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Andy Behrens

Juggernaut Index No. 15: The Pittsburgh Steelers

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.

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15. Pittsburgh Steelers

Please don't interpret this ranking as a sign of disrespect. The Steelers were an absolutely dominant team last year defensively, limiting opponents to the fewest points per game in the NFL (13.9) and the fewest total yards (237.2). Pittsburgh had the league's best pass defense by a mile (156.9 yards per game, 20 INTs) and they were second in the NFL in sacks (51). Not surprisingly, the Steelers' D was a top-40 fantasy entity in standard Yahoo! scoring (187 points).

The Steelers' offense? Well, it was good enough to win games.

Pittsburgh finished in the bottom half of the league in points, rushing yards, passing yards and red zone possessions. No individual Steeler finished among the top 10 at his position in fantasy points – not even kicker Jeff Reed(notes). They were an outstanding real-life team that contributed several useful pieces to fantasy benches, but nobody actually won a league by drafting Steelers. Unless of course it was an IDP league and you invested in LB James Harrison(notes) (101 tackles, 16.0 sacks), SS Troy Polamalu(notes) (73 tackles, 7 INTs), LB James Farrior(notes) (133 tackles) and LB LaMarr Woodley(notes) (60 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 TD).

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Let's begin our review of the skill positions by looking at a dude who's had a rather busy offseason: Ben Roethlisberger(notes). He's only 27 years old, but the mileage is extremely high. Roethlisberger has been sacked 139 times over the past three seasons, easily the highest total in the NFL over that time period. (Although if Marc Bulger(notes) could take the abuse without breaking, he would challenge). He's had exactly one tremendous fantasy season in his career (32 TD passes in '07), but it was overshadowed by the historic performance of Tom Brady(notes) that same year (50 TDs).

There's little doubt that Ben has the potential to finish as a top-10 fantasy QB – he's been there before, with a similar supporting cast – but not if he deals with a medley of injuries again, as he did in '08. And it's tough to imagine how he can possibly avoid injuries if he gets the full David Carr(notes) treatment (40-plus sacks). You're drafting Roethlisberger as a reserve fantasy QB or a low-end starter in deep leagues and you're hoping for a best-case scenario. His current Mock Draft Central ADP is 93.7, making him the 13th quarterback taken in an average league. He's behind Schaub and Palmer, just ahead of Cassel and Eli. Roethlisberger is a QB I'd prefer to platoon in fantasy. Pair him with someone like Hasselbeck or Edwards, then play the matchups. Dennis Dixon(notes) has a chance to play his way into a second-string position on the Steelers' depth chart, but if he enters the fantasy discussion this year, then something will have gone horribly wrong for Pittsburgh.

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The Steelers' receiving corps is so familiar that it hardly seems necessary to discuss the names. Tight end Heath Miller(notes) has reliably delivered 45/500 lines, but he's recovering from hernia surgery. That's a small concern, although it's not expected to affect him in Week 1. His value is tied to touchdowns (7 in '07, just 3 in '08); you can't reasonably project more catches or yards. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes(notes) made one of the all-time catches in Super Bowl XLIII, and perhaps that will be a springboard to the next fantasy tier. But in the regular season in '08, Holmes never caught more than five balls in any game and he didn't have a 100-yard effort. He and veteran Hines Ward(notes) are both drafted as WR3s for fantasy purposes; their ADPs are in the mid-60s. Holmes may have the upside, but Ward is the sure thing. He's reached 900 receiving yards in seven of the past eight years and averaged 7.6 TDs per season during that stretch. He's 33, sure, but the team just gave him a four-year $22 million extension. Don't be surprised by another 75-900-7 fantasy line.

Limas Sweed(notes) (6-4, 210 lbs) is the wildcard among the receivers. He specialized in highlight drops last year, but he's reportedly had an excellent offseason. Like everyone else in the league. I know. But just listen to his offensive coordinator …

"This training camp to last training camp is night and day for him," [Bruce] Arians said. "He knows what he's doing, he's playing fast and he hasn't many errors and dropped balls. He's playing so much faster."

Sweed can tell the difference, too.

"I was totally confused last year," Sweed said. … "Now I'm ready. I understand. I know what's going on. I know where I have to be, whereas last year, in zone, I didn't know where I had to be."

At some point, possibly early in the year, we'll hype him as a pickup. The copy is already written. Sweed is a solid dynasty play and a reasonable late-round flier, too. Consider rookie third-rounder Mike Wallace(notes) (not this guy) to be a developmental project, not a player likely to produce in year one. He's speedy (4.33 at the combine), but not considered much of blocker or a route-runner.

The Pittsburgh backfield has the look of a committee, and that would be perfectly OK with Willie Parker(notes):

“Most NFL teams are emerging into a two-back system, and I think it would be great if I don’t get as many carries as I got two years ago (321),” Parker said. “A lot of backs don’t like it (having their work load cut), but you’ve got to look at both sides of it. I think it will be a great deal.”

In that 321-carry season, Parker wasn't extraordinarily useful to fantasy owners relative to his draft position, since he broke the plane only twice. He was fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (1316), yet he tied for 16th in fantasy scoring at his position. Be careful what you wish for when you're hoping a back will takeover a full workload over 16 games. It's not for everyone. And many RBs have thrived as committee members; DeAngelo, MJD, Slaton, Johnson and Jacobs were all 200-point fantasy backs in '08, and none of them approached 300 carries. But that's a story for another post. Back to Pittsburgh …

Parker is in a contract year and his yards-per-carry are in steady decline (3.8 in '08), so the Steelers need to determine precisely what they have in Rashard Mendenhall(notes). He was a spectacular college player, but he fractured his left shoulder in Week 4 against the Ravens last year, ending his rookie season. Mendenhall has returned, presumably at full strength, though he hasn't yet generated much buzz. He ran for an uninspiring 24 yards on nine carries in preseason opener. Mendenhall doesn't carry much risk for fantasy drafters, however. His ADP is 104.6. The upside, of course, is that he's the back of the future for a team that finished in the top-ten in rushing attempts last year.

Mewelde Moore(notes) isn't completely out of the discussion. He'll see third-down action, and we'll urge you to add him if/when Parker gets dinged. Moore has been sidelined by a hamstring injury in recent weeks, though he expects to be ready in Week 1.

OK, McBeam, that's all I got. Comments are encouraged …

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Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee Titans.

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Photos via Getty Images