Steelers Fantasy Football Preview: Week 11

Donnie Druin

Welcome to the first installment of our Steelers fantasy football preview. We realize how late to the party we are in terms of producing fantasy content. However, much like the actual Steelers, it just took us awhile to find an identity. From now until the final week of the season, you can expect fantasy analysis for Pittsburgh's offensive players.

*Note: We operate under PPR (point per reception) scoring*

Without further delay, let's get started on week eleven's match-up with the Browns: 

Quarterback- Mason Rudolph

Rudolph has made impressive throws each game, however he's yet to truly dazzle on the stat-sheet and his fantasy numbers show. Rudolph has hit 20 fantasy points only twice during the season with both performances coming against... the Dolphins and Bengals defenses. 

The good news? Rudolph has thrown a touchdown in every game this year, and has yet to dip below double-digit fantasy points. The Browns aren't exactly a pristine match-up in te passing category, as they allow a seventh-best 221 yards per game through the year. The good news? Cleveland has a mere four interceptions thus far. 

Cleveland's secondary is young and promising, with Denzel Ward already establishing himself and rookie Greedy Williams knocking on the door. Combine another tough secondary with Myles Garrett across the line of scrimmage, and it appears Rudolph will have to wait another week. 

I think Rudolph continues his touchdown-throwing streak, although I can't see Rudolph topping his season-high 251 passing yards in primetime. 

Mason Rudolph point prediction: 14 points

Running Backs- James Conner, Jaylen Samuels 

James Conner told media members on Monday that he was hopeful to return by Thursday night, and with Conner's infectious optimism, we'll follow suit and plug him in lineups. 

Conner was on quite the tear before his sprained AC joint cost him a pair of games, as he averaged 22.5 points his last four weeks. With a (more) healthy body against a Cleveland team that allows 4.9 yards per carry, I'm liking Conner's chances of continuing a strong stretch of games, especially if guard Ramon Foster is able to return. 

So what's that mean for Jaylen Samuels? 

Samuels only averaged 4.5 carries when Conner was healthy, as the Steelers were not adamant about establishing the run with Samuels. In fact, when both Conner and Samuels were healthy together, Samuels' performances were as followed: 1, 3, 22, 2. 

The Steelers are willing to feature Conner in the passing game as much as they do on the ground, a bad sign for Samuels' fantasy outlook for Thursday. 

With Conner and head coach Mike Tomlin optimistic about Conner's chances of playing, the Steelers will look to rely on their workhorse back in order to relieve some pressure off Rudolph on the road. 

James Conner point prediction: 16 points

Jaylen Samuels point prediction: 4 points

Wide Receivers- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington

It's sad to say, but we've reached a point where JuJu Smith-Schuster is no longer reliable from a fantasy aspect. Smith-Schuster's value solely resides in scoring touchdowns, where his three best performances (17, 18, 21 points) have derived. Whether it be a lack of connection with Rudolph or no significant receiver on the other side of the field, JuJu has had little to dance in the end-zone for in 2019. 

After a tough match-up against Jalen Ramsey, Smith-Schuster will now have the privilege of facing Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward on Thursday. 

This may potentially open the door for a receiver such as Diontae Johnson, a name that has begun to creep up fantasy watch-lists as of late. While Johnson hasn't exactly taken over as the Steelers number one fantasy option in the receivers department, his rapport with Rudolph continues to develop, and his recent fantasy outings (19, 10 points in last 2/3 weeks) are a sign of this. 

Is Johnson due for a true breakout game on Thursday? 

I'm not pounding the table for it. We're still a few weeks away (in my humble opinion) to seeing Johnson realistically seeing hefty targets from Rudolph in an already limited offense where the number one priority in the passing attack is to get JuJu going. 

The same could be said for James Washington, a receiver who many expected to take big strides in 2019. Is Washington finally turning the corner after a disappointing start? He's put together 10 and 19 point games in back to back weeks after failing to hit 10+ points in any game prior. 

The Steelers receiving trio is undoubtedly talented, yet they simply don't produce gaudy numbers akin to years past. I don't expect this to change against a tough Browns secondary. 

JuJu Smith-Schuster point prediction- 11 points

Diontae Johnson point prediction- 13 points

James Washington point prediction- 6 points

Tight Ends- Vance McDonald 

A tight end is typically the security blanket for a young quarterback like Rudolph, and McDonald is no exception. McDonald's season has been as up and down as any other on the Steelers offense, as he has eclipsed the double-digit mark just twice in 2019. The encouraging news? McDonald has seen a combined 18 targets in his last three games, with seven coming in each of his last two. 

The Browns have allowed just 8.6 fantasy points per game to the tight end position, which isn't exactly encouraging for McDonald owners. Given his overall lack of involvement, it's hard to envision McDonald dominating this type of game. However, the consecutive seven target games are encouraging moving forward. Perhaps this is another big game for McDonald we didn't see coming, as the Browns may be forced to allow Vance to dominate if that means stopping the outside receivers. 

Or perhaps it's another low scoring output. 

Vance McDonald point prediction- 5 points 

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