Even though the Cincinnati Bengals took the AFC North in 2015 with a stellar 12-4 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers put on quite a show themselves, making the playoffs with a rather-agreeable 10-6 record. More to the point, the Steelers were able to claim the third-highest-producing offense of all 2015 NFL teams (6,327 yards/395.4 yards per game) – that’s with their star QB, Ben Roethlisberger, having missed four games and their star RB, Le’Veon Bell, having missed eleven. Fantasy Alert! Their understudies, though, QBs Landry Jones and Michael Vick, and RB DeAngelo Williams, definitely picked up the slack in the absence of their marquee players, which only serves to further prove the depth of their offensive talent. Moving forward, the Steelers already have to deal with the absence of Bell, who is to serve a three-game suspension starting Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season – if their backup personnel stands up like anything close to how they did in 2015, though, the Steelers are set to remain every bit as much an offensive powerhouse this year as were they last year.
WR Antonio Brown
Here’s where we call attention to all fantasy football fans who care to see the playoffs this upcoming season: 136 receptions (tied-for-league-best), 1,834 receiving yards (second-highest of all 2015 WRs), 10 TDs (tenth-highest of all 2015 WRs) – such is the majesty of Antonio Brown – simply, he produces. Brown is the consummate NFL wide receiver; he’s open every single play, whether the double-team shows up, whether the zone seems to have proper positioning for coverage, whether it’s a run play, whether he’s actually sitting on the sidelines while the Steelers’ defense has already taken the field. For added bonus, he also runs returns – the man is tireless and plays with intensity – he’s got a great quarterback in Roethlisberger throwing the football his way – when he and other Pittsburgh QBs targeted Brown during the 2015 season, they connected with him 69.7% of the time, folks – think about that. While it would come off as almost ridiculous to see Brown drafted below the fifth WR1 pick of any standard fantasy football draft, almost the same could be said for him being drafted below the fifth pick, period – the stats speak for themselves.
QB Ben Roethlisberger
Despite the Steelers having established themselves as one of the premiere offenses in the NFL, they’re still significantly hindered by a high volume of turnovers, most notably from that of elite QB Ben Roethlisberger – in his twelve NFL seasons as a starting quarterback, only four of them (2005, 2010, 2012, 2014) have ended in single-digit interception totals. Even so, there’s still plenty of upside to Big Ben – for instance, he’s become extremely accurate over the past two seasons – his pass completion rate in 2014 stood at 67.1% (sixth-highest of all 2014 QBs, minimum 40 attempts); last year, that rate got bumped up a couple percentage points to a 68.0% (fifth-highest of all 2015 QBs, minimum 40 attempts). Moreover, Big Ben hasn’t ever missed more than four games in a season, though that statistic comes with a caveat – while it’s true that he’s played for 12+ games for each of the 12 seasons he’s played, he’s only played three full NFL seasons within that same span. All things considered, Roethlisberger stands at a mid-tier QB1 for us going into the 2016 fantasy football season – if he remains healthy and can cut down on the turnovers, then his upside dramatically increases.
RB Le’Veon Bell
Before we get into the discussion about all of the talent and capability of Le’Veon Bell at running back, let’s first discuss his backup option, DeAngelo Williams: now an 11-year-veteran, Williams made waves last year in the Pittsburgh backfield by racking up 907 rushing yards, 367 receiving yards, and 11 TDs on the ground in a mere ten debuts as the Steelers’ leading rusher. Even as Williams is past his prime, let’s not forget that he once ended a season back in 2008 (as a Carolina Panthers rusher) with 1,515 rushing yards and 20 total TDs (18 rushing, 2 receiving). As of recent years, though, the Steelers have been great at blocking for both the pass and the rush, and it shows – even as impressive as are Williams’ stats last year, Bell’s 2015 stats have proven superior from an average-per-game aspect: while Williams averaged 90.7 rushing yards-per-game in his ten starts, Bell topped him with an average-per-game of 92.7 rushing yards; while Williams averaged an outstanding 4.5 yards-per-carry, Bell averaged 4.9 yards-per-carry. Even as Williams rushing-TD-per-game rate is dramatically higher than Bell’s in 2015 (Williams averaged 1.1 rushing-TDs-per-game; Bell averaged 0.5 rushing-TDs-per-game), let’s not forget the core facts: Williams is 5’9, 207 lbs., and 33-years-old; Bell is 6’1, 225 lbs., and currently 24 years of age. In the first three weeks of the 2016 fantasy football season, DeAngelo Williams will most definitely serve as a higher-value RB1, and may continue to retain some upside if he and Bell start sharing time, but when Le’Veon Bell returns to his starring (and starting) role as the Steelers’ workhorse back, expect great, great returns – Bell will definitely serve as an investment draft-pick, but will almost assuredly prove himself a Top-10 RB this upcoming season.
Others of Note:
- RB DeAngelo Williams
- WR Markus Wheaton
- WR Sammie Coates