XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
Week 9 kicks off with the Titans visiting the Steelers for a whopping 36.5 total game in which Pittsburgh is favored by 2.5 points. Lots of fun island games this year. We have some impactful questionable tags here as all of Ryan Tannehill, Kenny Pickett, DeAndre Hopkins, and Derrick Henry are Q tagged, but based on what I can find, it looks like all but Tannehill will be playing and that’s how I’m going to write this one up.
We’ll start with the Steelers and their run game. On the one hand, they’re home favorites, but on the other hand, their backfield is led by Najee Harris. Najee is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and the massive volume he had in his rookie season has evaporated, averaging just 12 carries and two targets per game so far in the 2023 season as Jaylen Warren has eaten into his role significantly. This is now a split backfield, with Najee just barely in the lead (230 offensive snaps on the season vs. 196 for Warren). In a not great matchup against a Titans D that has long been solid against the run, it’s hard to get excited about playing Najee. It’s worth noting that the last three teams to face the Titans (Colts, Ravens, and Falcons) have all found rushing success with at least 139 rushing yards. It could be the case that the Titans run D is springing some leaks. Even so, Najee is a shaky play at best, only really in play because it’s Showdown and because running backs with goal line roles always have the chance of finding their way to big games if things break right for them in the red zone. While Warren has fought his way to a near even split in snaps, Najee does still have the goal line role, with four carries inside the 10 yard line against just a single one for Warren. The case for Najee, in a nutshell, is that “he’s cheap for a home favorite running back and he could score a touchdown.” Which is true. Warren’s passing game role is more significant, with roughly 4.5 targets per game, giving him a better chance at an optimal score without a touchdown. The Steelers offense has been so bad this season that the highest running back score they’ve generated is 15.8 points from Najee in Week 7, otherwise, the top score is 12.6 from Warren in Week 2. Those are the only two scores you’d feel reasonably confident about making it into a winning lineup unless we end up with a very low scoring game (a distinct possibility in this one).
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In the passing game, George Pickens and Diontae Johnson are the premier pieces here, with Diontae having a safer floor due to consistently strong volume while Pickens is more volatile but has a stronger ceiling. Last week was Diontae’s first game as a full time receiver this season and he saw a huge 14 targets (but still didn’t get a touchdown. The curse continues). Against a Titans defense that is easier to attack through the air, Diontae looks like the premier on-paper play on the Steelers side of things, and the price is right at just $8,400. Pickens at $8,800 is just as good of a play albeit with a wider range of outcomes. They will both be popular, but based on how the Steelers volume is distributed, there is a very strong chance that one or both end up in the optimal lineup. If you’re the kind of DFS player who is willing to commit hard to a small core of players, an “at least 1” rule here is reasonable. Behind these two main guys, we’ll see Allen Robinson run around out of the slot, some Calvin Austin in a WR4 role that has upside, and Miles Boykin playing a snap here and there. Robinson is a “hope to get lucky” play, as after a promising start to the season in which he was very involved in the offense with an eight and a nine target game in the first five weeks of the season, he has all but disappeared now that Diontae is healthy with just one target in each of the last two games. He’s still on the field for over 60% of the snaps, and while he’s never going to be the highest in the pass catcher pecking order, it’s reasonable to think he can still have some useful games (in Showdown, at least) throughout the year. At $2,200, he’s risky based on his recent usage with Diontae healthy, but I’d rather invest in a punt play that’s on the field for 60% of the snaps than one who’s on the field for 20% of the snaps. And speaking of 20%, hi Calvin Austin, whose role has diminished enormously with Diontae healthy. Austin is the polar opposite of Robinson – on the field a lot less but can do a lot more with a single target. They aren’t really using him as a deep threat (outside of his one giant 72 yard touchdown in Week 3), but he’s the kind of guy who can generate broken plays, at least more so than Robinson, who at this point in his career is more of a catch and fall down kind of receiver.
At tight end, Connor Heyward appears to be seizing the TE1 role, playing 73% of the snaps last week against just 15% for Darnell Washington (relevant because for the first five weeks of the season, Washington outsnapped Heyward). In the last three weeks, as his role has grown, Heyward has seen four, three, and six targets, while Washington’s snaps have plummeted and he has seen just two targets in those same three games. Rodney Williams is also playing a few snaps as the TE3 and has yet to catch a ball. Washington and Williams are both very thin punt options, while Heyward is a solid play at his modest $2,800 salary. Of the Pittsburgh cheap guys, Heyward is clearly the top on-paper option, followed by Robinson, then Austin.