Time to panic on the Steelers? -- fantasy advice from PFF's NFL experts
Last week, we started a new series in which we asked the PFF graders some “real life” football questions, and then extracted fantasy takeaways from their answers.
We’re back at again this week following a wacky Week 3. Here are some of the “real football” questions that were running through my head on Sunday, with answers given by PFF analysts. The fantasy spin is courtesy of yours truly.
Let’s get to it.
Question: Aside from Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh’s offense looked abysmal in Week 3, and they weren’t that good in Week 2 either. What went wrong in Week 3? Should we be worried about Ben Roethlisberger?
Answer: “I would — and am as a Roethlisberger owner — be worried about Roethlisberger, with the caveat that we should see how Pittsburgh’s offense performs with Le’Veon Bell back in the lineup. Outside of Brown, there was a lack of timing on the offense, and the other wide receivers look very average. The Eagles D didn’t do anything special to stop the Steelers, but nothing seemed to open up the offense outside of Brown. The one saving grace could be Bell’s return, which will also add in a check down which Roethlisberger has been missing without Bell and Heath Miller.
“Roethlisberger’s accuracy has been a worry though; even on adjusted completion percentage he has only been accurate on 68.4 percent of his passes (27th out of 32 QBs), compared to last year, where he was at 76.2 percent. The early-season Roethlisberger isn’t the quarterback we saw last year, but that might change once Bell is back and he can pick up cheap yardage. Right now, everything is battle outside of passing to Brown.” — Michael Mountford (See full Steelers-Eagles grade recap)
Fantasy spin: Antonio Brown is obviously going to be fine, because even when the entire Pittsburgh offense is in the doldrums, Brown sees enough volume and is good enough to put up huge numbers.
The image of Roethlisberger as a mid-pack QB1, though? That has certainly taken a hit. The silver lining is that Le’Veon Bell’s return might spark something. And before you point out that DeAngelo Williams has been fantastic as Bell’s replacement (and he has been), he’s not nearly as good as Bell as a receiver. Let’s not bury this Pittsburgh offense yet.
If nothing else, it appears that we are on course for an up-and-down fantasy season from Roethlisberger. At this point, I’d only trust him when the matchup warrants trusting. Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs defense that has given up just 663 total passing yards through three games (and is fresh of a six-interception performance) doesn’t seem like a great place to start. My early Week 4 rankings have Roethlisberger slotted as a tail-end QB1 option.
Question: How did Jerick McKinnon really look while filling in for Adrian Peterson? Technically, Matt Asiata got the “start,” but that didn’t seem to mean anything. Does it appear like McKinnon will be the team’s No. 1 back moving forward? Even on the goal line?
Answer: “McKinnon had 17 touches to Asiata’s seven on Sunday and has always looked like the superior runner to me. I expect he will continue to get the majority of touches for now. McKinnon showed he can work well in tight spaces and has some elusiveness to be effective.
“Unfortunately for them both, most of Minnesota’s offensive line is not blocking well upfront and injuries aren’t helping the matter. On 16 carries, McKinnon gained 35 yards after contact and four missed tackles, but was able to get just 10 total yards before contact. He’s capable of making plays but I suspect his production will be limited unless the offensive line gives him more room to work with.” — Matt Claassen (See full Vikings-Panthers grade recap)
Fantasy spin: So there’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it appears Matt Asiata won’t railroad your waiver claim for McKinnon. The bad news is that the Minnesota offensive line might.
McKinnon did look like the better running back on Sunday (to the surprise of no one), and he did get a goal-line look on a two-point conversion (to the surprise of a lot of people). It appears McKinnon will see enough volume to warrant consideration each week.
However, the quality of that volume is in question. Per Claassen, McKinnon gained only 10 total yards before contact. It doesn’t take a football guru to know that’s bad. The fact the Vikings were playing against the stingy Carolina Panthers defense might have something to do with it, but through three weeks, the Vikings run game hasn’t looked good.
McKinnon is still worth rostering, but he’s not a weekly must-start at the moment. With that said, he’s a definite flex option in Week 4 against the New York Giants, who were at times run over by the Washington Redskins in Week 3.
Question: Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and co. looked incredible in the first half of the game, as Rodgers tossed four first-half touchdowns, but what happened to them in the second half? Did they collapse? Or just play too conservatively?
