Pittsburgh Steelers - 2014 Preseason #FF Preview
“Halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh/ You’re putting me through hell/ On the highway to the Bittersweet Motel”.
This poignant line from a Phish song relates to fantasy and the Steelers. In particular, the oxymoron bittersweet can apply to owning a Pittsburgh player on your fantasy team. It can have its ups and downs. For starters, let’s take their QB, whom d-Rx® lovingly named Ben Accosthisfurberger.
Surprisingly enough, when the fantasy dust settled after last season, ole Ben came in as the 10th best fantasy quarterback. He threw a touchdown pass in every single game last year, and actually threw for at least 300 yards on five separate occasions. That is more 300 yard games than Russell Wilson (2) and Colin Kaepernick (2) combined. By the way, both of those guys finished just ahead of Ben in total scoring for a fantasy QB. Those are the games when it is sweet to start Accosthisfurberger. Then again, there are the bitter moments when a cold wind doth blow across your computer screen after discovering he only managed to put up a single digit; this is something he did 3 times last year while scoring in the low teens on several other outings. Perhaps his total numbers look good on the whole, but on a per-game basis, he is middle of the pack. Ben ranked 16th among fantasy quarter backs for points per game. Romo, ranked 9th, averaged only 1 more point per game. This is why you can wait on QBs. There is little difference between their performances once you get past the first two tiers, as this per-game stat attests. Personally, I want a top tier QB, their average is far and above the rest at the position. After that, the pool is fairly similar. So, if you cannot lock up a Peyton or a Rodgers caliber player, I am playing the waiting game. There is little difference between guys like Ben and Tannehill, except, the latter is going 3 rounds after Ben and has far greater upside.
Looking at Le’Veon Bell, all we have to go on is his rookie season. On the whole, he averaged 13.4 fantasy points per game. He missed the first three due to injury that was rumored to be the dreaded Lisfranc.
Although the injury was not as severe as first feared, it undoubtedly hampered his performance. In fact, looking at his last 3 games, he averaged close to 17.1 fantasy points per game. In 13 total games played last year, Bell ran for 860 yards, gained 408 additional yards from the pass, and totaled 8 TDs. This trend should continue. Pittsburgh will be going back to more of a run heavy offense. Some fear that newly acquired LeGarrette Blount will eat into Bell’s production. The fact that head coach Mike Tomlin wants to run the ball more should counter the Blount acquisition. Bell should still see 20 touches per game with the increased focus on the run. Tomlin used Bell in the red zone religiously. The Steelers, when inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, gave Bell the rock 37 times. In fact, all 8 of his touchdowns came from within the red zone. Bell has fantastic vision and patience; he uses his blockers to let the play develop. He is a powerful back. In 2013, there were only 18 running backs that had at least 20 broken tackles or more. Bell makes this list with 21. Keep in mind he only played 13 games last year. I expect Bell will score 3 or 4 receiving TDs this year as well.
While I love Bell in touchdown only leagues, there are some tendencies that may not translate to fantasy success in standard scoring. To begin, he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Worse yet, he was only able to gain 2.1 yards after contact. These are not the only indicators of mediocrity. He does not have breakaway speed. His longest rush all year was 43 yards. In 10 of his 13 games played, Bell’s longest rush was 15 yards or less. He grounds it out. In leagues that award for long TDs, Bell’s ranking takes a major hit. So again, this is why the Pyro boys stress knowing your league. Check out the podcast on just this topic.
If you have not checked out ”Power in Numbers”, this piece by Suits will change the way you think about fantasy. Reading it will give you an epiphany similar to the one from the film The Usual Suspects: when Verbal Kint, Kevin Spacey’s character, limps out of the police station and gets into the getaway car, it dawns on you at that exact moment… Holy Moses, it was Keyser Soza the whole time!... Alright, maybe it is not as mind blowing as that, but it’s right up there.
Essentially the piece looked at the top 60 performers from fantasy, and discovered some interesting correlations. Mainly, there were a select number of teams that had multiple guys make the list. The Steelers, for example, had 3 players on the list of the top 60 fantasy performers from last year: Ben Accosthisfurberger (#13), Antonio Brown (#34), and Le’Veon Bell (#45).
Antonio Brown had the 4th most targets of all wide receivers with 165. He managed to snag 66.7% of those for 110 receptions. If you ranked the top 100 guys with the most targets in the league from 2013, only 16 other guys were as efficient at catching passes as Brown. Here is the kicker, of the 17 players whose catch rate was above 66%, only 4 guys (Jordy Nelson, Keenan Allen, Doug Baldwin, and Julio Jones) were targeted further down the field than Brown. His average pass per target was 9.8 yards. In other words, Antonio Brown has an amazing chance of catching passes thrown to him, and he is targeted a lot farther down the field than most receivers who boast such a high catch rate. That translates to points in yardage leagues and PPR. Without Emmanuel Sanders, Brown should see a larger percentage of passes come his way. Not only that, only 24.2% of Brown’s fantasy value came from touchdowns. The fact is, touchdowns are too hard to predict from year to year. One season, a guy may get into the end zone with ease, the very next year, it can be a struggle. When looking at value, yardage is a far more reliable indicator. Guys that scare me are the ones that have a high percentage of their value attached to scoring. For example, Jerricho Cotchery scored 120.2 fantasy points last year. 49.9% of his points came from touchdowns. His success was primarily dependant on crossing the goal line. You can find these numbers for 250 players on Pyro’s “Touchdown Dependency” Chart, available on the newest version of our draft kit.
PICK UP A COPY OF OUR DRAFT KIT: http://www.pyromaniac.com/op_eds/2014-pyro-ff-draft-kit-v2
You want to draft guys that get their points from yardage, not touchdowns. In a recent Pyro article, EC examined total value. He compared receptions, yardage, touchdowns, and targets. He wanted to discover which was a better indicator of fantasy success. “The biggest thing that jumps out is that the correlation to yards is by far the strongest”. For a better understanding of this, take a free look at what EC came up with.
While I do love Antonio Brown, he has only proven it once, and it will be tough to repeat last year’s breakout numbers. In fact, he makes Pyro’s bust list this year. As always, it depends on value. I see no problem with taking him in the 3rd round. His catch rate, plus the fact he runs longer routes is just too hard to ignore.
Other receivers to note: Lance Moore and Markus Wheaton. The Steelers have a tough schedule this year. They have the 27th easiest schedule for wide receivers. Last year Moore only caught 37 passes for 457 yards and 2 TDs. If you think that’s bad, Markus Wheaton only grabbed 6 for 64 yards. I can’t see wasting a roster spot on either.
As far as the tight end position, this year provides a wealth of talent. Unfortunately, none of it is contained in the body of Heath Miller. He will be playing in his 10th season. He only managed one TD in 2013. While he looks healthy, there are far too many other options out there at the position.
There has been a great deal of press lately about the once vaunted Steelers defense. A big push has been made to construct a younger team, there was an impression, two years ago, they had become too old to really live up to their name. In 2012, they had the oldest starting defense in the NFL. Well, they may have addressed that particular problem. While the Steelers are indeed younger, they are not any better. Even if you employ a defense by committee, there will be better options on the waiver wire. Gone are the days of the Steel Curtain.