All posts by Chris Halicke

Christ believer, blessed husband and father, sports enthusiast and worship leader.

COLUMN: The Window is Closing on Stairway to Seven

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most successful franchise since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, winning six Super Bowls; more than any other franchise. Steeler Nation, and rightfully so, is quite proud of that accomplishment. It ties into why Pittsburgh is called the City of Champions.

The 1970’s were the glory days of the Steelers, winning four Super Bowls in six years. Many from those 70’s teams are enshrined in Canton, Ohio’s Pro Football Hall of Fame. They boasted the most dominant defense of all time in the Steel Curtain, a hall-of-fame quarterback, two hall-of-fame receivers, and Franco Harris, who not only is also a hall-of-famer, but is responsible for one of the most iconic plays in the history of the NFL.

Yeah, those were the good days.

The 2000’s brought some glory back to the Black and Gold. After drafting their first franchise quarterback since Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger helped lead the Steelers back to that winning championship tradition, winning Super Bowls in 2005 and 2008, the latter being a superb performance.

This decade looked to be promising, when the Steelers appeared in Super Bowl XLV in 2010, but lost to Green Bay. Big Ben was still in his prime, the defense was older, but still solid, and Mike Tomlin looked like he was going to become an all-time great at the pace he was going at for such a young coach.

Seven years later, we still don’t have that seventh trophy.

Now, most other franchises and their fans would criticize us for being so selfish. None of them, however, would be singing a different tune if it was their team. Most teams, when going through a rebuild of any kind, will tear everything down and start from scratch.

Not the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rooney’s are always trying to win. That’s what makes them the most successful franchise. You get to the top by sacrificing everything, taking risks, and sometimes having a little bit of luck, but you can get rewarded if you put all your cards on the table.

That’s what the Steelers do. They’ve had to rebuild the defense, and that is a process that is still going on. The offense has become explosive, all being built through the draft. GM Kevin Colbert and coach Tomlin deserve praise for that.

But this past offseason should have been an awakening for them, the players, and the fans.

With Big Ben now going on a year-by-year basis of whether or not he will continue playing, the Steelers’ window for getting that seventh Lombardi is closing. Le’Veon Bell‘s future with the team is up in the air. He wants to stay a Steeler, but wants to be paid, and rightfully so. He’s grown into arguably the best running back in the league. Outside of Antonio Brown, the receiving corps is possibly really solid, especially with the return of Martavis Bryant, but his inconsistency on and off the field leaves just a little doubt that it’s not as dangerous of a group as it should be. The defense, despite the front-seven getting better and better every year, is still not a defense you can say is a “Super Bowl” defense. It has potential, and that may even come to fruition this season.

But let’s face it: you can’t win a Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback. The only teams to have done it are teams that had all-time defenses (i.e. the 2005 Baltimore Ravens).

And we can easily take for granted the fact that the Steelers have had a hall-of-fame quarterback for the last 13 seasons. He may not be the best of his generation, but he is up there as one of the best, and for sure is one of the main reasons the Steelers have had so much success during his career. Just take a moment and think of where the Steelers would be without him or any other franchise quarterback. The 90’s ring a bell?

The window the Steelers have to win a Super Bowl with this group intact is closing. Ben’s time is coming to an end sooner rather than later. It could be after the upcoming season, or it could be five more years. I’d seriously bet closer to the former than the latter. It took the Steelers over two decades to get another franchise quarterback after Bradshaw; who knows how long it could be before the Steelers get another one after Ben hangs it up. Maybe the Steelers strike gold in the draft and it’s not long. Or, it could be another two decades. Steelers fans who remember the 80’s don’t want to relive it.


In Pittsburgh, we’re passionate about our teams. We expect the very best out of them every time they suit up for a game. There’s a reason why Pittsburgh is called the City of Champions. That’s the standard. Anything short of that is considered failure in our eyes. While I, nor the Steelers, can guarantee a Super Bowl this year, I will say this will be a fun year for the Steelers and the fans.

There is serious promise with this group. The offense is elite and the defense is getting closer and closer to being Super Bowl ready. It’s an exciting time to be a Steelers fan. They came up one game shy of the goal last season. 2017 is another shot at the elusive seventh Lombardi.

