Roundtable Week 10

Our Footballguys panelists share their thoughts on the Steelers running backs, the Bengals without A.J. Green, and various players primed to get hot down the stretch.

Le'Veon Bell is in Pittsburgh. If he reports to the Steelers next week, how will the workload be split between him and James Connor down the stretch? That’s the first topic of discussion, followed by some comments on a few running backs and wide receivers who seem to be heating up. We also discuss whether Cordarrelle Patterson will continue to have a role with Sony Michel returning to the Patriots’ lineup. We discuss how the Bengals’ offense will adjust while A.J. Green is out. And we finally consider some players to trade – or trade for – as the fantasy trade deadline in many leagues approaches.

Let's roll...

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The Steelers Running Backs

Maurile Tremblay: Le'Veon Bell must report to the Steelers by next Tuesday if he's going to play at all this season. Assuming he does report, how will the workload be divided between Bell and James Connor for the rest of this season? What is each back's long-term fantasy value in dynasty leagues?

Mark Wimer: The answer to this question is conditional (as in it depends on the conditioning level of Bell when he reports, and his mental condition vis-a-vis the Steelers). It is entirely reasonable to suspect Bell will have limited touches for the first 1-2 games after he returns, depending on how well he's maintained his conditioning and on how motivated he is to play for the Steelers. As Mike Ditka once pointed out, "You are never a loser until you quit trying." I am afraid that the sour relationship between Bell and the front office may result in a lack of effort on Bell's part or a mandate from the front office to limit him mostly to the bench.

In any case, I don't think Bell will dominate touches in the final third of the season because Pittsburgh needs to look to the future with James Conner as their lead back, and will want to keep Conner at least content with his role after strong performances in the first two-thirds of the season. (Bell may be the lead back after the AFC playoff seeding is determined so that the Steelers can preserve Conner for the playoff run.)

Jason Wood: This is the kind of question everyone wants us to answer, but we're making a purely instinctual guess. There is no precedent for this kind of situation, and to get this answer right, we need to get a lot of assumptions about first-time events right. Teams coached by Mike Tomlin have never used a committee approach at running back, but have they ever had two elite producers like Conner and Bell before? There's also a new offensive coordinator at the helm. Will the Steelers hold animus toward Bell and want to send a message? Will they consider putting him on the roster-exempt list for a few weeks? Have they seen enough of Conner to commit to him in 2019 and beyond? Have they completely committed to letting Bell leave in 2019?

Keeping in mind none of us know how this will play out, my best guess would be that Conner will remain the workhorse (80%+ of RB snaps) for the first game Bell is active (note: that could be a few weeks after he reports depending on the exempt list), and Bell will eventually work his way back into the lead role. I cannot imagine giving Bell a workhorse role again, based on how this played out, but I can see him having a 60-40 split with Conner for the playoff run. But that's his upside, and I wouldn't put more than 20% odds on it.

Andrew Garda: I'm with Jason, specifically in how unprecedented this all is. It does smell like disaster for fantasy managers come playoffs though.

Consider this timeline: Bell comes back Tuesday, it's Week 11. Unlikely that he really gets into any actual use that Week. Then it's Week 12 and even if he gets use, one would imagine it won't be a ton, partly because Connor has been a beast and partly because no matter how much he worked out, Bell is a couple weeks away from proper game shape.

Now it's Week 13. And it's a decent matchup. Denver isn't much to look at. But barring Connor imploding, the Steelers — probably in the thick of a race for AFC North supremacy — are going to stick with what works. Maybe Bell gets a quarter of the touches, but not for more than an upside flex start.

Now we're into Fantasy playoffs. Will the Steelers use Bell more as he tunes up for post-season? Will they split carries?

Like Wood said, we have no clue and worse will have no real indication of what is going to happen at exactly the time of year you need clarity.

Long term, my guess is Connor remains a Steeler and Bell lands elsewhere. Both of them could have significant value next season, though Bell's will depend on where he lands.

Chad Parsons: I expect Bell to be the secondary option for 1-2 games upon activation before assuming the 1A role. A prevailing thought I have had since this saga started is Bell will end up suffering an acclimatization injury early on and, rightly or wrongly, will miss significant time to protect himself from something more severe heading into the offseason. If Bell is and remains healthy, I expect Bell to get a strong majority of the touches by the fantasy playoffs with James Conner being a high-variance flex option at best.

