Injuries are an unfortunate part of football. In fantasy football it can kill your week if one of your stud players exits the game early on without performing. No one likes to see injuries occur in the NFL. Injuries can open up doors for the backups, giving them a chance to perform. In fantasy football these backups that emerge after an injury can be your saving grace. Having the backup to your stud fantasy player is so important, especially with playoffs coming up quickly. In week 11 we saw James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Marlon Mack exit their games early and are doubtful to make their return until after week 12. In this article you will find the backups likely to step up in the starter’s absence. All statistics used in this article can be found on our website at https://www.lineups.com/nfl.
RB James Conner (PIT) – 99.5% Rostered
A fantasy darling from last season where he broke out while LeVeon Bell held out. Conner started this season struggling somewhat but has recently found his stride a bit before getting injured. Conner exited the Steelers week 11’s divisional game with a shoulder injury. Only receiving 5 carries for 10 yards, playing just 18% of the offensive snaps. This early exit was due to a reaggravation of an injury that kept Conner out of weeks 9 and 10. Currently given a questionable designation and projected 0 points. Conner was a non-participant in practice on Wednesday. A worrisome start to the week for any Conner owner.
When Conner missed weeks 9 and 10, backup running-back Jaylen Samuels was the clear favorite backup in those weeks. Playing 63% of the snaps in week 9 and 55% in week 10. However, even with the majority of snaps given to Samuels in both weeks Trey Edmonds led the team in carries during week 9 with 12 compared to Samuels’ 8 carries. Samuels then led in carries during week 10 with 14 compared to Edmonds 4 carries. During weeks 9 and 10 Samuels was a big piece of the passing game. Catching 16 passes during those 2 weeks compared to Edmonds 2 receptions. After Conner exited week 11, it was Edmonds who led the running-backs in snaps, but Samuels led the backfield in carries and receptions.
It’s clear the Steelers want to split the work between the two backs. However, Samuels is the favorite back for the Steelers. If Conner is to miss this week’s juicy matchup against the Bengals expect Samuels to be the main beneficiary. Seeing the most touches out of the backfield. The Steelers will face the Bengals in week 12 who rank 28th against opposing fantasy running-backs. Giving up the most rushing yards this season, the highest yards per carry, and the 3rd most rushing touchdowns. In a game that could quickly get out of hand for the Bengals, there may be enough work for both Samuels and Edmonds to thrive. However, Samuels is the main option they prefer to give work to. Samuels is rostered in over 60% of fantasy leagues. He may still be out there for you to pick-up if Conner can’t suit up this week. If you need a running-back/flex option, Samuels should be your priority pickup.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) – 98.1% Rostered
JuJu went down in week 11 with a concussion and a knee injury that held him out of the rest of the Steelers game against the Browns. A non-participant in practice during Wednesday, he is not expected to suit up this week despite having a questionable designation. He was not the only Steeler wide receiver to exit the week 11 matchup. Diontae Johnson also exited the game with a concussion. Johnson is expected to play this week, being a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. The absence of JuJu opens up the door for other wide receivers to step up.
The main beneficiary from JuJu’s absence was James Washington who played 85% of the offensive snaps. Only seeing 5 targets, catching 2 for 49 yards. Washington will face a defense that ranks 13th against opposing wide receivers. A relatively tough matchup on paper. However, the Bengals have allowed the highest yards per attempt and the highest yards per completion this season but only the 13th most passing yards allowed. Most likely due the lack of competitive games, they have seen the second fewest passing attempts this season. I expect Washington to have a big game against the Bengals.
The tight-ends are expected to see an expanded role with JuJu’s absence, specifically Vance McDonald. Coming into this fantasy season many were expecting McDonald to be the sleeper tight-end to explode onto the Fantasy scene. A disappointing season so far for McDonald for those who believed in him. Things may change going forward. McDonald has seen 7 targets in each of the last 3 games. A promising sign for big things to come for him. The Bengals rank 20th against opposing fantasy tight-ends this season. Expect a big game from Vance McDonald against the Bengals. McDonald is currently owned in just over 50% of fantasy leagues and could possibly be a top-5 tight-end this week. If you need a tight-end this week, McDonald should be your priority pick-up.
RB Marlon Mack (IND) – 96.2% Rostered
Mack exited his week 11 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a fractured right hand. But not before he saw 14 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. Mack was confirmed as getting a procedure performed on his fractured hand that could keep him out for multiple games and potentially the rest of the season. An unfortunate end to a solid fantasy running-back.
In Mack’s absence Jonathan Williams saw a majority of the work, playing 46% of the offensive snaps. Williams rushed 13 times for 116 yards and caught 1 pass for 31 yards. Despite this impressive outing against the Jaguars defense Head Coach Frank Reich has come out and said that Jonathan Williams and Jordan Wilkins will be splitting the workload that has been left from Mack’s absence. Nyheim Hines’ role in the offense will not be seeing a change and will continue as is. Facing a matchup in week 12 against the Houston Texans who rank 19th against opposing running-backs.
The lack of distinction between Williams and Wilkins makes this backfield murky at best. You can’t start either of these fantasy options with confidence against the Texans run defense that has allowed the 3rd fewest rushing yards and 2nd fewest rushing touchdowns. The Texans will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing performance against the Ravens in week 11. The game-script does not seem like it will favor a running game that will be able to produce a startable fantasy running-back this week. However, if you are desperate and there are no other options on the waiver wire Nyheim Hines seems to be the safest option in PPR formats.
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