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Steelers fantasy question: Is Roethlisberger still a fantasy starter?

Steelers burning fantasy question:Is Ben Roethlisberger still a starting fantasy quarterback?

Ask the casual NFL fan if Ben Roethlisberger had a successful 2008 season, and the answer will be a resounding yes. He led the Steelers to a 12-4 record, an AFC North division title and an AFC championship en route to a dramatic win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Steelers top-5 fantasy players

  1. Willie Parker
  1. Santonio Holmes
  2. Hines Ward

Ask that same question to a fantasy football owner (who isn't also a Steelers fan), however, and the answer would be very, very different.

Big Ben was considered one of the best quarterbacks in fantasy circles heading into last season. He earned that elite status after putting up 3,154 passing yards, 204 rushing yards and a career-best 34 total touchdowns in 2007. He was considered so valuable, in fact, that Roethlisberger was selected in the top four or five rounds in most drafts.

While Roethlisberger did improve on his passing yardage compared to his 2007 totals, there wasn't much else to say about his numbers that was positive. He scored just 19 total touchdowns -- down 15 from the previous season -- and turned the ball over a combined 22 times.

That lack of consistent production caused him to go from being active in 95 percent of leagues in Week 1 to a mere 40 percent in Week 16.

Essentially, fantasy leaguers could have taken the unknown Tyler Thigpen in the final round of their draft and received better numbers. The Chiefs quarterback opened the season buried on his team's depth chart, but eventually become a better fantasy starter than Big Ben.

To Roethlisberger's credit, he did play behind an offensive line that allowed 49 sacks (fourth-most in the NFL), and that number could have been far greater if not for the quarterback's elusiveness.

In an effort to improve their line, the Steelers selected Wisconsin G/T Kraig Urbik with the No. 79 overall selection in the NFL Draft. Even if he doesn't earn a starting role, the rookie still gives the team much needed help at both the tackle and guard positions.

That's good new for Roethlisberger, who should see more time in the pocket to make reads and throw more accurate passes instead of running from pressure.

Roethlisberger also faces a much easier schedule than he did in 2008.

While games against the Ravens (2) and Titans should be defensive battles, Big Ben will have nine other games against teams that ranked 15th or worse against the pass last season. That list includes the Dolphins (25th), Broncos (26th), Lions (27th), Chiefs (28th), Bears (30th) and Chargers (31st).

If the offensive line shows improvement and the ground game supports him, Roethlisberger's numbers should be aided by what appears to be a pretty favorable slate of opponents. But fantasy leaguers still shouldn't expect him post 30-plus total touchdowns like he did in 2007.

Instead, look for Roethlisberger to be seen as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy quarterback who'll be a regular matchup-based starter in most leagues. He'll be well worth a middle-round selection and could turn into a nice bargain if things fall into place.

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