The NFL announced that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will receive a six game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The suspension comes as a result of Roethlisberger being involved in two separate police investigations alleging sexual assaults within a nine month period. The league ordered Roethlisberger to undergo a comprehensive behavioural evaluation and the outcome of that evaluation as well as his conduct prior to the season will determine whether to reduce the suspension to four games.
The suspension is a huge blow to a Steelers team that was expected to compete with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. Without Roethlisberger available for at least four games, a Steelers squad that came within a game of a playoff berth in 2009 faces tougher odds of qualifying for a 2010 post-season berth.
In addition, reports indicate that the Steelers are willing to listen to trade offers for Roethlisberger provided they receive a top ten pick in the upcoming rookie draft. Of the teams that possess those picks, only the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars might consider pursuing a trade with the Steelers. The Cleveland Browns would likely have interest but a trade between the AFC North foes is a remote possibility.
Roethlisberger is coming off his best season as a pro and finished as the eighth-ranked fantasy quarterback in 2009. The Steelers moved to a more pass-based offense last year with three solid wide receivers in Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and second year speedster Mike Wallace.
However, Holmes was traded to the Jets and the team is expected to move to more of ground based attack in 2010.
Nonetheless, his fantasy prospects for 2010 were still solid but are now clearly diminished with the suspension. Assuming a four game suspension, drafting Roethlisberger becomes costly considering he offers zero in return to start the season, and risky unless you plan on having three quarterbacks on your roster during the suspension.
The biggest winner from a fantasy perspective is running back Rashard Mendenhall, who figures to see an increased workload early in the season. He moves up a few spots and into the top ten at running back, ranked ninth.
The biggest fantasy loser from the suspension is obviously Roethlisberger but Ward, Wallace and tight end Heath Miller also move down in the rankings with backup quarterback Dennis Dixon the likely replacement.
Dixon doesn’t have Roethlisberger’s accuracy or touch on deep balls. Expect teams to play the Steelers wide receivers tight on short and intermediate routes, at least until Dixon proves capable of hitting his wideouts deep.
Wallace was considered a breakout candidate and still should be but he moves to WR4 status given his bread and butter is big plays. Ward isn’t expected to see much of a drop but fantasy owners should be leery of drafting him as a WR2. With concerns about his age and now the quarterback play for at least four games, he looks much more attractive as a WR3.
Miller is coming off a career year in which he finished with 789 yards and six touchdowns, good enough to be the ninth ranked fantasy tight end. He moves from being a borderline starter to a solid backup for fantasy purposes.