Steelers Fantasy Football Outlook

Football season is inching closer and closer, and many are preparing their fantasy draft boards, participating in mock drafts, trying to put themselves in best position to win that elusive prize at the end of the season, whether it be a trophy, wrestling belt, or just cold hard cash. Not to toot my own horn, but after two successive seasons of leading my fantasy league in scoring, I shall bestow my fantasy wisdom upon you when it comes to drafting your Steelers; who to draft and when, who NOT to draft and why, sleepers, busts, everything you need to break your homer goggles and draft your Steelers players smartly.

These rankings are based on standard scoring, non-PPR leagues on ESPN. There are previews for players only in the Top 200 Rankings, or at least one Steelers player in each position.

Quarterback:

Ben Roethlisberger

LTS Positional Ranking: 10th
ESPN Positional Ranking: 11th

Outlook: While Ben Roethlisberger‘s numbers took a small dip last year, he remains a top-10 option at quarterback in fantasy football. He has the capability of being right up there with the league’s top QB’s, especially with Martavis Bryant making his return, Big Ben will have all possible options at his disposal, barring any injuries (or suspensions). Le’Veon Bell will get plenty of carries, so Ben may have the occasional game where he doesn’t quite put up the numbers you’d like from a QB1, but he can have a game or three where he goes off and puts up one of the top fantasy outings of the year. His fantasy play is a bit inconsistent, but not terrible where you should steer clear. He is a small injury threat, so if you take him, make sure you have a decent QB2.

If you have an option of a top-5 QB in the 3rd round, take one then, but if not, wait until the 4th or 5th round if your eyes are set on Ben. It’s much more vital to stock up on RB’s and WR’s before you’d spend a high pick on Ben. Personally, I don’t like to take a QB early (earliest I usually draft is the 4th round). Ben has been my quarterback more than once, and he’s contributed well.

Running Back:

Le’Veon Bell

LTS Positional Ranking: 1st
ESPN Positional Ranking: 1st

Outlook: He’s the top fantasy back. It’s not much of a debate. Sure, you can make an argument for David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliot, but neither match Bell’s dual-threat ability at both rushing and receiving.

Last year, Bell averaged the most yards-from-scrimmage per game, which is a key factor in why he’s the top-ranked RB. There’s really only two worries with Bell: 1) He’s had injury and off-field issues. The off-field issues seem (and hope) to be resolved, but his health is something to consider. He has yet to go a season in his NFL career without a semi-major injury. Two of them didn’t affect his regular season output, but it’s still something to keep an eye out for, and 2) the Steelers have a lot of weapons on offense, which may take away some touchdowns from Bell’s output.

All of this said, if you have the number one overall pick, take him without hesitation. If not and someone passes on him, take him without hesitation. Do NOT pass on him. You’ll regret it. He’s playing on a franchise tag and wants to get paid. Bell is number one across the board. Hands down.

 

Wide Receiver:

Antonio Brown

LTS Positional Ranking: 1st
ESPN Positional Ranking: 1st

Outlook: Along with Bell at his position, Antonio Brown should be the top WR in most, if not all draft boards. He’s led all receivers in fantasy points for three consecutive seasons, despite last year being a bit of a letdown based on his two previous seasons. With Martavis Bryant back in the fold, Brown shouldn’t see nearly as many double- or triple-teams. When it comes to this ranking, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. AB has been the top WR for three seasons, no reason to think that’s going to change any time soon.

Brown is a first-round draft pick, and in most leagues, will be a top-5 pick. If you’re sitting 4th, 5th, or 6th and he’s available, you shouldn’t pass on him. There are few receivers that are fantasy juggernauts, and he’s one of them.

Martavis Bryant

LTS Positional Ranking: 25th
ESPN Positional Ranking: 24th

Outlook: Nobody can deny Bryant’s raw talent. Put that together with his 6-foot-4 frame and blazing speed, he’s got the potential to be a top-10 fantasy scorer. There are two things that may hold him back in terms of fantasy output: 1) There’s guys like AB and Bell who will get their fair share of touches. 2) Bryant is coming off of a year-long suspension and there’s a huge cloud of uncertainty there. Before his suspension, Bryant was a productive, yet inconsistent fantasy receiver. That tends to be the case with deep threats, but if Bryant can avoid going into hiding like he has before and be a force on the gridiron for majority of the game next to AB, we could see a huge breakout from him.

