Team Previews: Pittsburgh Steelers
Team Previews: Pittsburgh Steelers

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

THE SKINNY

Despite boasting one of the NFL's most potent offenses when its key cogs are available, the Steelers have questions to address elsewhere. After losing OT Kelvin Beachum in free agency, Ben Roethlisberger's blind side protector is TBD, plus the team's pass defense must improve, an area hopefully addressed by Pittsburgh's top two draft picks.

THREE KEY STORY LINES

KILLER B'S STILL HAVE SOME STING

Whether the Steelers are wearing their awful throwback "bumblebee" jerseys or not, the team's success rests heavily on the team's "Killer B's," QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. In 2016, the team will be without suspended WR Martavis Bryant, the fourth member of the swarm, but the Steelers have been forced to overcome the absence of key personnel before. They began last season with Bryant serving a four-game suspension and played two of those games without Bell, who was serving a ban of his own. Then in the week Bell returned, Roethlisberger went down with an injury that cost him four games. Finally, during the very game that Big Ben was able to resume action, Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury, from which he's still recovering. In spite of it all, the Steelers managed to win 10 games, only to lose Brown to injury in the team's wild-card win over the Bengals. Obviously, having the talented trio of Ben, Brown and Bell on the field at the same time – something that happened rarely in 2015 – is an arrangement that will help the team cope with the absence of Bryant. Note that Bell may be in line to serve a four-game suspension to begin the upcoming season, but as training camp approaches, the star running back himself has expressed optimism that he won't end up missing time on that front. Either way, it's a situation to track closely in advance of Week 1.

MOVING ON MINUS MILLER

During his 11-year stint in Pittsburgh, Heath Miller was ever-present as the Steelers' starting tight end, earning two championship rings while playing in three Super Bowls. The 33-year-old also received accolades along the way, being named to two Pro Bowls and picking up a team MVP award, en route to 592 receptions, 6,569 yards and 45 touchdowns. While Miller's replacement, Ladarius Green – who inked a four-year, $20 million contract with the Steelers this offseason – has big cleats to fill, he's not in unfamiliar territory, having withstood comparisons to Antonio Gates while the two played together in San Diego. With four years as Gates' understudy under his belt, Green will look to earn the trust of franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger and, in turn, the sort of target volume he has yet to see in the NFL. Although he'll have his share of competition for looks, there should be ample targets for Green in a pass-happy offense, which has pushed his standing at the position to No. 8 in RotoWire's tight end rankings heading into the upcoming campaign.

FOCUSED ON FIXING FLAWS ON DEFENSE

For the second consecutive draft, the Steelers used the bulk of their picks to address defensive needs. To date, only three of the 16 defenders they selected between 2013 and 2015 (LB Bud Dupree, LB Ryan Shazier and DE Stephon Tuitt) have made much of an impact. Plus, the jury is out on a handful of others, including LB Jarvis Jones, S Shamarko Thomas and CB Senquez Golson. Though that can't be what GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin envisioned sitting in the team's war room, Steeler Nation has to be encouraged after the team opened up this year's selection process by taking three players in a row capable of filling open starting slots at cornerback, safety and nose tackle, respectively. To begin with, first-rounder Artie Burns could step right in opposite fellow CB William Gay. The pass defense was further bolstered by the addition of second-rounder Sean Davis, who will almost certainly shift to safety. The Steelers also upgraded their defensive line, using their third-round pick on 309-pound DT Javon Hargrave, who looks like a good fit in the team's 3-4 alignment.

KEY JOB BATTLE

Behind Antonio Brown, perhaps the league's top receiver, is a massive void created by Martavis Bryant's season-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Markus Wheaton enters training camp expected to start opposite Brown, but how the rest of the depth chart plays out may not be clear until several weeks into the season. Second-year receiver Sammie Coates seems to have the inside track for the WR3 position, but has little game experience, creating opportunity for veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey (who the team re-signed to a three-year contract extension) and longshot Demarcus Ayers, selected in this year's draft.

PIVOTAL PLAYER:

Ben Roethlisberger

Keeping Roethlisberger on the field could be the difference between a division title and missing the playoffs entirely, considering that the Steelers' top backup QB options are Landry Jones (who had limited success in fill-in action last year) and veteran Bruce Gradkowski, who last threw a regular season pass in 2012.

BAROMETER

RISING: Ladarius Green
Out from under the shadow of Antonio Gates, Green finally gets an opportunity to see extended playing time for Pittsburgh, though at press time he is bouncing back from an ankle procedure.

FALLING: DeAngelo Williams
Though Le'Veon Bell is bouncing back from knee woes and possibly slated to miss time early on due to a looming four-game suspension, Williams' window of fantasy opportunity this season could be limited to the first month of the campaign, after which he'll work in a complementary role.

SLEEPER: Sammie Coates
Markus Wheaton figures to see an expanded role with Martavis Bryant suspended for the entire season, but opportunity also knocks for Coates, a big-bodied wideout with good speed who the team drafted last year.

THE INJURY FRONT

Le'Veon Bell, RB – After suffering season-ending injuries the past two years he has had seven months to mend his MCL and has begun working out during the Steelers' OTAs, although they'll likely be cautious with him as training camp rolls along.

Ladarius Green, TE – While it remains to be seen how much Green, who is is bouncing back from offseason ankle surgery, will able able to do on the field when training camp opens, there's nothing to suggest that his Week 1 status is in any danger. In the wake of the retirement of Heath Miller, Green is slated to serve as the Steelers' unquestioned No. 1 tight end, when healthy.

DeAngelo Williams, RB – Entering training camp with no lingering issues from the foot injury that cost him two postseason games last year, he should again be the best handcuff in fantasy football, capable of fine production any time Bell is sidelined.

IDP FOCUS

Mike Mitchell, S – Playing through a variety of nagging injuries he manages to do it all, totaling 80 tackles, nine passes defended, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for the Steelers last season.

Cam Heyward, DE - A steady defensive lineman who has never missed a game in his five-year career and, for the second straight season, led the team in sacks with seven, making him a viable and low-risk IDP fantasy option.

Lawrence Timmons, LB - For the third consecutive season he had the team-high with 119 tackles, including five sacks, and provides much-needed veteran leadership to what has transformed into a more youthful defensive unit, whose average age is under 25 years old.

OFFSEASON MOVES

KEY ACQUISITIONS:

Ladarius Green – TE (from Chargers)
Displayed big-play potential with San Diego, now full-time job awaits.

Artie Burns – CB (Rd. 1, No. 25 – Miami)
Speedster immediately improves league's 30th-ranked pass defense.

Sean Davis – S (Rd. 2, No. 58 – Maryland)
Extremely athletic, with ability to play either safety or cornerback.

Javon Hargrave – DT (Rd. 3, No. 89 – South Carolina State)
Difficult-to-block, pass-rushing nose tackle replaces Steve McLendon.

RYAN HARRIS – OT (from Broncos)
Set to compete with Alejandro Villanueva for left tackle job.

KEY LOSSES:

Heath Miller – TE (retired)
Holds franchise records for catches, yards and TDs by a tight end.

ANTWON BLAKE – CB (to Titans)
Posted career-high 76 tackles in 2015, but struggled in coverage.

CORTEZ ALLEN – CB (FA)
Production fell off after inking extension before 2014 campaign.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rick Kinigson
Rick has played fantasy sports since 1984 and has been writing for RotoWire since 2011. He's contributed to a fantasy football segment featured on CBS Sports, and has also written original material for ESPN Radio 1050AM in New York.
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