Kickoff: Sunday, October 25th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: LP Field, Nashville, TN
Betting Odds: PIT -2, 52.5 total via Oddsshark
Ben Roethlisberger (Start, QB2)
One of the marquee matchups in Week 7 features two of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL squaring off as the Steelers travel to Tennessee to battle the Titans. On the season, Ben Roethlisberger has looked good after missing most of 2019 with an elbow injury as he has tossed 11 TDs to just one INT so far in 2020. Tennessee has been generous on defense this season allowing an average of 272 passing yards per game and has only held one QB, Drew Lock in Week 1, without multiple TD passes. Roethlisberger has scaled back his attempts some this season and Pittsburgh is currently 24th in the NFL in average passing yards per game at 212. Roethlisberger doesn’t have the upside some of his peers have this week, but I think he still lands solidly in the middle of the QB2 tier in Week 7. There are better options out there this week for fantasy managers in traditional one-QB leagues but Roethlisberger can sneak into the bottom of the QB1 tier given the perceived game script and is a great option in leagues that allow for more than one starting QB in Week 7.
James Conner (Start, low-end RB1), Benny Snell (Sit)
James Conner has quietly strung together a nice sequence of games in which he has surpassed 100 yards in three of his last four games and scored a TD in all four. Conner has easily out-snapped Benny Snell and is the clear-cut RB to own in Pittsburgh. Conner has a limited role in Pittsburgh’s passing game but his lack of targets (averages three per game) caps his ceiling. Tennessee’s defense has allowed one rushing TD in every game this season and sits at 26th in the NFL in allowing an average of 137 rushing yards per game. Conner should provide fantasy managers with low-end RB1 numbers in Week 7 and can be started in all formats.
Snell is more valuable to the Steelers than fantasy managers as long as Conner is healthy. Snell regularly sees around 15 snaps per game but only gets six or seven opportunities per game on average. Snell is merely a handcuff for fantasy managers who have Conner on their rosters and is an easy sit for Week 7.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Chase Claypool (Start, WR2), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Sit), Diontae Johnson (Sit), Eric Ebron (Start, high-end TE2)
Chase Claypool went from a rookie with some upside to a must-start fantasy asset in the span of two weeks. Claypool quickly supplanted James Washington in three-WR sets beginning in Week 3 and the injury to Diontae Johnson opened the door for more targets in Weeks 5 and 6. Claypool led the Pittsburgh WRs in snaps in Week 6 with 61 (78.5%) and the team likes to find ways to utilize his speed and elusiveness in the open field. Claypool has rushed for a TD each of the last two weeks and showed his explosiveness with four total TDs in Week 5. Tennessee has been susceptible to big games from WRs with a similar athletic profile (Will Fuller – 6/123/1, Stefon Diggs – 10/106, Justin Jefferson – 7/175/1) making Claypool a solid WR2 for fantasy managers in Week 7.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has gone from a must-start WR1 in 2018 to a candidate for fantasy benches in 2020. Smith-Schuster leads the team in targets (28) and receptions (23) but has seen his average depth of target (ADOT) drop from nearly 10 yards his first two years to 4.8 yards in 2020. Smith-Schuster has become a volume WR for fantasy managers and he’s just not seeing quite enough volume to warrant an auto-start tag. If Smith-Schuster were to find the end zone, he might make a viable Flex option, but those are hard to predict and, for that reason, I recommend fantasy managers sit Smith-Schuster in Week 7.
Diontae Johnson looked like the Steelers WR to own after two weeks this season as he commanded 23 targets and converted them into 14 receptions for 149 yards and one TD. Injuries have derailed his early-season success but all signs are pointing to him returning from his back injury against Tennessee. When healthy, Johnson has been frequently targeted by Roethlisberger to the tune of a 19.4% target share but will he make it through the entire game healthy? Washington might spell him as well, limiting the production of both. I would recommend avoiding the situation altogether and sitting both this week. Johnson might sneak into low-end Flex consideration for fantasy managers struggling with BYEs or injuries but his floor is so low it might be no more than a desperation play until he shows he can stay on the field.
Eric Ebron has been a solid if unspectacular TE for fantasy managers this season as he has remained a decent part of Pittsburgh’s passing attack so far. Ebron and Vance McDonald both see a good percentage of the team’s snaps but Ebron is more valuable to fantasy managers given their respective roles in the passing game. Tennesse has surrendered a receiving TD to an opposing TE every game except their Week 5 victory against Buffalo and Ebron sees enough volume to think a TD for him is a real possibility this week. Ebron should still approach TE1 numbers but fantasy managers would be better served to expect high-end TE2 numbers. Ebron is startable in most leagues, but there are slightly better options out there.
