The Pittsburgh Steelers fantasy football preview for Week 7 deals with their backfield committee, while the Los Angeles Rams outlook wonders how high is too high to rank Matthew Stafford.
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Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Rams
- Spread: Rams -3
- Total: 43.5
- Steelers implied points: 20.3
- Rams implied points: 23.3
Matthew Stafford: The former Lion has just one multi-touchdown pass game this season and has completed no more than 21 passes in three of his past four contests. His lack of versatility (his last 10-yard rush came in the 2021 NFC Championship Game) makes him a tough sell in this era of football.
And yet, I’m here to tell you that he’s a fine streaming option and even worth a look in DFS tournaments for those looking to build a contrarian lineup.
MORE: 2023 QB Fantasy Football Rankings
You know how, during interviews, you’re supposed to spin a strength into a pseudo-weakness when asked where you could improve? Well, that’s the situation we have in Pittsburgh these days.
The Steelers are a top-five defense in both blitz and pressure rate, a statistic that you’d expect me to present in a bear-ish Stafford case, but think this one through.
By applying consistent heat, the Steelers force quick reads from their opponents. That often leads them to target their top pass catcher – not the end of the world for the defense if they can limit the damage from the star pass catcher — but Pittsburgh can’t. Here are the crazy results, courtesy of the all-inclusive Week 7 Cheat Sheet:
- Week 1: Brandon Aiyuk goes for 129 yards and two TDs.
- Week 2: Amari Cooper hauls in seven passes for 90 yards.
- Week 3: Davante Adams torches them for 172 yards and two TDs.
- Week 4: Nico Collins lights them up for 168 yards and two TDs.
- Week 5: Zay Flowers and Mark Andrews combined for a 55.3% target share.
Stafford has, arguably, the best pair of target earners at his disposal in the NFL and could ride them to a surprisingly big Week 7. He’s not a must-play for me and carries plenty of risk, but I’m choosing him over Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson this week.
Najee Harris: It’s difficult to fully understand just how underwhelming Harris has been for fantasy managers this season, but I thought this fact does as good a job as describing it as any single note will.
Through five weeks (Pittsburgh is coming off of its bye), Harris is without a top-15 performance and only has one top-30 game on his resume. Other RBs with a similar profile through Week 5:
- Samaje Perine
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- Damien Harris
Are any of those guys rostered in your league, let alone started? Harris is facing a stacked box in one-third of his carries and hasn’t had multiple catches in a game since Week 1. So, where is the path to a fantasy rebound?
Even on a week with six teams on a bye, Harris isn’t a fantasy starter to me.
Jaylen Warren: The 24-year-old is emerging as a fringe Flex option in PPR formats, as he is on pace for a tick over 71 catches this season, a total only three running backs hit a season ago.
MORE: 2023 RB Fantasy Football Rankings
The lack of carry upside (he’s never had more than 12 carries in a game and has yet to reach double figures in a game this season) keeps his floor low and, thus, out of my “strong Flex play” tier.
That said, if you think the Rams grab an early lead and the game script works in Warren’s favor, you can feel good about plugging him in any league where receptions are rewarded.
Kyren Williams: A sprained ankle was the only thing that could slow him in the second half against the Cardinals last week and will result in him sitting OUT this weekend and the next three games with him landing on IR.
Williams has three games north of 20 fantasy points, and if this team can remain competitive, we could be looking at a fantasy Super Bowl MVP – Week 17 comes in New York (weather could limit the passing game) off of a mini-bye. They’ll face a Giants team that scares no one.
Zach Evans, Royce Freeman, and Darrell Henderson: When dealing with a position of weakness, it’s often said “if you have two, you don’t have one”. Well … we have three in this Rams backfield this week. Ideally, you have the ability to wait through this week, observe, and deploy the leader of this crew next week.
Rams’ rookie RB Zach Evans — one of the most added players in fantasy football this past week — is expected to back up both Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson today against the Steelers, while RB Myles Gaskin is expected to be inactive today, per sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 22, 2023
Reporting today seems to point to Henderson being the lead with Freeman a close second and Evans a distant third. The hierarchy is one thing, but how many touches are we realistically looking at in an offense that has a pair of elite target earners? My best guess:
- Henderson: 13 touches
- Freeman: 9 touches
- Evans: 6 touches
Does that make any of them viable against a Steelers defense that can be had through the air and had a week off to get healthy?
I have Henderson (RB27) ranked just ahead of Tyler Allgeier in my flex ranks while Freeman is my RB37 (behind Jeff Wilson) and Evans my RB45 (in the Samaje Perine tier).
While he may get clarity as to who will lead this backfield in touches after this week, don’t count on any of them being ranked as even a RB2 against the Cowboys.
George Pickens: Pickens is pacing for 136 targets this season, a level of involvement that is all you can ask for from a player with a single-play upside like this (30-yard catch in three of his past four games).
Some will argue that the return of Diontae Johnson makes Pickens more risky, but I’d counter by saying that it should help make each target more valuable by spreading the defense thin. Up to this point, Pickens has 113 more receiving yards than Pittsburgh’s next two WRs combined.