Despite the uncertainty that surrounds Bryant, he’s still a solid find as a WR2. He shouldn’t be your first option there, as there are other proven, consistent producers as a WR2 like Doug Baldwin or Emmanuel Sanders, but if you want to go with upside and take a little risk, Bryant could be your WR2. If you get him as your WR3, your either really deep at receiver or made some bad choices at WR1 and WR2.

 

Tight End:

Jesse James

LTS Positional Ranking: 25th
ESPN Positional Ranking: 25th

Outlook: When it comes to Jesse James, he’s just not much of a threat in fantasy. He’s a TE2 at best, and really, should only be that in case there are a few injured tight ends. He won’t get enough targets to produce enough points because of guys like Xavier Grimble and Bell, AB, and Bryant getting so many receptions. James’s specialty will be getting crucial third down catches and maybe a few key redzone targets. This doesn’t warrant a pick in a standard 15-round draft. Look for him as an option if you encounter injuries with your tight ends.

Defense/Special Teams:

LTS Positional Ranking: 13th
ESPN Positional Ranking: 5th

Outlook: There’s good reason to like the direction the Steelers’ defense is going, but there are still some really young players in key spots. The defensive line is stout with Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave. The linebacker corps has a star-in-the-making in Ryan Shazier. Bud Dupree has decent chance to break out, but there is still some question to the other outside and inside linebacker spots and how productive they can be. The secondary is getting younger, but it doesn’t bode well for fantasy. They could give up a lot of yards, especially if the front-seven can’t get to the quarterback consistently.

The Steelers’ defense may be a good D/ST2 option for your team if you are the type to dedicate two roster spots to defenses.

Kicker:

Chris Boswell

LTS Positional Ranking: 8th
ESPN Positional Ranking: 9th

Outlook: Chris Boswell is a solid, consistent kicker. There are a few options that are no-doubters above him like Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, or Dan Bailey, but if you can’t get any of those guys, getting Boswell isn’t reaching too far. He’s very accurate, and if the offense struggles to score in the redzone, like they did last year, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to rack up three points here, four points there.

Possible Sleepers

WR – JuJu Smith Schuster

He’s a guy that could possibly win the 3rd receiving spot in the Steelers’ depth chart, which could give him some nice looks in games. However, with AB getting 100+ catches, Bell getting 70+ catches, and Bryant getting 60+ ctaches, there’s only so many targets he can get. He might be a nice steal as your WR5, especially if AB or Bryant go down with an injury (God forbid). You shouldn’t take him any higher than that, but he could be a nice late-round steal.

Do Not Draft List

These are guys that are not worth the precious draft pick. You can rely on waivers for them in case of injuries to your team, or to the Steelers, but these guys should not be taken on draft night. It’s not that I don’t like them. You only get so many roster spots. Choose them wisely. You could find some reason to like any of these guys, but the stars have to align for some of them:

RB – James Conner
RB – Knile Davis
WR – Eli Rogers
WR – Sammie Coates
WR – Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE – Jesse James

Final Thoughts

It’s fun for Steelers fans to have guys being drafted in the first round, or that are ranked first overall. Just remember: not all of these guys are fantasy godsends. Do your homework, make your picks wisely, and have fun winning.

 

Steelers 2017 Draft Recap

The Steelers’ 2016 campaign came up one game short of reaching the Super Bowl. For General Manager Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the front office, this ultra-talented roster has almost everything to get it done. But after being embarrassed by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, the Steelers and their fans were realized just how much more work needs to be done, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers have always been a team that relies heavily on the draft, no matter where they sit in the order. 2017 was no different.

It was a memorable night, both on the national stage and locally as well. Cowboys Hall-of-Famer Drew Pearson stole the show while taking it to the hostile Philadelphia crowd, Steeler-greats Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris paid tribute to the great late Dan Rooney right before announcing the Steelers’ 1st round pick, and there was some social media drama between Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, and Mike Tomlin.

Here are the 2017 Steelers’ draft picks:

1st Round (30th overall):
OLB T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)

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Arguably, the Steelers’ biggest need of the offseason was getting a pass-rusher. Some have a valid argument of getting secondary help, but with the bust known as Jarvis Jones now gone and James Harrison getting closer and closer to the other side of 40, getting a pass-rusher was a big need. And when T.J. Watt was still available at the 30th pick, it was clear Colbert and Tomlin weren’t about to pass on him.

