Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
The Steelers are going to have a high-profile running back position battle waged this preseason, arguably the most important one in all of fantasy, but don't let it be another reason you forget this team is all about defense.
Michigan State rookie Le'Veon Bell can emerge as a fantasy gem if he wins the starting running back job over Isaac Redman and 2012 starter Jonathan Dwyer, but everyone is sure to sleep on the Steelers defense coming off their disappointing 2012 fantasy season. Despite the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL in yards allowed (No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 against the run), the Steelers were a low-end fantasy D/ST.
They didn't sack the quarterback much (just 37 times), they forced just 20 turnovers (10 fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions) and they scored a return touchdown (defensive, punt or kick) just once. The Steelers lost some of their veteran run stuffers in the offseason, namely DT Casey Hampton and LB James Harrison, but first-round pick Jarvis Jones gives them some outside rush for their 3-4 scheme and Troy Polamalu just has to be healthier than he has been in years.
This is still an elite NFL defense -- for a team that will base its whole season on it -- and one that can be had at a bargain in drafts.
In fact, if you consider fantasy owners just don't favor players from a defense-oriented team, every Steelers option will come under value on draft day, including Antonio Brown, Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Emmanuel Sanders (late).
|Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Steelers' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
The schedule isn't overwhelmingly good for Big Ben, but it is for wideouts Brown and Sanders, who face only two teams that were any good against stopping receivers a year ago. If you pick Brown, you might not have to sit him this year outside of the bye week, making him a great sleeper outside of the top 20 receivers. The frustrating Steelers running game also doesn't have many tough opponents. The Bears, Pats and Lions are the only decent run defenses Bell will have to face (assuming he lands the job). It might make you want to reach a round earlier on the rookie back, particularly because the Steelers figure to have a schedule that will allow them to stick to the running game.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, La'Rod Stephens-Howling, Baron Batch
WR: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton
TE: Heath Miller (knee surgery), Matt Spaeth, David Paulson
K: Shaun Suisham
|Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Steelers didn't turn teams over or get defensive scores like some younger units because everyone plays so conservatively against them. The Steelers might be aging but they can still stuff you and beat you up -- even without DT Hampton, LB Harrison and CB Keenan Lewis. The addition of first-round LB Jones adds some athleticism and pass-rush ability, while All-Pro safety Polamalu should be healthier than he has been in years -- even at 32. LBs Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote and DE Brett Keisel are viable IDP picks, while Ryan Clark and Polamalu still have IDP-intriguing names at safety. Don't underrate the Steelers defense. They are a lot more stout than their modest D/ST ranking by most fantasy pundits.