The Rams are a bottom-10 pressure defense, and that should allow Pickens to work downfield with success. He is my top Steelers pass catcher for the week and a fine WR2 in all formats.
Diontae Johnson: Johnson suffered a hamstring injury in the Week 1 loss to the 49ers that landed him on IR, and that means he is eligible to play this week. All signs point to him suiting up, but there’s risk involved in this matchup beyond just the potential of aggravation.
With his health risk and Pickens coming off of his best game of the season (six catches for 130 yards and the game-winning touchdown against the Ravens), I believe it’s fair to label Johnson as the WR2 in this offense. Operating under that assumption, here are some of the WR2 performances against the Rams this season:
- DeVonta Smith: One catch for six yards (five targets)
- Tee Higgins: Two catches for 21 yards (eight targets)
- Brandon Aiyuk: Three catches for 43 yards (six targets)
- Tyler Lockett: Two catches for 10 yards (four targets)
In all, we are looking at 3.5 yards per target without a touchdown across those four instances. I’m projecting Johnson to be a little more efficient than that, but you need to be optimistic about a touchdown. That’s tough to do for a player who, when this game kicks off, hadn’t caught a TD pass in 644 days.
Cooper Kupp remains unstoppable since Matthew Stafford got to #Rams:
2022: 141-1533-11 pace at time of Game 9 injury
2023: 127-2261-9 pace through first two games
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) October 16, 2023
Cooper Kupp: How good is this guy? All he has done is rack up 15 catches on 21 targets for 266 yards in his two games back from injury, showing zero rust or hesitation.
Kupp has 1,730 receiving yards and 15 scores over his past 15 games and should be viewed as nothing short of a top-tier option the rest of the way. For the first time since Christmas of 2021, Kupp has a 35-yard catch in consecutive games, a sign that the shallow target-earning skills of Puka Nacua might be helping Kupp’s bottom line.
Puka Nacua: It was one game. Nacua let you down in a big way last week against the Cardinals (4.6 fantasy points). That hurts, but with a 33.3% target share in that game, the process was still strong.
I’m viewing Nacua similarly to other WR2s like Lockett or Jakobi Meyers, who are viable starters but come with risks attached to them. His target share hasn’t flinched since Kupp returned, but the value of the target has nosedived:
- Two games with Kupp: 5.4 yards per target
- First four games: 9.6
Of course, we are talking about the smallest of samples. It’s clear that Kupp’s usage has impacted Tutu Atwell more than Nacua and that this offense can carry multiple high-volume receivers.
I think it’s unlikely that this team has four more rush attempts than pass attempts this week – that should open up more of a passable floor for a target earner like Nacua. He’s a low-end WR2 or high-end Flex, depending on the size of your league, that you can still feel fine about plugging into your starting lineup.
Tutu Atwell: If you’re looking for a silver lining, I can tell you that the Rams are operating out of three-receiver sets as much as anyone. As a clear third banana (why in the world we use bananas for that analogy is beyond me, what’s wrong with three bananas?), Atwell was on the field for 87.7% of the snaps in Week 6 and ran a route on 82.1% of Stafford drop backs.
MORE: 2023 WR Fantasy Football Rankings
That’s the good news. The bad is that he has just three catches in total A.K. (After Kupp, the official measure of all things Rams-related moving forward) after averaging 5.5 grabs per game B.K.
Atwell isn’t the type of profile I’m looking to gamble on, and ranks comfortably outside of my top 40. I view WR3s like Shaheed or Jayden Reed as better dice rolls, both in Week 7 and moving forward.
Tyler Higbee: Unless you play in a super deep league or one with a TE premium attached to it, you don’t need to travel this far down the ranks (my TE20 for Week 7). Higbee has been held under 20 yards in half of his games this season, and that includes both games A.K.
Evan Engram is the only tight end I trust to produce consistent numbers alongside two very viable receivers (far superior players like Dallas Goedert and George Kittle have had wild swings this season in such a situation). I don’t see a path for Higbee to join him any time soon.
I’d rather target pedigree by way of Michael Mayer than hope that Higbee can make enough of the table scraps that Kupp/Nacua leave for him in this passing game.
Should You Start Matthew Stafford or Kirk Cousins?
I mentioned the positive outlook for Stafford above, and that’s more than enough for me to justify starting him over a Justin Jefferson-less Cousins in a brutal matchup. Neither offers any rushing upside, so I’ll take the QB with the lesser running game and the two best receivers and be on my way.
Stafford for me this week, and it’s not all that close.
Should You Start Zach Evans or Najee Harris?
I lean toward Evans here. It should go without saying that expectations for both are low, but Evans should have the lead role in a positive game script – two things I’m less sure of for Harris in Week 7.
Warren makes for a nice DFS play (check out the DFS Podcast on the PFN Fantasy YouTube channel!), but neither Steeler running back is one that I’m playing with any confidence in season-long leagues this weekend.
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