After having a great defense under Dick LeBeau over the past 10 years, the Steelers switched tactics and became a more passing oriented offense and a less than stellar defense. The Steelers decided to become more dynamic on offense and added talent through the draft. In the third and fourth round, they drafted speedster Dri Archer and big, physical receiver Martavis Bryant. Although Le’Veon Bell is a great running back, he does not have great speed or home run ability. Archer recorded the fastest 40 time among all the prospects and has the potential to be a playmaker. Along with Archer, Martavis Bryant is incredibly raw, but has the physical ability to become a number one receiver. Bryant will likely never fulfill his true potential, but he may become a solid number two or three option, behind Antonio Brown.
Similar to the Ravens, the Steelers are revamping their defense through the draft. The Steelers have succeeded because of their defense over the past decade, but the defense has become slow. During the first two rounds of the draft, Pittsburgh drafted Ryan Shazier, outside linebacker, and Stephen Tuitt, nose tackle. At Ohio State, Shazier became a passing rushing star because of his great speed and athleticism. Although Shazier may not be a tackling machine, he will provide pressure on the quarterback and stop opposing rushing quarterbacks like RGIII, Kaepernick, and Johnny Football. Along with the addition of Stephen Tuitt, he has a lot of talent, but has weight issues and has not lived up to expectations. If the Steelers can utilize Tuitt, he will record a lot of tackles for loss and help the Steelers rush defense, which has struggled over the past few seasons.
The offensive X-Factor for the team from the Steel City is Markus Wheaton. Over the past two seasons, the Steelers have lost two of their three best wide receivers, although they continue to evolve as one of the most pass heavy teams in the league. Without the talents of Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers need a new number two to complement last year’s breakout star, Antonio Brown. Wheaton needs to be able to separate from corners quickly because the Steelers’ offensive line has been suspect over the past few seasons. The emergence of Wheaton will help Pittsburgh’s running game as it will free people from the box.
An important factor for the Steelers’ defense this season will be Jarvis Jones. Last year’s first round pick had a forgettable year as he recorded only 1 sack and 40 tackles. In college, Jones was one of the most dynamic players in the nation as he posted double digits sack numbers, plenty of tackles, and numerous of game changing plays through interceptions and forced fumbles. The Steelers will need Jones to rediscover his past success if they are going to return to being one of the most feared defenses in the league. The Steelers lack a true pass rusher as no one accumulated more than 8 sacks last season. Although the Steelers have little talent in the front three, they are hoping that their linebackers, Jones, Shazier, Worilds, and Timmons, can provide the pressure on the quarterback. Jones will have to take the responsibility upon himself as Shazier is only a rookie and Worilds and Timmons do not have the necessary pass ruhsing skills. Dick LeBeau is one of the best defensive coordinators of all time and should place Jones in positions to succeed.
Last season, the Steelers started as one of the worst teams in football as they lost their first 4 games. Although they started slowly, the nearly made the playoffs, if not for the miracle from the Chargers. The Steelers finished 8-8, including the final three games of the season. The Steelers were able to improve because they transformed from a horrid defensive and passing team to a stout defense and a more run oriented offense. On offense, the Steelers will likely remain a run first offense with the emergence of Le’Veon Bell and the addition of LaGerrette Blount, as long as they are not affected by their latest run in by the law. Towards the end of last season, Bell became one of the best running backs in all of football because he has power and elusiveness. While the running game should continue to improve, the passing game will be steady under the leadership of Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is increasing in age, but the enhanced offensive line and the skills of number one Antonio Brown should allow Ben to produce top ten quarterback numbers. On defense, the team should remain an above average defense. The Steelers made a significant change when they did not choose to re-sign Ryan Clark. Over the past few seasons, Clark has been one of the emotional leaders of the team and a very good safety. Although the team lost Clark, they still have a very good secondary with Polamalu, Gay, Mitchell, and Taylor. The Steelers can become a top five defense in the league, if they are able to provide pressure on the quarterback. The defense should remain a top run defense because they have very good tackling linebackers and a front four that can stuff the line. The Steelers may be in the most competitive division in football as they will compete with the Ravens and Bengals for the division title and playoff spots. Although it is unlikely that they will be able to top the talented Bengals or improved Ravens, they should compete with the other AFC teams for the final playoff spot.
Third in the AFC North
Fantasy owners should be very excited if they have Le’Veon Bell on their fantasy team this season. Last year, Bell finished tied for 14th among running backs with 160 points, although he did not play the first three games of the season. Over the final five weeks of the season, he averaged 15 points per game. Bell is a safe number one or great number two because he will not be replaced in the red zone, catches the ball out of the backfield, and will not lose carries to a second running back.
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