is. Miller had 76 receptions in 2009 for 789 yards and six touchdown and blossomed into a fantasy-worthy tight end. He's got a current ADP of around 150, but should be a low-end starter. He'd be higher on my list if his starting QB were there for all 12 regular season fantasy games.
Jeff Reed - Reed is a decent enough kicker (27-for-31 in each of the last two seasons) it's just that nobody kicks 50-yarders at Heinz Field. That limits his scoring ability as will the absence of his quarterback for four-to-six weeks. Reed has never scored fewer than 100 points (in any full season), but he's also never made more than 28 field goals in a year.
The Steelers defense is "tied at the waist" to five-time Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu. When he is healthy, they are a top-three defense. When he is on the sidelines, they are mediocre. He played just five games last season, but the team yielded just 13.8 ppg in those contests. In the other 11 games, the team gave up an average of 23.2 ppg. They finished the year in a tie for ninth at 113 points with 47 sacks, but just 22 turnovers. They were drafted as the top defense a year ago, but expectations, or faith that Polamalu can stay healthy for a full season are lower and they are being selected fifth in 2010 behind the New York Jets, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Green Bay. At that price, ADP 129, I think they are worthy of your selection
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