Yes, T.J. is the younger brother of J.J. Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, but T.J. is very clear that he wants to make a name for himself. After converting to outside linebacker after being recruited by Wisconsin as a tight end, Watt had major success. He registered 11.5 sacks in 14 games in 2016 for the Badgers, showing freak athleticism with a high motor and loads of tenacity. He’s raw and is eager to learn from great Steeler linebackers like Harrison and coach Joey Porter, but he has the potential to be a really good NFL pass-rusher.

Grade: B+

2nd Round (62nd overall):
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC)

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It came as quite a surprise when the Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the 2nd round, especially after hearing news earlier in the week that mega-talent Martavis Bryant was reinstated by the league. JuJu Smith-Schuster could be the most productive player from this draft class. He’s physical, strong, a decent route-runner, and has great potential after the catch. He would make a great fit lining up in the slot with Bryant and Antonio Brown outside. This pick definitely gives the Steelers another weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, but some argue there were other needs ahead of a receiver in the 2nd round.

Grade: B+

3rd Round (94th overall):
CB Cameron Sutton (Tennessee)

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The Steelers addressd their secondary with the first of two 3rd round picks and took Cameron Sutton. He’s a man-coverage cornerback, something the Steelers desperately need. He’s not the best tackler in the world, which was an issue from time to time last year for the Steeler defense, and his backpedal needs polished, but he’s got a lot of tools to show that he can be a decent NFL corner. He’ll compete for the number two cornerback or nickel spot, but he’ll have to have a strong training camp to beat out some of the veterans.

Grade: B-

3rd Round (105th overall):
RB James Conner (Pittsburgh)

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Well this amazing story got even more amazing this past weekend. James Conner was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. While rehabbing a knee injury in 2015, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He battled back from cancer and injury to play football again, and at a high level. He didn’t put up the inflated numbers from 2014, but still turned in a solid year and looked like an NFL running back.

With the Steelers needing a back up for star running back Le’Veon Bell this upcoming season, Conner looks to fit that role right away. He’ll be a good change of pace from Bell. Bell’s as patient as a runner can get, while Conner hits the hole and likes to finish runs over tacklers. Conner will probably see some goal line and short yardage situations, while spelling Bell as well. The only caution to consider is how his body continues to hold up after defeating cancer just two years ago.

Grade: B+

4th Round (135th overall):
QB Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee)

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With Ben Roethlisberger briefly contemplating retirement earlier this offseason, many speculated that the Steelers would draft a quarterback. And they did. They might’ve gotten the best value at the position with when they drafted him. Joshua Dobbs is a highly intelligent quarterback with a great arm and great ability to extend the play, keeping defenses honest. He has some mechanics to work out (primarily footwork), but the Steelers obviously don’t need him in a starting role right away. They drafted him as a developmental quarterback, and that’s the role he’ll fill barring any injuries.

Grade: A-

5th Round (173rd overall):
DB Brian Allen (Utah)

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Brian Allen is an interesting pick. His size, speed, and length are amazing features that can’t be taught. However, he struggles mightily with tackling, his footwork is sloppy, and he’s not great at turning his hips. He doesn’t appear to be ready to play in the NFL, but with coaching, he could become something. It doesn’t look like he could contribute to the team in 2017, but if he develops well, could become a piece in the defense in future seasons.

Grade: C

6th Round (213th overall):
LS Colin Holba (Louisville)

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I think this pick puzzled just about everyone. Drafting a long-snapper? In the 6th round no-less? It’s definitely interesting, to say the least. With the addition of Colin Holba, the current roster is at 97 players, three being long-snappers. It’d be a pretty good guess that at least one gets cut, right?

Grade: F

7th Round (248th overall):
OLB Keion Adams (Western Michigan)

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This could possibly be the biggest sleeper in the Steelers’ draft. Not to make any predictions, but Keion Adams has the speed, quickness, and athleticism to be a good edge rusher. He needs to be coached on some mechanics at the point of attack and how to set the edge better, but a lot of the tangibles needed to be a contributing linebacker are there. He needs to be polished a bit, but as stated before, this pick could be a steal.

Grade: B+

Final Grade: B+

All in all, it was a solid draft. If it weren’t for the blemish in the sixth round of drafting a player that you most likely would have been able to sign as an undrafted free agent, this would be an A- grade. They addressed the needs of the team, while adding to a strength, and bringing in a couple of developmental players. Only time will tell who’s a bust or who’s a sleeper, but the Steelers definitely added some quality, high-character guys who won’t embarrass the emblem.