Kickoff: Sunday, September 18th, 1:00 PM ET
Location: Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Betting Odds: PIT +1.5, 42 total via oddshark.com
Writer: Dustin Ludke (@TheDunit13 on Twitter)
New England Patriots
Mac Jones (Sit, QB2)
Mac Jones had a rough start to his sophomore season against the Dolphins in Week 1. On top of his disappointing 213 yards, one touchdown, and an interception, he also lost a fumble and took a massive shot that caused him to get X-rays on his back. Reports are that the X-rays came back negative without serious harm but it will still be a factor for Jones going forward. Going against the Steelers in Pittsburgh will be a tough task. PFF graded the Steelers at 74.2 in coverage and 73.6 in the pass rush. Jones was only sacked 2 times in Week 1, but the Steelers got to Joe Burrow seven times and had 11 QB hits. The 2022 version of the steel curtain will be looking to continue its dominance in Week 2. I will be waiting to see if Mac Jones can turn things around on an offense before I rely on him for fantasy. The game should be close so he will still have opportunities. He threw the ball 30 times in Week 1 blowout loss so that might be his ceiling for attempts for the foreseeable future. If for some reason Jones can’t go, I’m not staring at Brian Hoyer even in super-flex leagues.
Damien Harris (Start, RB2), Rhamondre Stevenson (Sit, Flex) Ty Montgomery (IR)
If you were a Damien Harris believer in fantasy drafts, you were probably not super happy with Week 1. If you were a Rhamondre Stevenson truther in drafts, you were probably not happy with Week 1. The Patriots only ran the ball 22 times which included 2 scrambles by QB Mac Jones. That is in line with what the Patriots averaged in 2021. The hope coming into the season was that one of the running backs would break out and see a larger portion of the rushing pie. With Harris getting 9 carries (40%) and Stevenson getting 8 (36%), you weren’t happy with the volume for either. The Steelers graded out at 67.7 on PFF.com and the Bengals had 33 rushing attempts against them in Week 1. With Mac Jones dealing with some back soreness the Patriots could plan to run the ball more. They were behind for almost all of the game in Week 1 so it may have been game scripted out against the Dolphins. Both backs received a small number of targets so neither was heavily used in the passing game. Ty Montgomery led the running backs with 4 targets. Digging further into the numbers, Montgomery ran the most routes, with 11 of his 17 passing snaps, followed by Harris’s 10 out of 12 and Stevenson’s 5 out of 6. Since they only scored seven points there weren’t many red zone opportunities but Harris did see 2 red zone targets. With Montgomery now on IR, there is an opening here for the passing game work. It remains to be seen how it will be distributed, but Stevenson has the leg up as the superior pass catcher. I think you can be okay with Harris as an RB2 due to him averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Jakobi Meyers (Start, WR2), DeVante Parker (Sit), Nelson Agholor (Sit, Flex), Hunter Henry (Sit), Jonnu Smith (Start, TE2)
As the quarterback struggles, so too will the receiving weapons. Nine different players caught passes in Week 1. Jakobi Meyers leads the team in targets with 6. He was able to bring in 4 of them and had 55 yards. Devante Parker took a back seat to Nelson Agholor. Parker might just be washed at this point only getting 2 targets while Agholor saw 5. Against a tough defense, it will be hard for anyone of these receivers to get in the end zone. Meyers will continue to see targets as the trusted option for Jones. I don’t think you can start any of the wide receiver options. You can’t trust Parker with his low volume and I will want to see a second week of Agholor getting consistent volume before I fully trust him as a low-end flex. When the running backs get a total of 9 targets that is a big chunk of the passing volume not going to receivers. The tight end duo of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith combined for a good day but their individual performances were a fantasy letdown. Henry played on 43 snaps and played on 29 passing plays. He ran a route on all 29 of those passing plays. Smith played on 39 snaps but only played on 20 passing snaps. He ran 17 routes on those 20 snaps. Neither of them nor anyone outside of running backs had a red zone target. Henry is the taller of the two at 6’5 compared to Smith who is 6’3. Their average depth of target couldn’t be more varied. Smith is at 5.5 while Henry is at 12.3. I think you have to wait and see if one can separate from the other, which will be hard with a banged-up quarterback and a tough defense with great cover linebackers.
Mitch Trubisky (Sit, QB2)
Let’s face it, no one is excited about Mitch Trubisky and what he can be for the Steelers or your fantasy team. He lead his team to an overtime win but still only managed to pass for 194 yards and 1 touchdown. He gets a very favorable matchup against the Patriots who graded out at 44.1 by PFF.com. It’s a chance for Trubisky to cement his role as the Steelers starter and hold off rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett. With the favorable matchup and the slight injury to star runner Najee Harris, Trubisky has every opportunity to post some great stats. I still believe he is a QB2 but has some QB1 upside. The game itself doesn’t project to be a high-scoring affair but still plenty of points to go around.
Najee Harris (Start, RB2), Jaylen Warren (Sit, Flex)
A ton of fantasy managers were holding their breath when they heard that Najee Harris went to the locker room in week 1 with a foot injury. It’s the same type of injury that Harris suffered in the preseason. Reports have come back that the foot is not a major issue and that he will be okay. I think fantasy managers have to be careful with expectations for Harris going forward. Jaylen Warren and wide receiver Chase Claypool took over as the main rushers after Najee went to the locker room. After getting 307 carries last year the Steelers may want to rotate Warren into the mix more to save Harris for later in the season. It’s not a great matchup as they face the Patriots who helped the Dolphins to just 65 yards on 21 carries. Given the foot issue and the low amount of carries the Steelers had and how well the Patriots stopped the Miami rushers, you can expect RB2 production from Harris this week. Jaylen Warren shouldn’t be started but should probably be picked up and stashed as a top-end handcuff.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends
Diontae Johnson (Start, WR1), Chase Claypool (Start, WR3), George Pickens (Sit), Pat Freiermuth (Start, TE2)
This should be a week where you can fire up most of the passing weapons from the Steel city. Diontae Johnson saw 10 targets in Week 1 in an overtime winner against the Bengals. Chase Claypool got 6 targets and although he was super inefficient with them, he also got 6 carries. Anytime a player gets opportunities that’s something you want in a fantasy. Rookie George Pickens only saw 3 targets and didn’t jump off the score sheet or on film but there are good things ahead. Tight end Pat Freiermuth had a team-leading 75 yards on his 10 targets. All the numbers are slightly inflated due to the game going to the end of overtime. The bright side is the 44.1 ranked coverage defense of the Patriots, according to PFF.com. The highest rated single player was Devin McCourty who graded out at 68.2. McCourty will most likely be on Johnson most of the game. It’s not a concern for Johnson. You can start him as a solid WR1. Claypool should see enough total opportunities to make him a solid WR3. He played on 41 passing plays and ran 38 routes. Combined with some designed rushing plays he should get over 50 total yards. George Pickens has shown some skills but is still lacking in opportunities. He ran 37 routes on his 39 passing snaps and still only saw 2 targets. Freiermuth is one of three players to see a red zone target and looks to be one of Trubisky’s favorite targets in general. He will easily be a TE1 and is looking like the break-out tight end that drafters thought he could be.