For dynasty, Bell will be a feature back next season whether in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. If on another team, he will struggle to meet his previous statistical benchmarks due to the Steelers' strong offensive line, bevy of other weapons, and optimizing Bell in the passing game. Bell will still be a top-10 dynasty back despite his advanced age and likely production downturn based on usage alone. For James Conner, he will be the 2019 lead back for the Steelers and worth a top-25 startup selection in the offseason and, barring injury, project as the Pittsburgh starter for the rest of his rookie contract.

Maurile Tremblay: There’s a dramatic aspect to this that I think fans pay more attention to than the team will. Will the Steelers welcome Bell back? Will there be hard feelings? That’s for fans and TV personalities to worry about – the Steelers themselves will just try to win games. Bell can help with that. Bell knows the offense and I’d expect him to be in decent shape. It might take a week or two for him to get fully acclimated to the NFL game again, but I think the Steelers will use him right away, and he’ll be the lead back within two weeks after his return. Unlike in previous seasons, however, I don’t expect Bell to get 95% of the touches in the Steelers’ backfield once he returns. James Connor has earned a permanent role in the offense – a sizable one – so both players will get plenty of work. I wouldn’t expect it to be 50-50, but maybe 70-30 in favor of whoever has the hot hand, which I expect to be Bell, but I’m only weakly confident about that.

Long-term, Bell will get a big contract and be the featured runner somewhere next year, and Connor will remain the Steelers' workhorse for the next few seasons. Both players will be first-rounders in all fantasy drafts next season, but I'd personally take Connor over Bell pretty much no matter where Bell ends up. The Steelers' number one running back position is just a fantasy goldmine.

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Players Heating Up

Maurile Tremblay: Which running back is most likely to make a fantasy impact over the course of the rest of the season: Elijah McGuire, Duke Johnson Jr, or Mike Davis?

Mark Wimer: I think strong arguments can be made for both McGuire and Johnson. Bilal Powell's role is wide open for McGuire in the waning weeks of the year, while Nick Chubb has a grand total of six targets over the past three games, leaving Johnson's third-down-back/change-of-pace role firmly in place. I think the Browns' offense is in a better place than the Jets' motley crew, so Johnson is most likely to perform well (especially in PPR leagues).

Jason Wood: Duke Johnson Jr is a phoenix rising from the ashes. The coaching change and the Carlos Hyde trade turned Johnson from waiver wire fodder to a potential league winner, particularly in PPR formats. The team has to believe in Nick Chubb, so Johnson will be a third-down back exclusively, but we've seen on far worse Browns teams that he can be fantasy-viable just catching passes.

Andrew Garda: Duke Johnson Jr, especially because of how stable the offense is, would be my pick. McGuire will get opportunities with Bilal Powell out, but the way the Jets offense is, he's likely to see little room to run.

Johnson will get plenty of carries and catches, so I like his upside more.

Chad Parsons: Mike Davis is the odds-on favorite with Chris Carson working through an injury and Seattle's DNA as a run team. The wildcard here is Elijah McGuire with a promising 55% snap rate in his first game back and an Isaiah Crowell injury away from being a fantasy auto-start down the stretch.

Maurile Tremblay: I’ll go with Mike Davis here as well. Duke Johnson Jr and Elijah McGuire have little chance to be their teams’ lead backs. Mark Davis is clearly ahead of Rashaad Penny in Seattle, and Chris Carson is banged up. That will give Davis a chance to try on the featured role for a bit, and given his versatility, he could grab onto it and refuse to let go. Davis has performed well in limited action so far this season, but he might be the best back on the Seahawks’ roster even when everyone is healthy. I wouldn’t say the same about Johnson or McGuire.

Maurile Tremblay: Which WR is most likely to make a fantasy impact over the course of the rest of the season: Courtland Sutton, Adam Humphries, or Marquez Valdes-Scantling?

Mark Wimer: Marquez Valdes-Scantling has earned the trust of Aaron Rodgers, and that is a valuable fantasy commodity indeed. Randall Cobb is far from a paragon of every-game health, and Geronimo Allison has landed on IR due to his core-muscle injury, leaving the path to targets wide open for Valdes-Scantling. He's seen 27 targets for 15/317/2 receiving over the past four games, going over 100 yards twice in that span. He's on a strong upward trajectory entering the stretch run into fantasy playoffs, and he's the guy to own.

