Up until last week, Ben Roethlisberger had become so predictable for fantasy purposes: Feel good about playing him at home, bench him on the road.
But then came those five interceptions in a stunning 30-9 loss at home to Jacksonville in Week 5, followed by all the drama about whether the Pittsburgh Steelers' 35-year-old quarterback still has it.
Unless you’re in a deep league, you probably weren't counting on Big Ben to make or break your fantasy season. But many of you are depending on the Steelers' potent playmakers. So with that in mind, I took the "Do they still have it?" question to ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler:
Roethlisberger: “I don’t think he’s done by any stretch. But he just hasn’t been as crisp,” said Fowler, who said it’s reasonable to think Roethlisberger can get back to being a top-15 fantasy QB since the Jacksonville game was "such an aberration,” but probably not top-10. And it’s particularly tough to decide what to do with him Sunday. “I think he’s gonna have a response game a little bit -- or at least he’s gonna play inspired football -- and they’re gonna play a little tighter and crisper on offense,” Fowler said. “But it’s in Kansas City, where they got six field goals last season in the playoffs and couldn’t score a touchdown.”
Antonio Brown: “Still got it,” Fowler said, without hesitation, for the consensus No. 1 receiver in all of fantasy. “They don’t have a lot of guys getting open right now, and he’s the one that’s consistently open.”
Le'Veon Bell: Fowler wrote this week that the Steelers' run game is even more crucial with Roethlisberger struggling. But the Steelers haven’t been sticking with it consistently, and Bell is averaging only about 5 yards per catch. So, yes, Bell is still a must-start every week in fantasy. But Fowler said the Steelers will need to improve for Bell to consistently be that guy many people drafted with the No. 1 overall pick.
Martavis Bryant: Fowler is still high on Bryant’s potential as a buy-low candidate or spot starter, and he wrote that Bryant still feels like a 2015-like explosion will come. "From what I see, the athleticism’s still there, he’s still very fast, he’s strong. ... If he blows up again, I would not be surprised,” Fowler said. But obviously it’s hard to label Bryant as a full-time fantasy starter right now, and his targets might take a slight dip in the short term while he continues to shake off the rust from missing all of last season.
Ezekiel Elliott fallout
ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer gave a detailed breakdown on the running backs who will carry the load if Elliott winds up serving a six-game suspension. But there is no one obvious handcuff between Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden. As Archer wrote, the Cowboys' backfield would switch from a one-man band to a committee. Elliott has 105 of the 115 carries by Dallas running backs so far this season.
RBs on the rise?
Aaron Jones: ESPN's Rob Demovsky wrote that the Green Bay Packers finally seem to have a one-two punch at running back that coach Mike McCarthy has long talked about wanting, thanks to the rookie's emergence in Week 5. Unfortunately for fantasy purposes, that might mean the Packers have zero sure-fire starters now that Ty Montgomery is close to returning from broken ribs (he’ll wear a flak jacket if he plays Sunday).
Jones probably has the higher upside of the two after he ran 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, particularly while Montgomery is still on the mend. But Demovsky also stressed that McCarthy loves Montgomery’s versatility, so it’s hard to expect his role to shrink too much when healthy.
Jerick McKinnon: Speaking of riding the hot hand, that’s what the Minnesota Vikings did in Week 5 in the wake of Dalvin Cook's season-ending knee injury. The Vikings started with veteran Latavius Murray, but McKinnon wound up playing a much bigger role with 16 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown and six catches for 51 yards.
ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin said she still anticipates Murray will get opportunities, and she wrote that Murray vowed to be "a lot better." But McKinnon clearly has explosive ability; Cronin said if his production continues to open things up for the offense, the load will likely shift his way.
Adrian Peterson: The former Vikings star will try again to resurrect his career in a new spot after being traded to the Arizona Cardinals. ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss definitely thinks Peterson will get the type of opportunity he wasn’t getting in New Orleans, at least on first and second downs (Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Peterson won’t play on third downs).
As Weinfuss wrote, Peterson will “be the starter, he’ll be the feature back, he’ll be the running game.” Unfortunately, Weinfuss also warned that Peterson won’t help the Cardinals if their offensive line continues to struggle. Arizona is last in the league in rushing yards per carry (2.6) and rushing yards per game (51.8).
Alvin Kamara: Meanwhile, Peterson’s absence opens the door a little wider for New Orleans Saints rookie Alvin Kamara (though that transition had pretty much taken place even before the trade). As I wrote this week, I still think Mark Ingram will remain the leading man in New Orleans’ backfield, since he is so valued as a runner, receiver and pass-protector. But it’s obvious how much the Saints like Kamara, and how much they want to keep giving him the ball as both a receiver and runner because of his dynamic ability.
Marlon Mack: The Indianapolis Colts are starting to move toward a similar setup with veteran Frank Gore and the rookie Mack, who had nine carries for 91 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells said Mack looks like Indy’s best RB playmaker since the Peyton Manning years, as both an outside runner and pass-catcher. But Wells also warned that Mack needs work as both a between-the-tackles runner and a pass-protector, which could continue to limit his snaps while Gore remains the leading man.
Matt Breida: Likewise, ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner doesn’t expect veteran starter Carlos Hyde to get phased out in favor of Breida right away, unless Hyde continues to struggle with fumbles or missed blitz pickups. Breida is definitely worth a stash on your roster, though, since the 49ers could increase his role with an eye toward the future as the season goes on.
Thomas Rawls: Pete Carroll said veterans Rawls and Eddie Lacy have "equal status" in the Seattle Seahawks' backfield (which matches with their virtually identical Week 5 stat lines). But ESPN Seahawks reporter Brady Henderson said he would still lean slightly toward Rawls as the better fantasy investment because of his track record and the way the backs were being used this summer. Henderson said Seattle’s offense tends to pick up later in the season, and Rawls’ slow start could be partly a product of the rust from an ankle injury.
Wayne Gallman: ESPN's Jordan Raanan listed the rookie among the young New York Giants players who need to see the field more this season. Although veteran Orleans Darkwa has had the most success so far, the 0-5 Giants will likely want to evaluate Gallman and struggling second-year pro Paul Perkins more for future planning.
Worth a click
ESPN Washington Redskins reporter John Keim said he expects better things to come from receiver Jamison Crowder now that his hamstring injury has improved. Coach Jay Gruden has talked about getting Crowder the ball more, and the 49ers are a good matchup for Crowder’s skill set.
A look at the injury-ravaged Giants' reworked depth chart at wide receiver.