Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 fantasy football preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl title and second in four years in 2008 by defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in a thrilling classic. Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from his poor performance a couple of years earlier against Seattle by completing 21-30 passes for 256 yards and the game-winning TD to Santonio Holmes with just seconds left. Although the Steelers capped off their impressive season by winning the Super Bowl, they were an inconsistent bunch all year long in terms of fantasy performance. With nearly the entire team returning this year, will the Steelers offer fantasy owners more options on a week-to-week basis heading into 2009? I examine that now.

As good as the end result was for Roethlisberger and the Steelers last year, the quarterback turned out to be a nightmare for owners last year with his inconsistent play. Roethlisberger finished 2008 with 3,314 passing yards along with 17 TDs and 15 Inter for a rating of 80.2. Not exactly the kind of numbers he’s looking for from his No. 1 QB. The bottom line is that Pittsburgh is, was and always will be a power team, and frankly, when Ben is asked to throw a lot, he usually gets into trouble. Ben is a very good quarterback but not a good fantasy quarterback. He possesses great leadership skills and has the statistical moments of his, but don’t trust him with your fantasy team because he will disappoint you so much. As a matter of fact, Ben came in the 3rd round of my draft last summer and the owner who drafted him won 2 games all year. The owners seem to be getting the point as Roethlisberger has been hovering around rounds 9 and 10 in the mock drafts I’ve been participating in. Treat it as a useful number 2 option for 2009, but nothing more than that. There are much better options.

When successful, the meat and potatoes of the Steeler offense lies in the running game. Last year, the team’s backfield suffered numerous injuries, leaving head coach Mike Tomlin painfully thin at the position. Once again, Willie Parker couldn’t make it through the entire season missing 5 games and finishing the season with 791 yards and 5 TDs. Parker has only played 16 games once in his career and will turn 29 midway through the season. When healthy Parker is definitely a No. 1 option at RB, but when is he healthy? Also, the Steelers will surely look to second-year comeback Rashard Mendenhall to make a much bigger impact in his second season after playing just 4 games as a rookie. The Steelers have a strong preference for Mendenhall, who is built more in the way a typical Pittsburgh running back usually looks. At 5-for-10 225, Mendenhall is a power runner who will inevitably steal short yards and goal-line carries from Parker, who has never really been a TD machine to begin with. With Parker and Mendenhall out of commission, the Steelers’ emergency plan really kicked in and worked pretty well. Mewelde Moore rushed for 589 yards and 5 TDs down the stretch while he also had 320 receiving yards and another touchdown. The former Minnesota Vikings castoff proved more than capable of holding the fort as Parker geared up for the playoffs. In terms of fantasy potential, I like Mendenhall best of all the Steelers RB for next season. It will be a miracle if Parker stays healthy all year and even if he does, Mendehall will be the goal line at the very least. That said, treat Parker like a low-end No. 3 fantasy RB heading into the season. Mendenhall is much more interesting because if (when) Parker goes down, he will have a real shot at becoming a stud because of his talent and the system that he plays in. Mendenhall has been between rounds 8 and 10 in the mock drafts I’ve been doing and spending a final round pick on him could prove to be a treasure trove for you as the season progresses. With Mendenhall back in the fold, Moore’s value is drastically reduced, and he has generally not been selected in these preliminary drafts.

Similar to Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ receiving corps has its moments, but in my opinion, it offers fantasy owners nothing more than gap-stopping/matchup options on a very limited basis. Though showing definite signs of slowing down, Hines Ward remains the Steelers’ No. 1 option in the air. Ward remains a cautious veteran who is almost as well known for his blocking skills as he is for catching the ball. Ward had a very good 2008 statistically posting 82 catches for 1,047 yards and 7 TDs. The 1,047 yards represents his best yardage total since he had 1,163 in 2003. Ward will continue to be the receiver Roethlisberger looks to when he’s in trouble or when the Steelers need a clutch catch. After grabbing your first 3 receivers, Ward is a good option for you to have someone on your bench who is worth playing depending on who Pittsburgh is playing against. Super Bowl hero Holmes will be the Steelers’ No. 2 option on opening day. Holmes caught 55 balls for 821 yards and 5 TDs in 2008 and with Nate Washington leaving for Tennessee he should see more balls thrown his way. Holmes has much more big game ability than Ward at this stage of their careers, and therefore Holmes is more valuable in fantasy terms, especially if his league gives long TD bonuses like mine does. Treat Holmes as a good No. 3 WR or Flex option for draft day this August. The only other Steeler receiver worth watching is Limas Sweed, a second-year pro. Sweed had a pretty forgettable rookie campaign catching just 6 balls for 64 yards and failing to get into the end zone. Pittsburgh has big plans for Sweed and he is the big target the team has been craving since Plaxico Burress’ departure. Sweed has real dormant potential heading into 2009 and is worthy of a late pick. If he turns out to be undrafted in your league, be sure to take him off the waiver wire if he gets the chance and let the chips fall where they may. Keep an eye on him. TE Heath Miller really isn’t a number 1 choice and while Ben will sometimes look for him in the Red Zone, he’s not really used enough to be anything more than a backup used only in emergencies.

The Steelers DST is always a solid unit and if you play in a league like mine that rewards DSTs with huge point totals that can really help your chances of winning a championship. I know all too well what a good DST can do as I rode the Eagles DST to a title last year. With Troy Polamalu and James Harrison continuing to anchor on defense, treat the Steelers DST as an elite unit and one of the top 3 DSTs on the board this summer. Well that’s it for the fields. Next up: The Cincinnati Bengals.

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