Jason Wood: It's Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and it's not close. Geronimo Allison underwent season-ending surgery, and Randall Cobb hasn't been 100% for a while (all year?). Historically, the Packers WR2 has been a top-15 fantasy receiver, and Valdes-Scantling has looked good in limited snaps. I like Sutton long-term; he's my choice in dynasty leagues. But Case Keenum is the scrub I thought he would be, and that limits my enthusiasm for Sutton as a difference-maker in 2018.

Andrew Garda: I keep hearing my Packers friends preach on Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and with Geronimo Allison banged up, I can't argue. There are very few guys not named Davante Adams for Aaron Rodgers to fall in love with, and in the two games Valdes-Scantling saw significant action, he balled out.

Chad Parsons: Courtland Sutton is the favorite with a secure snap count and benefiting from secondary coverage in Denver to Emmanuel Sanders. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the hot name, but he is arguably fourth in Green Bay's pecking order and better suited for best ball leagues as picking his bigger weeks will be difficult to peg.

Maurile Tremblay: I think it’s close between Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Courtland Sutton, but I’m going to go with Sutton. The Packers have a much better passing offense than the Broncos do. But Valdes-Scantling has more competition for targets than Sutton does. I’m not writing off Randall Cobb yet. Davante Adams is the clear number one receiver in this offense, but Randall Cobb, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jimmy Graham have all gotten roughly equal looks behind Adams over the past couple weeks, and Cobb should be healthier now than he has been for most of the sason. He's been eased back into the offense over the last two games after resting for the previous four weeks, and as he gets healtheir his role could expand. In Denver, with Demaryius Thomas out of the picture, Sutton is going to slide into that starting role and be the number two guy in the passing offense. All three of these players have decent upside potential down the stretch, but I’d go with Sutton over Valdes-Scantling in a close one if I had to choose.

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Cordarrelle Patterson

Maurile Tremblay: Will Cordarrelle Patterson have any fantasy value once Sony Michel returns to the Patriots' lineup?

Mark Wimer: Given that the Patriots love to have a running-back-by-committee in operation, expect to see Patterson handling an unpredictable but sometimes sizable number of carries in a fantasy-value-draining committee with Michel in New England. Good Luck guessing which week any particular running back there is due for decent production. (I swore off New England running backs for fantasy purposes many years ago.)

Jason Wood: We tend to get overly excited by big plays, and Patterson's snap count isn't going to be reliable enough with Michel back to produce weekly without a big play or two. He's a poor man's Chris Thompson, at best.

Andrew Garda: Probably not, unless Michel is still hampered by injury. I expect Patterson will only occasionally flash otherwise, so I wouldn't lean on him for anything.

NFL-wise he's an intriguing player, but for fantasy purposes, no thanks.

Chad Parsons: I am skeptical of Cordarrelle Patterson's viability even when Sony Michel is out as offensive 'weapon' has no projected role on a weekly basis. The moment we think Patterson is a good bet for 10+ carries as a running back, Tom Brady will drop back 50+ times or James Develin will get a number of touches out of thin air.

Maurile Tremblay: I think Patterson is more effective out of the backfield than he is split out wide, and he’s performed well enough over the past two weeks that he’ll still be in a few packages here and there. But with Michel expected back this week, it will be Michel and White who get most of the work at running back. Patterson won’t get enough touches to have continuing fantasy value.

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Bengals Without A.J. Green

Maurile Tremblay: What will the Bengals' offense look like without A.J. Green for the next two weeks or so? Does Tyler Boyd become a top-ten fantasy wide receiver? Or will the bigger bumps be at tight end or running back? How much should Andy Dalton be downgraded?

Mark Wimer: With Green sidelined, look for Boyd and C.J. Uzomah to have the biggest roles in the Bengal's passing attack. Dalton's value takes a strong hit (look for a lot of Joe Mixon and the short-to-intermediate passing game) to his ceiling, likely to be below 250 yards passing while Green is sidelined. There simply aren't enough receivers healthy right now for Dalton to thrive. Neither John Ross nor Alex Erickson have given performances to date that inspire hope for a sudden fantasy impact.

