Injuries are the worst part of the NFL season, and a big one struck the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered an elbow injury in Week 2, ending his season and leaving Mason Rudolph at the helm. While the move obviously affects the actual Pittsburgh Steelers, let’s take a look at how it affects the fantasy football values of James Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster.
Fantasy Football: James Conner, Juju Smith-Schuster Outlook Without Ben Roethlisberger
First off, we need to acknowledge that James Conner is currently battling a knee injury. The former third-round pick suffered his injury midway through Week 2’s action and is questionable to play. However, Conner is reportedly on track to play in Week 3, so let’s assume he’ll be ready to go for Sunday.
Losing Ben Roethlisberger obviously hurts his value, but it might not be as bad as you think. The Steelers were one of the most pass-happy teams in the league with Roethlisberger, and that won’t be the case with Rudolph. The Steelers are going to try to reduce Rudolph’s workload and win through the run game. Mike Tomlin typically uses one workhorse running back, and the offensive line should still be one of the best in the league. Don’t be surprised if Conner sees an uptick in carries in the coming weeks.
Additionally, Conner could see more work in the passing game. Mason Rudolph only has 19 career passing attempts, so nobody knows his passing tendencies. That said, it’s not uncommon for inexperienced quarterbacks to shy away from deep shots and instead check the ball down to running backs. It’s no guarantee, but Conner might actually see more targets with Rudolph in the lineup.
While the workload might increase, the overall efficiency of the offense will not. Mason Rudolph won’t be as good as Roethlisberger, so the offense isn’t going to score as many points or accumulate as many yards. Even though Conner might see a higher percentage of touches, his overall value is going to drop without Roethlisberger. Conner was a low-end RB1 with Roethlisberger, but he’s probably going to be a mid-level RB2 with Rudolph.
Life without Ben Roethlisberger is going to be tough for Juju. The third-year receiver already faced the unenviable task of starring without Antonio Brown, and expecting him to put up big numbers without his star quarterback is asking for the impossible. As previously mentioned, the Steelers will probably place a larger emphasis on the run game with Rudolph, which means fewer targets for Smith-Schuster.
As if that wasn’t enough, Rudolph isn’t going to be as efficient as Roethlisberger was. Rudolph isn’t nearly the quarterback that Roethlisberger is and doesn’t have chemistry with Smith-Schuster. Rudolph can’t make every throw and he doesn’t have the mind-meld that Smith-Schuster shared with Roethlisberger. Chemistry matters between a quarterback and wide receiver, and these two are working from the ground up.
Juju’s fantasy stock doesn’t look good, but there is some reason for optimism. Smith-Schuster caught five passes for 84 yards in Week 2, with a decent portion of that production coming with Rudolph under center. Losing Ben Roethlisberger hurts, but Smith-Schuster is still going to be the top option in the passing game. Instead of being a WR1, Smith-Schuster is probably going to be a mid-level WR2 with a limited ceiling.
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