Fantasy Football Start/Sit for Steelers vs Browns: Start Amari Cooper, Sit Chase Claypool
Getty Images. Pictured: Amari Cooper (left) and Chase Claypool.
All good things must come to an end, including juicy Thursday night matchups.
We were spoiled with the NFL leading things off with the Bills vs. Rams and Chargers vs. Chiefs. This week, we get a slightly less spicy AFC North showdown between the Mitch Trubisky-led Steelers (1-1) and the Jacoby Brissett-wielded Browns (1-1), which could have some divisional implications down the line.
Many lineup decisions — like starting Nick Chubb or Najee Harris — are easy. Below are some fringe players at each position you may be on the fence about starting in the Steelers vs Browns Thursday Night Football game based on matchups, injuries and trends.
Steelers Week 3 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
WR Diontae Johnson
Johnson is coming off of his best season to date in which he finished as the WR8 in half PPR scoring. It's a feat that is even more impressive when you take into account the Steelers' subpar quarterback play in 2021. Johnson has yet to find the end zone so far and his production has been modest: He caught seven of 12 targets for 55 yards in Week 1 against the Bengals and caught six of 10 targets for 57 yards in Week 2 against the Patriots, finishing as the WR40 and WR36, respectively.
While the production hasn't exactly warranted his draft price yet, I remain encouraged by Johnson's whopping 31.4% target share.
Verdict: Start as a low-end WR2. Although Johnson has yet to return WR2 numbers this season, I like the matchup this week against the Browns, who were just lit up for 324 passing yards by Joe Flacco and Braden Mann and gave up massive days to Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis.
TE Pat Freiermuth
I have been a Freiermuth supporter since Day 1. He was one of my favorite later round tight end targets during draft season and has been solid through two weeks. He hauled in five of 10 targets for 75 yards in Week 1 and caught four of seven targets for 22 yards and a touchdown in Week 2, finishing as the TE8 and TE10, respectively. What's even more impressive is his ability to produce in a Mitch Trubisky-led Steelers offense that has looked anemic at best.
Verdict: Start with confidence as a TE1. There's a very short list of tight ends I would firmly say are better starts week-to-week. Freiermuth's 24.3% target share gives him a safe floor and separates him from some of the more touchdown-dependent tight ends.
WR Chase Claypool
Claypool is the true fringe player of this group. He started his career strong, hauling in 11 touchdowns in his rookie year as the WR23 in half PPR. He caught just two touchdowns in 2021, which was surprising given the Steelers were without JuJu Smith-Schuster for most of the year.
This year, I suspected Claypool could be a major casualty of the team's quarterback woes, especially as his deep-ball skill set does not align well with Trubisky's strengths. So far, he caught four of six targets for 18 yards in Week 1 and caught four of six targets for 26 yards in Week 2, finishing as the WR51 and WR74. He did tack on six rush attempts for 36 yards in Week 1 with lead rusher Najee Harris banged up with an ankle injury.
Verdict: Sit. Assuming Harris and the rest of the Pittsburgh pass catchers are healthy, Claypool has major bust potential and cannot be trusted in lineups. The targets are there, but the production isn't. He is a dart throw at best on Thursday night.
Browns Week 3 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
RB Kareem Hunt
Nick Chubb has been having an absolute field day but Hunt has been impressive as well. He saw 15 touches for 70 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in Week 1 against the Panthers and saw 15 touches for 74 all-purpose yards in Week 2 against the Jets. Overall, Hunt is the RB8 in half PPR while Chubb is the RB1 after scoring a hat trick of touchdowns in Week 2. Chubb has led the backfield in yardage and touches, though the duo have split snaps fairly evenly, 52% to 53% in slight favor of Chubb. It looks like both are going to be fantasy-relevant this season, especially while Jacoby Brissett has the ball.
Verdict: Start with confidence as a RB2 in PPR formats (RB3 in standard). Hunt has a very established role in this offense, far beyond a normal backup, and his receiving work gives him a high floor and high ceiling.
WR Amari Cooper
Cooper has been on a bit of a decline of late. He was the WR18 in 2018, then WR9 in 2019, WR15 in 2020 and WR28 in 2021 in half PPR. His move from the Cowboys to the Browns added fuel to the narrative, especially with Deshaun Watson suspended for 11 games to start the season. Cooper was a complete dud in Week 1. He caught three of six targets for 17 yards for a whopping WR84 finish in half PPR. Many were quick to write the 28-year-old former Cowboy off at that point, but he came storming back in Week 2 with nine catches on 10 targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. It was his first 100-receiving yard game since Week 8 of last year and he finished as the WR10 for the week.
Verdict: Start as a WR3/flex barring better options. The Browns are pretty lean at receiver past Cooper. Next up are receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz and David Bell and tight ends Harrison Bryant and David Njoku. As such, Cooper should see a healthy target share, though his ceiling is inherently lower catching passes from Brissett.
TE David Njoku
Njoku garnered some offseason sleeper hype with Austin Hooper off to Tennessee. He was drafted as the TE16 in half PPR in the same range as Albert Okwuegbunam and Tyler Higbee with hopes that he could finally break out in Year 6 . Unfortunately, Njoku has been largely unremarkable, tallying one catch on a single target for seven yards in Week 1 and three catches on five targets for 32 yards in Week 2. He is the TE36 through two weeks of play and has yet to make a good case to be rostered at this point.
Verdict: Sit. It's difficult to say if he will even be startable once Watson returns. I am confident in tossing him back on the waiver wire.