Koerner’s Fantasy Football Start/Sit Strategy for Steelers-Browns

Koerner’s Fantasy Football Start/Sit Strategy for Steelers-Browns article feature image
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Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr.

  • Sean Koerner is here to help you make your Thursday Night Football fantasy start/sit decisions.
  • See which Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns players are must-plays (or stay aways).

There’s more strategy to Thursday Night Football fantasy sit/start decisions than people realize.

The No. 1 rule? Don’t use your Flex spot (if you can). It offers you flexibility come Sunday, so blocking the utility of this lineup spot on TNF only hurts you.

Now let’s run through whether to start or sit key fantasy players tonight. For more specific sit/start decisions, you can use my updated rankings.

Quarterbacks

Baker Mayfield

Mayfield is going to face a ton of pressure against the Steelers. He’s been terrible with a QB Rating of 42.3 while under pressure this season, which ranks 34th per Pro Football Focus. The Steelers, who lead the league with a pressure rate of 30.6%, are going to be putting the heat on him all night.

As a result, I’m expecting the Browns to go with a run-heavy game plan to move the ball, making Mayfield a low-end QB2 this week.

Mason Rudolph

Similar to the Browns, I’m expecting the Steelers to have a run-heavy game plan with James Conner due back.

Rudolph doesn’t offer much in terms of passing yardage and zero rushing stats to bail him out. He’s settled in as a low-end QB2 most weeks as the Steelers have altered their offense to be a very run-heavy, short-yardage conservative one without Ben Roethlisberger under center.

Running Backs

Nick Chubb and James Conner

Both backs are mid-low end RB1s with similar outlooks and similar change-of-pace receiving backs backing them up.

Despite Kareem Hunt playing 54% of the snaps in his Browns debut, it didn’t impact Chubb much at all. He was still the workhorse of the Browns offense, and they drew up plays with both RBs on the field. If anything, Hunt will lower Chubb’s ceiling because we may see less volume from Chubb in the passing game. Either way, we can still confidently fire up Chubb as a mid-low-end RB1 this week and going forward.

Conner should be good to go after missing two games due to a shoulder injury. We can assume he’ll see his typical workload, so fire him up in all formats.

Jaylen Samuels-James Conner
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Jaylen Samuels, James Conner

Jaylen Samuels and Kareem Hunt

These RBs have virtually the same outlook tonight. Both are flex plays with added value in full PPR formats.

They should each see eight to 10 touches, but their exact involvement will be game flow dependent. Considering a high percentage of their touches will come via receptions, it helps their floor more than their realize.

I’m viewing Samuels as a fairly high-floor, low-ceiling flex option (in half and full PPR) while Hunt has high ceiling potential given his big-play ability.

Wide Receivers

Odell Beckham Jr.

It’s safe to say OBJ has had a disappointing season to date. Despite playing every game, he still has only one touchdown, and that was in Week 11. To say he’s due for some positive regression is an understatement.

Instead of doing something crazy like selling low or sending him to your bench out of spite, we need to simply lower our expectations for now — especially in a tougher matchup tonight — and view him more as a high-end WR2.

The targets are there, so a breakout should be coming soon, and it’s likely to happen starting next week when their schedule begins to open up.

Jarvis Landry

With defenses focusing on Chubb and Beckham, it’s allowed Landry to thrive. He’s seen 10 or more targets in three straight games and should continue to be heavily involved tonight.

I mentioned earlier that Mayfield should face a ton of pressure tonight, so getting the ball out quick to Landry underneath is one thing they may game plan tonight to combat that. He’s a mid-low-end WR2 this week.

JuJu Smith Schuster

Smith-Schuster has been dealing with a nagging toe injury that has likely been one of the main reasons he’s struggled the past three games. The Steelers have also designed a very conservative offense for Rudolph that involves spreading the ball around. As a result, JuJu hasn’t seen as many targets to be a consistent WR1/2.

This week we need to treat him as a mid-range WR3 who is by no means a must start if you have players ranked above him in my rankings.

Diontae Johnson and James Washington

The Steelers’ secondary WRs are WR4/flex plays for deeper leagues.

Johnson is the much safer play as we can roughly expect three to four catches for 40-50 yards from him tonight.

Washington is typically viewed as a low-volume deep threat, but the Steelers have been using him much differently since their Week 7 Bye. He’s averaged 5.7 targets per game over that three-game span and targeted in all areas of the field. T

hey’ve been using Johnny Holton 30-35% snaps a game to just run go routes. You might not have realized that because he has still yet to record a catch this year. But my point is, they are using Washington in a way that draws more targets, so we should keep an eye on if he leap frogs Diontae as the No. 2 target soon.

The Steelers run such a low-volume pass offense that it’s tough to trust anyone outside of JuJu right now.

Tight Ends

Browns

We should this situation until David Njoku potentially returns from IR down the stretch.

Vance McDonald

If McDonald the top-ranked TE you have access to, he’s a good streaming option this week. He played a career-high 97% of the snaps last week and has now seen seven targets in two straight games.

Although the production hasn’t matched up with that underlying usage yet, having bankable playing time and volume is just about all you can ask for if you’re hurting at TE.

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