After topping 4,000 passing yards just twice during the first nine years of his career, Roethlisberger has accomplished the feat in each of the last two seasons, posting a career high 4,952 passing yards in 2014 to go along with 32 touchdown passes (matching a career high). At 33 years of age, Big Ben is clearly in the prime of his career and with a solid supporting cast of skill position players, he should be in line for another big season in 2015. Having finished as the 8th ranked fantasy quarterback in 2013 and 5th last season, the question is whether he can repeat his 2014 performance. While it’s not always fair to remove a player’s best performances in making this type of decision, in this case it might be fair game. Of Roethlisberger’s 378.3 fantasy points from last year, 91.1 came in two games, meaning that he averaged 20.5 PPG in his other 14 games which ranked 15th amongst quarterbacks that played at least 10 games. Of course, if we simply assumed that Roethlisberger’s two best games averaged 35 PPG, then he would have been the 10th ranked quarterback on a PPG basis. Let’s call that his floor. Given his solid supporting cast, his comfort in Todd Haley’s offense and the not insignificant fact that running back Le’Veon Bell will miss the first three games of the season, we rate Roethlisberger as a mid-tier QB1.
After a successful rookie season that saw him accumulate 860 rushing yards and 408 receiving yards with eight touchdowns, Bell emerged as one of the league’s top running backs in 2014. Somewhat of a plodder in his rookie season when he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, Bell averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry last season while chalking up 1,361 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He also ranked amongst the league’s top receiving threats out of the backfield, catching 83 of his 105 targets (an outstanding 79.0% catch rate) for 854 yards and three touchdowns. With an upper tier quarterback running the show together with one of the league’s better offensive lines, Bell is set for another upper tier RB1 season in 2015. Of course, that won’t start until Week 4, courtesy of a three-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. If you are confident you can find a quality replacement in the later rounds of your draft to substitute for Bell during those weeks, then you should feel fine grabbing him with your 1st round pick.
The Panthers finally cut bait on Williams during the offseason, ending his nine-year run in Carolina. Signed to a mammoth contract based on a pair of 1,000 yard seasons in 2008 and 2009 (the only two of his career), Williams never returned to elite form as the injuries, the presence of Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart, and the Panthers inability to consistently put together a solid offensive line kept him from reaching his potential. Having joined the Steelers in the offseason, Williams will back up Le’Veon Bell and start the first three games of the season with Bell suspended. Don’t expect him to approach Bell’s production. Williams’ yards per carry has declined in each of the last three seasons to just 3.5 last season when he played just six games due to injury. He is little more than a low level handcuff since we expect the Steelers to rely heavily on their passing attack when Bell is out of the lineup.
Having done little to establish himself as a viable option in the event of Le’Veon Bell’s absence, Harris was presumably bypassed on the depth chart when the Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams in the offseason. Since the Steelers don’t view Harris as a potential handcuff to Bell, he has no fantasy value barring an injury to either Bell or Williams.
The Steelers squandered a 3rd round pick in last year’s NFL Draft on the diminutive Archer. While they hoped that he could deliver some big plays, the 5’8″, 173 pound Kent State product amassed just 40 yards on 10 carries and 23 yards on seven receptions. Since the Steelers were seemingly at a loss with respect to how to get him the ball in space, he has no fantasy appeal despite possessing blazing speed (4.26 40 time).
After posting a career year in 2013 with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns, Brown was even better in 2014, once again setting career highs across the board with 181 targets, 129 receptions, 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even more impressive was his consistency as he posted seven or more fantasy points in all 16 games after doing so in 13 of 16 games in 2013. In 2015, we expect that Martavis Bryant’s emergence will eat into his target count slightly as well as his red zone opportunities. However, along with Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, Brown rates as a Tier 1 fantasy wide receiver this season in standard scoring formats and quite likely should be considered the league’s top wide receiver in PPR formats.
The Steelers selected Bryant in the 4th round of last year’s NFL Draft and the expectation was that he would spend the season buried on the depth chart behind Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore. Considered somewhat of a raw product coming out of college, the 6’5″, 200 pound former Clemson Tiger used his size and speed (4.42 40 time) to earn a more significant role beginning in Week 7 when he went on a four game terror, catching 14 passes for 310 yards and six touchdowns. He finished the season with 26 receptions for 549 yards and eight touchdowns despite appearing in just 10 games and receiving more than five targets in just three of those contests. Given his ability as a deep threat as well as in the red zone, we expect Bryant to have an expanded role in the Steelers offense in 2015. He rates as a mid to upper tier WR3 with breakout potential.
After opening the 2014 season in the starting lineup opposite Antonio Brown, Wheaton was eventually passed on the depth chart by rookie Martavis Bryant. After an impressive 97 yard performance to open the season, he managed just 549 yards in his final 15 games while scoring two touchdowns. At 5’11” and 182 pounds, Wheaton doesn’t possess Bryant’s impressive size and the Steelers have said that he will operate out of the slot in 2015. That limits his breakout potential but the truth is that we expect Brown and Bryant to eat up a large amount of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s targets this season with Wheaton likely to see fewer than 100 targets operating out of the slot. Another 650-700 yard season with between 2-4 touchdowns seems likely for Wheaton in 2015.
Taken in the 3rd round of this year’s draft, Coates joins a Steelers roster that features arguably the league’s top wide receiver in Antonio Brown as well as emerging youngsters Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. While Coates boasts impressive speed and playmaking ability, the 6’2″, 201 pound Auburn product faces an uphill battle to earn significant playing time as a rookie. With Wheaton expected to operate out of the slot and Bryant coming off an impressive rookie campaign where he displayed solid potential as a deep threat, Coates’ will need to have an outstanding preseason to enter the season as anything more than a WR4. While he is waiver wire material in redraft formats, he is a mid-tier prospect in dynasty leagues.
At 32 years of age (33 in October), there isn’t much that is appealing about Heath Miller. Although he racked up the 11th most targets amongst tight ends last season and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for the most yards of his career, Miller still managed to record just 761 yards with three touchdowns. For fantasy purposes, he needs to find the end zone more regularly to be worthy of TE1 status but he has just four touchdowns over the last two seasons. Going a little further back, he has three or fewer touchdowns in four of the last five seasons. Since we don’t expect his usage in the red zone to increase, he rates as a mid to lower tier TE2 with little upside.