On Thursday, per Fox Sports’ Ross Jones, wide receiver Martavis Bryant is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the second-year star has filed an appeal.
Bryant is a budding superstar. He flew under the radar last season with 549 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 26 receptions in 10 games.
That kind of big-play production is impossible for any player to replace. Bryant is still developing parts of his game, but knowing he could run a straight line and make a play down the field is why quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to throw for nearly 5,000 yards last season.
Markus Wheaton‘s Role
It’s easy to overlook Markus Wheaton’s production in 2014 because of how many weapons the Steelers had around him, but he did have a solid season all things considered.
Wheaton had the second-most receptions (53) and yards (644) among Pittsburgh wide receivers last season.
However, the spotlight has not been kind to Wheaton in two NFL seasons, as noted by Rotoworld.com’s Evan Silva:
Adam Levitan of DraftKings.com provided the numbers to support Silva’s hypothesis:
One major problem for Wheaton is he’s listed at 5’11” and 189 pounds, so he’s not going to win short-yardage matchups against physical defensive backs and doesn’t have the size to catch jump balls in the red zone.
Playing in a points-per-reception league will be the best use of Wheaton in fantasy circles. He’s going to get opportunities for catches, especially in the first two games, but his skill set is more of a possession receiver than a dynamic playmaker.
Unless Wheaton suddenly becomes Pittsburgh’s version of Julian Edelman, he’s not more valuable than a No. 3 wideout, at best, until Bryant returns.
Antonio Brown‘s Role
The good news for Pittsburgh and fantasy owners is the Steelers already have an established No. 1 receiver in Antonio Brown.
Last year featured many standout performances at wide receiver, yet in standard scoring leagues, Bryant was number one with 251 total points (28 more than Demaryius Thomas), per ESPN.com. He had 129 receptions, 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns.
It wasn’t like Brown was a fluke who came out of nowhere, either. He caught more than 100 passes in 2013, and his touchdown total has increased every year of his professional career.
The schedule does set up well for the Steelers to score a lot of points, even without Bryant for four games.
With New England and San Francisco essentially breaking in entirely new cornerback groups, Roethlisberger should look to Brown early and often before teams prove they can stop him.
However, things get complicated because the Steelers will be without Bryant AND Bell for those two games. Bell was second on the team in receptions (83) and receiving yards (854) last season.
Great receivers are often able to overcome extra attention, though given the weapons Pittsburgh will be without for two games, Brown is not going to look like the player who had more than 100 yards in eight games last year.
Keep expectations for Brown in check for those games against New England and San Francisco. There will surely be moments he makes something happen—it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him score one touchdown—but his real 2015 breakout will come in Week 3 against St. Louis.
Brown is still worthy of being the top wide receiver taken in fantasy drafts, though make sure you add a strong No. 2 who can make up for the low production totals in those first two weeks.
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