These are not your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers. For years, the Steelers were known for their punishing ground game and stout defense. Now, the Steelers led the NFL in passing yards in 2014 and finished a moribund 18th in total defense. The times they are-a-changing.
2015 also brought a change in coordinators. Long-time Pittsburgh defensive guru Dick LeBeau is in Tennessee now, replaced by Young Turk Keith Butler. Defensive end Cameron Heyward told Robert Klemko of the MMQB that he likes what he’s seen from Butler’s scheme so far.
“I would think our defense will be pretty similar,” Heyward says, “but there may be some conceptual changes, some more blitzes he wants to add. I think he wants to generate more turnovers and get more one-on-ones up front where we’re maximizing everyone’s talents and making sure everyone has a chance to get after the quarterback or get a turnover. We’re not going to have players holding blocks for others and staying in these double teams.”
That could mean a bump in IDP value for Heyward. The 26-year-old finished last year in DL3 territory in fantasy scoring, but a more aggressive role could be enough to bump Heyward into DL2 territory.
Over the past few seasons, the most reliable IDP option on the Pittsburgh defense has been veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who paced the Steelers with 132 tackles a season ago. Timmons has topped 125 stops each of the past few seasons and has finished among the top 25 fantasy linebackers three years running, but Timmons also hasn’t cracked the top 15 over that span. The 29-year-old essentially is what he is – a solid, if unspectacular IDP LB2.
Much was expected of first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier entering his rookie season in 2014, but injuries derailed those expectations. However, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com believes that a breakout season could be in the cards for Shazier in 2015. “We fully expect Shazier to rack up more than 100 tackles and force a handful of turnovers if he stays out of the trainer’s room this season,” Wesseling said. “If he can reach those numbers without surrendering big plays to overpursuit, Pro Bowls will soon follow.”
If that’s the case, Shazier’s LB2 ADP in IDP drafts at MyFantasyLeague so far this year could be quite the bargain. Then again, if he struggles to stay on the field again he could be quite the bust. Risk/Reward all the way.
With long-time strong safety Troy Polamalu calling it a career, there’s an open competition this summer in Steelers camp to replace him. Jeff Hartman of SB Nation considers Shamarko Thomas the early leader to win the job.
“Thomas plays the run extremely well,” Hartman said “and has the tools to be a solid safety alongside Mitchell, and the team seems determined to give Thomas every opportunity to prove his worth throughout training camp and preseason. Thomas’ tackling, speed and overall talent level is above the veteran Will Allen, and should see him slated to start in Week 1 against the New England Patriots.”
That’s enough to make the third-year pro an interesting late-draft “lottery ticket” play for IDP owners who practice patience when drafting in the secondary.
The highest-scoring defensive back for the Steelers in 2014 was cornerback William Gay, who finished fourth at his position in fantasy points. Cornerbacks can be notoriously streaky, but after logging 69 tackles a year ago the 30-year-old is a viable weekly starter in CB-required formats.