Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Pittsburg Steelers
RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Lance Moore, NT Cam Thomas, ILB Arthur Moats, CB Brice McCain, S Michael Mitchell, P Adam Podlesh.
Early Draft Picks:
ILB Ryan Shazier, DE/DT Stephon Tuitt, RB/WR Dri Archer, WR Martavis Bryant, CB Shaq Richardson.
RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Jerricho Cotchery, TE David Johnson, OT Levi Brown, C Eric Olsen, DE/DT Ziggy Hood, NT Al Woods, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, ILB Larry Foote, S Ryan Clark.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
It’s odd that Ben Roethlisberger just had one of the best seasons of his career, yet the Steelers failed to make the playoffs. Roethlisberger threw for 4,261 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions despite beginning the year slowly – he had six scores and six picks in the first four games. Roethlisberger caught fire late, so the Steelers will be hoping that he can carry that over into 2014.
Unfortunately for Roethlisberger, he lost a starting receiver in the offseason, as Emmanuel Sanders bolted for Denver. Of course, Roethlisberger still has Antonio Brown, who became the first wideout in NFL history to post five or more catches for 50-plus yards in all 16 games. Brown finished with 110 receptions, but a second receiver will have to step up across from him. There are some promising candidates. Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round rookie, is raw, but has loads of potential. Then there’s Markus Wheaton, who was chosen in the third round in 2013. Wheaton barely played last year, however.
Roethlisberger will at least have a healthy tight end and some weapons out of the backfield to work with. Heath Miller missed a couple of games in 2013, but wasn’t nearly 100 percent because he was coming off a torn ACL. He’ll be more effective this season. Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell proved to be well worth the second-round choice that Pittsburgh spent on him last April. Bell, who didn’t enter the lineup until Week 4 because of an injury, hauled in 45 receptions and did well on third downs.
The Steelers won’t be totally screwed if Bell is out of the lineup again. They bolstered their backfield, as they just used a third-rounder on Dri Archer, who figures to serve in a Darren Sproles-type capacity. The front office also signed LeGarrette Blount, who turned around his career in New England. It seems odd that Blount would walk away from a starting job with the Patriots, even if it’s for more money, but either way, he’ll be an upgrade over last year’s backups, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
Something that helped Roethlisberger last season was the improved play of the offensive line. Roethlisberger has always been knocked around because of poor blocking, but that changed in 2013. The top two blockers were guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro, both of whom surrendered only two sacks each. They’ll sandwich Maurkice Pouncey, who barely played this past season because he tore his ACL and MCL. He has fully participated in OTAs, so having him back will only improve the front.
Meanwhile, left tackle Kelvin Beachum provided some stability that the Steelers haven’t had at that position. Beachum stepped into the role in relief of an ineffective Mike Adams in October and did a good job of protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side, surrendering just one sack in his final six games of the season. He’ll start across from the inconsistent Marcus Gilbert, who permitted 11 sacks in 2013. However, Gilbert was coming off a season-ending ankle injury, so perhaps he wasn’t completely healthy.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
The Steelers had always been known for an incredibly intense defense that generated tons of pressure on the quarterback, but this unit hasn’t done that the past three seasons. In fact, they were slow defensively this past year, as they surrendered an uncharacteristic 23.1 points per game. Changes had to be made to help Pittsburgh get back to its old ways, so the front office did a few things this offseason to help bolster the stop unit.
The big thing the Steelers were able to accomplish was spending their first-round pick on Ryan Shazier, a very speedy linebacker out of Ohio State. The inside linebacker situation was not a good one in 2013, as Lawrence Timmons had a down year, and Vince Williams was even worse. Shazier will provide a massive upgrade over Williams, and perhaps he’ll help Timmons return to form.
Pittsburgh also used its second-round choice on a defender, grabbing Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame. Tuitt was considered a first-round prospect heading into the 2013 season, but he gained bad weight, per the coaches’ request, and performed sluggishly. Tuitt could be a very effective player if he sheds the extra pounds, so the Steelers did well to buy low. Tuitt figures to start with Cameron Heyward, a former first-rounder who finally lived up to his billing last year, and Steve McLendon, who proved to be a capable run-stuffing nose tackle who was able to replace long-time Steeler Casey Hampton effectively.
The Steelers also signed Michael Mitchell in free agency. Once considered a second-round Al Davis bust, Mitchell had a great 2013 campaign in Carolina. Mitchell will provide Pittsburgh with some much-needed young blood in the secondary, as he’ll start next to Troy Polamalu, replacing 34-year-old Ryan Clark, who wasn’t very good this past season. However, the concern is that Mitchell was just the byproduct of Carolina’s prolific front seven. The Steelers no longer have the pass-rushing presence they once maintained, so will Mitchell regress without Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short collapsing the pocket?
Mitchell will also have to compensate for some poor corner play. That doesn’t include Cortez Allen, who was solid in 2013, beginning the year as the nickel and eventually emerging as a starter. However, the Steelers failed to find an upgrade over Ike Taylor, who was just absolutely atrocious this past season, unless he was covering A.J. Green, as strange as that sounds. Taylor was burned week after week, yet he’s still slated to start.
A stronger pass rush would help cover up Taylor’s mistakes. Unfortunately for the Steelers, there’s a good chance that they won’t have one. They managed to retain Jason Worilds, who led the team with eight sacks. However, LaMarr Woodley is gone, while first-round rookie Jarvis Jones proved to be a huge disappointment. Jones barely did anything in 2013, though he did flash in the season finale against Cleveland.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule and Intangibles:
Excluding New England, no one in the AFC has a better road record than Pittsburgh since 1996; the Steelers are 77-67 as visitors in that time frame. They’re not bad at home either (104-43-1).
Shaun Suisham had an exceptional 2013 campaign, hitting 30-of-32 attempts, though he didn’t attempt any from 50-plus. Suisham is just 3-of-10 from that range dating back to 2008.
The Steelers had major punting issues this past season, and that will probably be the case again in 2014 because their punter is someone named Brad Wing.
Pittsburgh at least thrived on punt returns, as Antonio Brown took a score back to the house.
The Steelers don’t have a tough schedule. Excluding Cincinnati, Pittsburgh battles only four teams that made the playoffs this past season, and two of them – Chiefs, Panthers – are projected to decline. The other two – Indianapolis, New Orleans – have to go to Pittsburgh.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers are a candidate to rebound. They finished the 2013 season on a strong note, winning six of their final eight games. They made some improvements to their roster and have an easy schedule to navigate through. They could easily find themselves champions of the AFC North once again.
Projection: 10-6 (1st in AFC North)