April 21, 2010
Ben Roethlisberger(notes) was fantastic last season, statistically speaking. He threw 26 touchdown passes and established career highs in both yards (4328) and completions (337). Roethlisberger finished third among all quarterbacks in per-game fantasy scoring, passing for multiple TDs in eight of his 15 games. Late in the season, during the fantasy playoffs, he put up 503 yards and three scores against Green Bay.
It was, all things considered, a ridiculously productive year. But everything he accomplished on the field in 2009 has since been overshadowed by his disastrous off-season.
On Wednesday, Roethlisberger was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for four to six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The suspension reportedly can be limited to only four games if Roethlisberger meets certain conditions. (That is, if he manages not to do anything monumentally stupid).
By offering a fantasy spin, we don't mean to trivialize the events that led to the suspension. It's an ugly story. And then there's the other ugly story. Prosecutors in Georgia have not filed charges, yet the NFL obviously determined that — in Goodell's words — Roethlisberger has engaged in "a pattern of behavior and bad judgments." Presumably we can all agree that he's guilty of at least that much.
In fantasy, you eventually learn to disassociate players from their stats, and that's what we'll try to do here. We're interested only in the set of numbers that will accompany Roethlisberger in 2010, not the allegations and persistent questions. His absence for at least a quarter of the regular season clearly affects his fantasy value, although it isn't the only factor in the equation.
Let's begin with what we can assume will be a four-week ban. Fantasy owners often overstate the impact of an early season suspension on a player's worth — it's not as if Roethlisberger will serve his league-imposed punishment during your fantasy championship, after all. But he won't be available to assist your team in the opening month, and that's not exactly meaningless. Toss in Pittsburgh's Week 5 bye and suddenly — in the best-case scenario — Roethlisberger can only contribute in eight games of a 13-game fantasy regular season. On the basis of this fact alone, you can't draft him as a fantasy starter in a league of standard size.
And that's before we consider his injury potential. Roethlisberger has been the most frequently sacked quarterback in the NFL over the past three seasons, and no one else is particularly close. He tied for the league lead in sacks last year (50), and finished second in both 2008 and 2007 (46, 47). Pittsburgh will no doubt address the offensive line via the draft, perhaps with multiple picks, but Roethlisberger's pathological willingness to sustain hits is another issue entirely. He's been sacked 242 times through his age-27 season, and there's at least some reason to believe that quarterbacks who endure that level of abuse in their early years tend to have short careers and abbreviated primes.
But that's more of a long-term concern. In the year ahead, while Roethlisberger takes his usual beating, Pittsburgh's receiving corps will have one less weapon. Santonio Holmes(notes) led the Steelers in receiving yards last season (1248) and he's caught 18 touchdown passes over the past three seasons (plus three more in the playoffs), yet he was dealt to the Jets earlier this month in exchange for a fifth round pick. Mike Wallace(notes) receives a bump in value after delivering outstanding numbers as a rookie (39-756-6), but Holmes will certainly be missed.
The pre-draft buzz — which is often disinformation, but let's imagine it's accurate — suggests that Pittsburgh won't target receivers in the early rounds. If true, then Wallace, Hines Ward(notes) and Heath Miller(notes) will be the primary targets; Antwaan Randle El(notes), Arnaz Battle(notes) and Limas Sweed(notes) will get the leftovers. (Sweed is basically the anti-Cris Carter: All he does is drop touchdowns). Thus it's not a surprise that Art Rooney II himself has reportedly urged head coach Mike Tomlin to reshape the offense and "run the ball more consistently."
That's good news for Rashard Mendenhall(notes), if his line is up to the challenge. However, it's not great news for Roethlisberger, a man who attempted a career-high 33.7 passes per game last season.
If we were to draft a 2010 fantasy league today (a terrible idea), we'd have to account for all the red flags attached to Roethlisberger: His 10-12 game season, his susceptibility to on-field punishment, his weakened receiving corps, and his offense's renewed commitment to the run. And we can't ignore his history of bad judgment (Goodell's words) in light of his team's zero tolerance policy regarding off-field misconduct. And then there's the very real possibility that Roethlisberger might be traded. And if he's not dealt, then you have to consider Pittsburgh's ostensibly brutal late-season schedule. In Weeks 13-15, the Steelers will face three defenses (BAL, CIN, NYJ) that ranked among the AFC's top four last year.
So again, this is a complicated player. Good thing we're not drafting today.
Nonetheless, we took a quick survey of Yahoo!'s fantasy analysts in order to gauge Roethlisberger's value, pre-NFL Draft. Here are the preliminary 2010 composite quarterback ranks:
1. Drew Brees(notes)
2. Aaron Rodgers(notes)
3. Peyton Manning(notes)
4. Philip Rivers(notes)
5. Matt Schaub(notes)
6. Tony Romo(notes)
7. Tom Brady(notes)
8. Brett Favre(notes)
9. Eli Manning(notes)
10. Kevin Kolb(notes)
11. Donovan McNabb(notes)
12. Matt Ryan(notes)
13. Joe Flacco(notes)
14. Jay Cutler(notes)
15. Carson Palmer(notes)
16. Ben Roethlisberger
17. Matthew Stafford(notes)
18. Chad Henne(notes)
19. Vince Young(notes)
20. David Garrard(notes)
Roethlisberger's stock is at a three-year low, following arguably the most impressive season of his career. The Steelers are expected to replace him with some combination of Dennis Dixon(notes) and Byron Leftwich(notes) during the opening weeks of 2010. Fantasy owners will obviously need to do better.
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