For years, the Pittsburgh Steelers were known for their fearsome defense. Whether it was Jack Ham’s “Steel Curtain” unit of the 1970s or Dick Lebeau’s “Blitzburgh” squad of not too long ago, the Steelers won a fistful of Super Bowls by making opposing quarterbacks miserable.
That hasn’t been the case in recent years. In 2015 the Steelers ranked a moribund 21st in the NFL in total defense and 30th in pass defense. However, the Steelers did rank toward the top of the NFL in sacks, averaging three per game.
Given that ability to collapse the pocket and issues against the pass, it’s no surprise that most of the IDP-relevant talent in the Steel City can be found in the front seven.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
It’s a relative rarity when a three-man defensive line contains more than one fantasy-relevant player. It’s rarer still when the pair are essentially interchangeable. But that’s the case in Pittsburgh with defensive ends Cameron Heyward (DL17) and Stephon Tuitt (DL21). Each men posted 54 tackles last year, while Heyward tallied seven sacks to Tuitt’s 6.5.
Heyward told Mike Prisuta of the team’s website that he plans to make the most of the team’s status as a Super Bowl contender in 2016. “Because I don’t have a Super Bowl,” he said. “I’m making sure we cross every ‘t’ and we’re dotting every ‘i’ to make sure we give ourselves a good chance to win.”
Tuitt, on the other hand, recently got the nod from Vincent Verhei of ESPN.com as the most underrated player on the Pittsburgh roster. “Cameron Heyward gets the attention up front,” Verhei said, “but Tuitt really came on last season, with 6.5 sacks, five hits and 19.5 hurries — along with 40 run tackles — all in just 14 games. He’s a player to watch this season.”
Tuitt told Gerry Dulac of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that like Heyward he has big expectations for 2016. “We got nothing but high hopes,” Tuitt said. “We see the future looking very bright. You see what we can do. I personally believe we can be the No. 1 defense in the run and the pass and we’re going to do it.”
Tuitt may have the slightly higher ceiling, while Heyward has shown himself to be the definition of a high-floor IDP option. I’d give the latter the slight nod between the two, but both slot in DL2 territory.
Over the past nine seasons, Lawrence Timmons (LB12) has quietly become one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL that not many people have heard of. In each of the past four years Timmons has topped 100 stops, and he chipped in an average of four sacks a season over that stretch. Heading into a contract year Timmons made it clear to the Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo he has no desire to change teams.
“I’ve been playing here forever,” Timmons said. “I’ve only been with one franchise. I want to keep it that way. I’m all for it. I’m just doing my part, getting ready and working hard in camp.”
Timmons’ batterymate is third-year pro Ryan Shazier (LB31), who wasn’t shy when asked by Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com about his career aspirations as a pro. “I want to be the best linebacker on the field every time I play,” he says. “I want to be my best me and I want to make it to the Hall of Fame.”
Shazier has shown flashes of greatness and blinding speed over two NFL seasons, but he’s also had problems staying on the field. He told Kinkhabwala he isn’t about to change his playing style though. “Some people say I play too hard, but that’s how I play. Troy Polamalu played the same way,” he said. “I’m not going to change who I am.”
Just as with Tuitt and Heyward, Shazier and Timmons both land in IDP LB2 territory. And just as with the defensive linemen, there’s a “safer” play with a lower fantasy ceiling — Timmons. If you like to live dangerously and feel like gambling that Shazier can stay healthy, you could be paid off with a top-10 IDP option.
The Steelers came into this season with an opening at strong safety, and after playing that position in a reserve role last year fifth-year pro Robert Golden (DB171) told Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he’s ready to assume the mantle of starter in 2016.
“Just like any other offseason, I trained hard and prepared myself as if I’m going to be the starter,” said Golden, who tallied 40 tackles and started three games in 2015. “Actually, that’s been my mindset since I’ve been here.”
Free safety Mike Mitchell (DB26) agrees. “I have to commend Robert on the way he he’s handled everything,” Mitchell said, “but that’s to be expected. I think we’re one of the deepest teams in the league, so I feel almost any guy on the roster can be a starter.”
However, rookie second-round pick Sean Davis (DNP) told Paulk he has his eyes on the spot as well, even if it may take some time to get there. “(Golden) knows I’m coming for his spot, but everyone knows that. It’s the competitor in me who wants to play, but the coaches have to trust me. I’m not focused on (starting),” said Davis. “I’m trying not to make many mistakes, and trying to play fast. I’m not putting any stress on myself to be a starter. Right now, I’m second string and working my way up.”
Frankly, outside Mitchell (who’s no worldbeater) there isn’t a player in the Pittsburgh secondary worth a draft pick in all but the deepest of IDP leagues. But there’s a real possibility that Davis could have some in-season value if he gets into the starting lineup — especially if he plays safety but maintains positional eligibility as a cornerback.