Answer: “I think it was more that Detroit finally started to put together drives that limited how often Green Bay touched the ball. Green Bay only had one drive in the third quarter that resulted in a FG, and then one in the fourth that ended with a punt before they went into patented Mike McCarthy ‘don’t lose’ mode and started going run heavy.
“The Packers only ran eight offensive plays in the third quarter, and then just 13 plays in the fourth quarter, excluding Rodgers’ kneels to end the game. Of those 21 second-half plays, Rodgers only attempted six passes — two in the third and four in the fourth. I think Rodgers’ stats in the second half were about what you’d expect for a team that was up 31-10 at halftime.” — Mike Renner (See full Packers-Lions grade recap)
Fantasy spin: I should note that the only reason I had this question in the first place was because of how bad Green Bay’s offense looked in Week 2 — which was a carryover from poor performances in 2015. And it was a little shocking to see Green Bay do virtually nothing in the second half. It made me worry that this offense might just be too inconsistent to trust this year.
That wasn’t the case in Week 3. Per Renner (and the stats), the Packers simply didn’t have the ball enough in the second half to do damage. And when they did have the ball, they were just running time off the clock. Rodgers did enough damage in the first half for a full game’s worth of fantasy production, and his second half no-show shouldn’t concern you. He’s going to be fine. You can R-E-L-A-X while starting him each week.
Question: Tajae Sharpe seemed to be invisible until the final drive of the Titans game. Is he just not ready to handle the No. 1 role? Or is Tennessee’s offense just not suited to favor a wideout?
Answer: “Scheme-wise, this offense will be run-heavy with play action off of it. But the Titans don’t have a wide receiver to stretch the field, so while some games Sharpe might have a good number of catches, the yards per catch will never be huge since he is not a deep threat. All of Sharpe’s targets — bar one — have traveled in the air between 0-19 yards, and Marcus Mariota is only attempting 6.5 percent of his passes over 20 yards (second lowest for starting QBs).
“The other issue has been Marcus Mariota’s disappointing play early in the season. He has contributed to Sharpe’s struggles. Volume is the key with Sharpe, but I just don’t see the Titans connecting with him enough.” — Michael Mountford (See full Titans-Raiders grade recap)
Fantasy spin: That’s a pretty disappointing answer for anyone who has invested in Tajae Sharpe in season-long leagues. We knew the Titans were going to be a run-heavy team — “exotic smashmouth” had to mean something along those lines, right? — but the run-first scheme, Sharpe’s relatively low average depth of target and Mariota’s poor play have combined to spelled doom for Sharpe’s efficiency and production.
Sharpe has 25 targets (tied for 18th among wideouts) but only 14 receptions (tied for 28th). That’s a low catch rate for a player with an aDOT of 11.8 yards. For comparison, Stefon Diggs has a comparable aDOT of 11.0. Diggs has also seen 25 targets, but he has capitalized on 20 of them.
Sharpe is still worth a roster spot, but at the moment, he’s barely a flex option given his untrustworthiness.
Question Did Trevor Siemian really play as well as his stat line suggests? He also appeared to be locked in on Emmanuel Sanders. Is Sanders his favorite target, ahead of Demaryius Thomas?
Answer: “Siemian opened things up in challenging the Bengals deep, but his accuracy on shorter throws against tight coverage remains an issue. The stat line flattered him with his receivers doing some heavy lifting, especially Emmanuel Sanders.
“Indeed with Sanders it’s easier to see why he has become the go-to target this season with 10 more targets than Thomas. He has been more dependable, though Siemian needs to be careful not to go to that well too often: All three of his picks have come when targeting the former Steelers wide receiver.” — Khaled Elsayed (See full Broncos-Bengals grade recap)
Fantasy spin: Translation: Trevor Siemian is not a fantasy QB1.
OK, nobody thought he was anyway. I was actually more interested in Siemian’s obsession with throwing Sanders the ball. As Elsayed noted, that has gotten Siemian in trouble before, although he did avoid a mistake in Week 3.
Based on Elsayed’s assessment, I would expect Sanders to lose some target share to Thomas as the season progresses. Siemian’s NFL QB rating is 63.8 when throwing to Sanders — 41st out of 46 wide receivers. His rating is 136.3 when throwing to Thomas, which ranks third. It worked out for the Broncos in Week 3, but I would expect their coaching staff to balance things out moving forward.