Don't buy the Wheaton hype
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers beat reporter Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stopped by the Pro Football Focus show hosted by Mike Clay on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio (10 a.m. ET weekdays – Sirius 210 & XM 87). Fittipaldo talked about the offense without Martavis Bryant, the hype surrounding Markus Wheaton, and more. You can find Fittipaldo on Twitter @rayfitt1
30 Points Per Game?
Earlier this offseason, Ben Roethlisberger said that he wants to score 30 points per game this year. In 2014, the Steelers finished just 10th overall in total touchdowns. They didn’t add much talent, and they will kick off 2015 with several key players either suspended or injured. Is this an unrealistic goal?
“When you look at it, they averaged 27 points per game last season once Martavis Bryant was inserted into the lineup in Week 7,” Fittipaldo said. “Now, they enter this season without Le’Veon Bell for the first two games and Bryant for the first four, and their center Maurkice Pouncey went down. I don’t think it’s possible now. Too many things have happened in the last month. I think this team would do well to score 24 or 25 points per game.”
As Roethlisberger moved up the ADP ranks this summer, many pointed to his concentration of production across two 2014 games as a reason to be skeptical that he could repeat his success in 2015. The Steelers’ offense is certainly less explosive without Bryant and Bell, so it makes sense to expect a slow start to the regular season. Pouncey finished as the sixth-best center per our grades in 2014, earning positive marks as a run blocker, pass blocker and on screen plays. The Steelers have had time to practice without him, so the communication should be fine along the line, but his loss will impact the offense overall.
There Are Better Late-Round Fliers
With Bryant set to serve a four-game suspension to kick off the 2015 season, there is buzz building around third-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The majority of this buzz has been fueled by positive comments made by Roethlisberger. While Wheaton is certainly going to see an increase in snaps, will it be accompanied by more production?
“Markus is still a young guy,” Fittipaldo said, “but I’m not of the opinion that he’s in for a breakout season. If you remember the offense without Bryant last year, when Wheaton was the No. 2, the Steelers were just a 3-3 team. A 31-10 loss at Cleveland where Roethelisberger and Wheaton had some noticeable miscommunications on the field started the change. Wheaton went from 60 snaps per game all the way down to 35-40. Wheaton is a much better player when Bryant is in the lineup.”
Our projections are not bullish on Wheaton either. After factoring in Bryant’s suspension, Wheaton projects as our WR55. These projections are on par with how I see Wheaton’s season shaking out. He has never been a great option in the red zone and he lacks the necessary breakaway ability to be a fantasy option. In 2014, he averaged just 2.9 yards per reception after the catch. This put him in the middle of a pack of receivers that included Riley Cooper and James Jones. You’re much better off using a late-round draft pick on guys like Marvin Jones and Brian Quick. Even deeper picks like Tyler Lockett and Dorial Green-Beckham have more upside than Wheaton.
Less 11 Personnel Without Bryant
In offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s coaching career, he has not used 12 personnel packages – featuring an extra tight end or fullback – very often. During the preseason, we saw more of this. Is this a trend that we can look for going forward?
“Their No. 3 receiver is Darrius Heyward-Bey,” Fittipaldo said. “You’re not going to count on him for 30-35 snaps per game, so I think you could see some run-heavy sets with Will Johnson in as an H-back. There’s definitely some potential for more heavy packages until Bryant comes back.”
Johnson could end up getting a lot of work in the early going. On Tuesday, it was reported that Johnson will serve as the No. 2 option behind Deangelo Williams in the Steelers’ regular season opener this Thursday night.
A Redshirt Season
What’s the outlook for rookie WR Sammie Coates?
“Remember, Bryant was inactive for the first six games last year,” Fittipaldo said. “So anyone can grow and learn. But right now Coates doesn’t know the playbook as well as he needs to and he’s not in the greatest condition. They need him to be in better shape if he’s going to be a part of this offense. If they use a fourth receiver in Week 1, it won’t be Coates, it will be Tyler Murphy.”
There was some early buzz that the Steelers, having envisioned a looming suspension for Bryant, drafted Coates to fill a similar role. While this may be something they envision in the future, it’s unlikely to happen in the early stages of the 2015 regular season. That doesn’t rule out the entire season.
Coates is a size/speed freak. At 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, he blazed a 4.43 40-yard dash with a 41-inch vertical jump. According to CFF, his 488 yards receiving on passes traveling 20 or more yards in the air were the seventh-most in the 2015 draft class. If Coates can pick up the playbook and work his way into game shape, he has displayed the ability to produce as a deep threat, and he could be worked into the offense in some capacity.
The Feature Back For Now
Not much has been made about veteran running back DeAngelo Williams and his potential role heading into the regular season. However, the Steelers do not have many options behind him. They just added Jordan Todman to the roster and 2014 third-round pick Dri Archer does not profile as a player who can hold up in pass protection. Will Williams be a workhorse until Bell returns?
“The backup situation is interesting,” Fittipaldo said. “Todman was brought in two days ago and he has to learn the playbook. Archer you can’t trust in pass protection. The only other option is their emergency guy Will Johnson. For the first two games they’re going to be leaning quite heavily on DeAngelo Williams.
As mentioned above, the Steelers will insert Johnson into the backup role at least for Week 1 of the regular season. After that, they will likely evaluate Todman’s progress with the playbook before making a decision for Week 2. Despite his heavy workload, Williams doesn’t project as more than a back-end RB2 or FLEX play.
Should we be expecting a Heath Miller drop off?
“He still has the hands, but he’s not going to get the yards after the catch,” Fittipaldo said. “The wheels are gone but the Steelers don’t need him to be much more than a reliable target. I haven’t seen any signs of a big fall off from last season.”
Miller could emerge as an option in the red zone with both Bryant and Bell suspended, but he still profiles as more of a tight-end streamer than someone you want to spent a late-round flier pick on.
Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he covers the NFC East beat for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.