2016 fantasy football depth charts: Pittsburgh Steelers
(Editor’s note: As we lead up to the season, Director of PFF Fantasy Jeff Ratcliffe is breaking down each team’s depth chart from a fantasy perspective. Catch up on the work so far here.)
Pittsburgh enters the 2016 season with one of the most exciting teams in the league for fantasy purposes. With stars at nearly every fantasy-relevant position, the Steelers are a threat to be the league’s top offense.
The talent starts at the top, with Ben Roethlisberger entering his 13th professional season. Injuries limited Roethlisberger to 12 games last year, but he averaged 328 yards per game. That put him on pace for 5,250 yards when extrapolated over a full 16 games. Only two players in NFL history have ever passed for more yards in a single season: Drew Brees in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2013. For his efforts, Roethlisberger graded out as our top overall quarterback, completing 68 percent of his passes and posting the second-most yards per attempt (8.4). His numbers could have been even bigger, but his receivers dropped a league-high nine deep passes. Still, he was the most accurate deep-ball thrower, completing 50.7 percent of these passes and racking up 1,170 yards and six scores on balls traveling 20-plus yards in the air. As long as he’s healthy, Roethlisberger will keep the QB1 numbers rolling.
It certainly doesn’t hurt Roethlisberger to have the league’s best receiver at his disposal. Antonio Brown is coming off back-to-back finishes as fantasy’s top wide receiver. In 2015, he posted the fourth-most receiving yards ever in a single season, and he did so while having to play four games with Michael Vick and Landry Jones throwing him the ball. Brown was one of just three players since 2007 to see more than 190 targets, and he ranked third in the position in forced missed tackles with 23. He’s the unquestioned top fantasy player in basically all formats entering 2016.
Pittsburgh Steelers projected 2016 offense with 2015 grades:
Beyond Brown, the Steelers will be without Martavis Bryant, who is suspended for the entire 2016 season. That leaves Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates as the likely starters with Darrius Heyward-Bey also in the mix. Wheaton was on track to be an afterthought this season, but he’s now thrust into the No. 2 role for the Steelers. The good news is that we actually saw Wheaton in this role for the first five weeks of last season. The bad news is that Wheaton managed just 228 yards and one score over that stretch. Of course, he did flash a massive ceiling with his 200-yard outburst against the Seahawks in Week 12. But this performance was in part the byproduct of Seattle game planning for Bryant and Brown. Wheaton’s shaky track record makes him tough to trust as anything more than a WR4.
Of the two likely starters, Coates offers arguably more fantasy upside. The downside is that he’s an unknown commodity who managed just one catch last season. But the second-year man entered the league as an impressive athlete who tested among the best at the 2015 combine. But perhaps the most interesting thing about Coates’ background is his pre-draft player comp of… Martavis Bryant. While it’s extremely unlikely he steps right in and performs like Bryant, Coates has the explosive ability to be a sneaky fantasy breakout. Better yet, fantasy drafters can currently get him four rounds after Wheaton.
The weapons don’t stop at wide receiver, as the Steelers added free agent TE Ladarius Green in the offseason. Green brings to this offense a very different skillset than longtime Steeler Heath Miller. Pittsburgh now has an extremely fast player to utilize up the seam. With just 77 career receptions in four professional seasons, Green is still a bit of an unknown. But we did get a glimpse of him as a starter with Antonio Gates suspended for the first four games of last season. Green missed one of those games, but still ranked 11th among tight ends over that span. In a full-time role at last, Green has major breakout appeal this year.
When healthy, there are few backs in the league who can rival Le’Veon Bell’s production. In 2014, he saw a whopping 372 touches en route to leading all running backs in PPR scoring. He managed just six games last season due to suspension and injury, but over that span from Weeks 3 to 8, only Devonta Freeman touched the ball more frequently than Bell (137). For those worried about DeAngelo Williams, the veteran played a total of 32 combined snaps in the five games Bell was fully healthy last season. Of course, Bell isn’t the safest pick after tearing his MCL and PCL. However, the indication is that he’ll be ready to roll for training camp. The Steelers heavy usage of a bell-cow back, makes a healthy Bell the best bet for fantasy’s No. 1 running back.
That said, Williams is still the most valuable handcuff in the league. He finished last season fourth in fantasy scoring, and that includes the five games Bell started. Excluding those games, Williams was the No. 1 fantasy running back. If injury strikes Bell this season, Williams would slide right back into the feature role and would be considered an immediate top-end RB1. He’s a near must-draft for those who select Bell this year.
UPDATE: It was reported July 22 that Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy after missing a test. Bell can no longer be considered the top fantasy running back in drafts, but he still slots in as the No. 9 running back when factoring in replacement value. DeAngelo Williams should now be view as an RB1 for the first four weeks of the season.
[Where will Le’Veon Bell go in drafts after the news of the suspension? Check out our PFF Draft Master tool and try a mock draft, complete with offensive line grades, full projections and all the PFF data.]
On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers are an improving unit. Along the defensive front, Cameron Heyward is a solid, high-floor IDP option who finished as a mid-pack DL2 last year. He isn’t likely to net fantasy owners double-digit sacks, but Heyward is a good bet for consistent weekly production. Rinse and repeat the same statement for Stephon Tuitt, who has essentially the same fantasy profile as Heyward. At linebacker, the Steelers have IDP mainstay Lawrence Timmons and the ascending Ryan Shazier, both of whom are in the LB2 conversation. While Shazier offers more upside, he also has a checkered injury past over his two seasons as a pro. Timmons has a lower tackle ceiling, but he’s topped triple-digits in five of the last six seasons and has the added value of sack upside. Rookie Sean Davis projects as the Week 1 starter at strong safety. While he isn’t quite on the IDP radar just yet, he’s worth monitoring in a position that has provided strong fantasy value in the past.