Ryan Tannehill (Start, QB2)
Ryan Tannehill has been a little Jekyll and Hyde this season for fantasy managers. In leagues with traditional scoring, Tannehill has finished as the following in weeks one through six (BYE in Week 4): QB14, QB6, QB29, QB1, and QB3. Tannehill has yet to face a defense that ranks above 20th in the NFL in passing defense. That changes this week as Pittsburgh brings the 8th-best defense against the pass into Nashville on Sunday. This projects to be a back-and-forth affair between two of the top teams in the AFC. Tannehill has shown he has elite QB1 upside but this will be his toughest test to date. I have him slotted as a solid QB2 option, with projections almost even with Roethlisberger, and it’s hard to sit him given his last two performances. Are there better options? Yes, but most fantasy managers likely won’t have one alongside Tannehill on their roster. Temper expectations if he’s your primary QB in traditional leagues and be prepared for a possible finish closer to QB14 on the week as opposed to QB4. Fantasy managers in leagues with two starting QBs or a Superflex can start him with confidence as a high-end QB2.
Derrick Henry (Start, RB1), Jeremy McNichols (Sit)
Last week I said if you’ve got Derrick Henry, you’re starting him, simple as that. That remains true again this week but this projects to be the toughest matchup Henry will see potentially all season. Pittsburgh is behind only Tampa Bay in average rushing yards allowed as the Steelers sit at an impressive 66.2 rushing yards allowed per game. For reference, the team at 3rd in Indianapolis at 88.3 yards per game. The season-ending injury to LB Devin Bush should open up more running room for Henry, but this is still a top-tier defense without him. Henry has been the epitome of positive TD regression as he’s found the end zone twice in each of Tennessee’s last three games. Henry likely won’t be the overall #1 RB again like he did in Week 6, but he’s still an elite option. Plug him in as a solid RB1 and reap the benefits.
Rookie Darrynton Evans has been placed on injured reserve meaning Jeremy McNichols will be tasked as the primary backup to Henry for the foreseeable future. McNichols likely won’t see much work and is more valuable to the Titans than to fantasy managers. McNichols is nothing more than an emergency handcuff for those with Henry on their rosters and should be on benches everywhere in Week 7.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
A.J. Brown (Start, WR2), Corey Davis (Sit), Adam Humphries (Sit), Jonnu Smith (Start, TE1 if he plays), Anthony Firkser (Start, TE2 if Jonnu out. Sit if Jonnu plays)
A.J. Brown is entering his third game back from a knee injury suffered in Week 1 and he has looked as good as he did in 2019 en route to 138 yards and three TDs over the past two games. Brown also rarely leaves the field as he was in on 84% of the team’s offensive snaps last week. Pittsburgh has been susceptible to surrendering TDs to WRs, allowing at least one to every team except Denver so far this season. Brown has an incredible ceiling but it will be prudent for fantasy managers to understand this is the toughest matchup to date for Brown. This combined with the return of Corey Davis to potentially steal some targets makes Brown a low-end WR2 in Week 7. Start him as usual but be prepared for a potential let-down game against this tough defense.
Speaking of Davis, the Titans activated him off the COVID-IR list this week and he is slated to start opposite Brown against Pittsburgh. The only game in which both Brown and Davis were active was Week 1 against Denver. In that game, each received eight targets and Davis had the better game catching seven for 101 yards. Davis doesn’t have the upside of Brown and is returning after a two-week absence, so it’s best to take a wait and see approach and sit Davis in Week 7.
Adam Humphries is a low-volume receiver that rarely finds the end zone, though he does have two TDs already this season, and is best viewed as a short or intermediate option for Tannehill. Humphries regularly sees six or seven targets a game, but an ADOT of 8.4 yards on that few targets doesn’t make for an enticing fantasy option. Sit Humphries in Week 7.
It’s just before 6:00 pm CST as I’m writing this and it is being reported Jonnu Smith was able to get in a limited practice today. Early reports indicate Smith has a “minor” ankle sprain but that’s enough to put his Week 7 status in question. If Smith can ramp up his practice participation as the week concludes he can safely be viewed as a solid TE1. If he remains limited, he might be better viewed as a high-end TE2. This is definitely a situation fantasy managers will be following closely as Sunday nears. If Smith were to miss, the biggest beneficiary would seem to be Anthony Firkser after his impressive 8-113-1 line from Week 6. Firkser is a viable streaming option if, and only if, Smith is ruled out for Sunday.
Snap counts courtesy of Fantasy Data.
-Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN on Twitter)