While Green is out, Boyd could flirt with borderline top-ten status, but I don't see him as an elite option just yet

Jason Wood: After hearing the A.J. Green news, my gut instinct was to vault Tyler Boyd into WR1 territory, and consider trading for him in leagues I didn't already have him rostered. But after the initial euphoria, I've done a 180 and am now cautiously evaluating the Bengals performance this week for signs of momentum. Even if Boyd’s and Green's stats were similar, there's no question Green was the primary focus of opposing defensive backs. Can Boyd handle being the focal point? It's not a foregone conclusion. I'm not selling Boyd if I own him, but I will be anxious until I see him handle the additional pressure.

As for the Bengals offense, this isn't a team that can afford to lose assets. C.J. Uzomah is the team's third-string tight end, and is hurt, but essentially has to play a major role for this passing attack to stay viable. That's a concern. And without a proven vertical receiver on the field, will it be easier for defenses to key on Joe Mixon? I'm concerned.

Andrew Garda: Green won't need surgery on his toe but will miss a couple of games while it heals — at least. I am concerned that Boyd might not be ready for the number one spot, so like Wood, I’d be cautious with him going forward. I think he's worth securing for the right price, just in case.

If Boyd isn't able to roll, I am worried about Dalton and the offense. Outside of Joe Mixon, when healthy, there's not much there right now. Erickson could be a decent pickup, like Boyd just in case, but nobody here feels reliable.

I'd be selling on this offense if I could.

Chad parsons: C.J. Uzomah is the most intriguing piece beyond Tyler Boyd being a top-20 receiver in A.J. Green's absence. Uzomah put up a fantasy dud before their bye week, prompting some to drop the streaming special. However, Uzomah's snap count is secure and is poised to help teams light at tight end down the stretch. In deeper leagues, Alex Erickson and Josh Malone are flex-level dart throws if needed.

Maurile Tremblay: A.J. Green is a great player, but I don’t think losing him is going to derail the Bengals’ offense. Tyler Boyd and C.J. Uzomah will pick up much of the slack, and Giovani Bernard is expected to return and be a factor in the passing game as well. When it looked like both Green and John Ross would be out this Sunday, I would have moved Boyd into my top ten for the week. With John Ross practicing in full, however, I see Boyd as more borderline top 15. Uzomah will play an important role in the offense, but I don’t trust his fantasy production. He’s still a mediocre streamer at best in my view.

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Trade Deadline

Maurile Tremblay: Many fantasy leagues have their trade deadlines this week or next. Name one player you'd identify as either a target to acquire (because he's generally undervalued at the moment) or a player you'd like to sell (because you expect his production to drop off) in redraft leagues.

Mark Wimer: If you got lucky picking up Cordarrelle Patterson I'd look to sell him as soon as Michel starts practicing regularly again. Extract whatever value you can and smile while selling a New England committee back.

Jason Wood: Quarterbacks are tricky assets to trade because you rarely get "fair" value. I would be a buyer of either Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz, and ideally as part of a multi-player package. Both are trending higher and yet haven't been elite to the point of owners viewing them as indispensable.

Andrew Garda: As long as we're going hard on the Bengals, I would consider selling Mixon after his massive Week 8. Hopefully he replicates it this weekend against New Orleans and you have that option next week, but the way this offense looks, I want out.

Chad Parsons: Joe Mixon, Ezekiel Elliott, and Latavius Murray are running back buys looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs (specifically Weeks 15-16). Mixon and Elliott have both been strong performers, but not to the elite level many expected thus far. Murray is a bet against the health of Dalvin Cook. With Cook 'back' Murray may be dropped in stock redraft leagues or available or low-cost as he is back to the No.2 role. However, an injury or aggravation to Cook paves the way for Murray to add to his starting game count this season as a championship contributor.

Maurile Tremblay: It sounds like we can arrange a trade sending Joe Mixon from Andrew to Chad. I like both of the quarterbacks Jason mentioned – Wentz and Luck – as targets to acquire for the fantasy playoffs. Another guy I think can be bought low right now is Mike Williams of the Chargers. He’s been quiet over the last three games with just one catch in each contest (albeit with two of them going for touchdowns). But I’d expect to see an uptick in targets down the stretch and he could easily become a very solid WR3-flex during the fantasy playoffs.

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