The 2012 NFL season kicks off on Wednesday with a NFC East match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. This game also marks the start of the always-competitive fantasy football season, where everyday fans can compete for championships of their own.Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have a have more questions than answers due to age, injuries and a new offense. One position that is secure is quarterback, where Ben Roethlisberger has solidified himself in the Top 10 fantasy signal callers and is likely a must start in 10-to-12 team leagues. Yes, a projection at this point is difficult, as all of Todd Haley’s offense has yet to be put on display, but 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns is not a stretch with the talent surrounding him.
Unlike quarterback, the running back position is not nearly as secure. More importantly for fantasy players, the term running back by committee is starting to pop up more and more as the season draws near. 2011 starter Rashard Mendenhall is recovering from and ACL injury, and it is unknown when he will make an impact. In his stead, the Steelers were counting on veteran battering ram Isaac Redman, but he is battling hip and ankle injuries and his status for the opener is unknown. If healthy, Redman proved against the Broncos in the playoff game that he can carry the load and would be a solid play this week and into the future, but his injury concerns make him a risk.
If Mendenhall and Redman are limited, Jonathan Dwyer would be the next man up in the running back committee. Dwyer was actually the most impressive every-down back the Steelers had during training camp, and should definitely take on more carries as the season moves forward. One player who is a wildcard in the backfield is Chris Rainey. The diminutive rookie has been the story of preseason with a combination of explosiveness and speed that make him a game changer. However, his smallish build will force the team to limit his touches throughout the season.
At wide receiver, the Steelers have four talented players who all bring something different to the table. Of course, the big question is, how will Mike Wallace perform after his training camp holdout? Wallace has elite game-changing speed and is one of the more accomplished receivers over the past three seasons. If he comes into the season with his head on straight, he could be a solid pick-up with 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns not out of the question.
There may be questions on Wallace as a starter, but not for Antonio Brown. Brown came into his own in 2011, and looks to take over as the Steelers number one in 2012. Blessed with a sound combination of hands and speed, he should build on last season’s numbers with ease if he stays healthy, 1,250 yards and nine touchdowns should be in his grasp. Behind the two starters, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are players who could grab numbers from game to game. Of the two receivers, look for Sanders (if healthy) to take on a larger role as the season moves on.
Tight end Heath Miller has been a story since Haley’s arrival. Unfortunately, his production during preseason was a lot lower than expected. However, with much of Haley’s offense still under wraps, it is hard to tell what exactly Miller’s role will be. At this point, he does not appear poised for a breakout fantasy season, but he is worth watching.
Defensively, the Steelers struggled from a fantasy perspective in 2011 and really need to bounce back if the team would like to move forward in the playoffs. During the preseason, the team did appear to turn the corner on turnovers, but that is preseason. With starter James Harrison out all training camp, the team may struggle to pressure the quarterback until he returns to full strength as teams can focus on LaMarr Woodley. As fans know, without pressure, turnovers will not come.
The defense may get a boost from special teams, as rookie Chris Rainey has the look of an explosive return man and kick blocker, so there may be some upside. The same upside does not appear to be prevalent with kicker Shaun Suisham, who seems average at best.
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