Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em: As Le’Veon Bell’s Holdout Continues, How Does It Impact Pittsburgh’s Other Skill Player (Conner & More)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The assumption had been that Le’Veon Bell would follow the same schedule he had in 2017, sitting out the entire preseason but ultimately reporting the Monday before Week 1.  However we are now at Tuesday and Bell remains MIA with no word as to whether or not he’s going to report.  While we’d still expect him to ultimately show up and avoid giving up a game check, even if he does exactly what type of production can we expect?  Let’s not forget that he was pedestrian, at best, a year ago in Week 1:

  • Rushing – 10 carries for 32 yards
  • Receiving – 3 catches for 15 yards

We’d anticipate a similar limited workload, at best, and it’s extremely realistic that he’s even more limited this time around.  That’s going to make him a questionable play, at best, but the real question facing fantasy owners is how to value James Conner and the other skill players considering how things have progressed:


James Conner – Running Back
He was the backup a year ago, but he was given just 4 carries (he took them 11 yards) in Week 1.  Of course 12 months ago he was an NFL rookie and was never expected to make a significant impact in Year 1.  Fast forward to 2018 and he’s coming off a preseason where he took 19 carries for 100 yards and 1 TD, and with a year of experience he should be expected to play a bigger role.  Is he going to get 20+ carries, even if Bell is out?  That’s not likely, and he should be viewed more as a low-end RB2/FLEX regardless.

Verdict – Possible FLEX play (depending on alternative) even if Bell reports, RB2 if Bell misses the game


Ben Roethlisberger – Quarterback
We all know what Roethlisberger can do, and it’s easy to imagine him taking advantage of a young secondary that should feature Denzel Ward making his NFL debut.  Always a threat to go for 300+ yards, thanks to the presence of Antonio Brown (and others), Roethlisberger could easily put up gaudy numbers in Week 1.  He’s a must start quarterback in all formats for this week and a Top 5 play at this point.

Verdict – Must start


JuJu Smith-Schuster – Wide Receiver
There’s no questioning the usage of Antonio Brown, who’s a Top 3 wide receiver 95% of the time, but there is at least a little bit of question surrounding Smith-Schuster.  He’s coming off a rookie campaign where he racked up 58 receptions for 917 yards, and his real value stemmed from his 7 TD.  He had one in Week 17 of ’17 (9 receptions for 143 yards and 1 TD) coming against Cleveland.  We wouldn’t necessarily consider him a must start in two-wide receiver formats every single week, but with the Bell question and the potential for a more pass heavy approach he’s an easy play as a WR2 this week.

Verdict – Must start WR2


Vance McDonald – Tight End
Even with the Bell question, is there any guarantee that McDonald gets a significant number of targets?  Brown and Smith-Schuster will dominate the passing plays, Conner will get some touches and rookie James Washington also can’t be ignored.

Verdict – Desperation TE2

Sources – ESPN,

Make sure to check out all of our Week 1 rankings:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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  1. Krysta says:

    14 team, 1/2 PPR…

    1. Need 2 RB’s: Devonta Freeman + (Carlos Hyde or Adrian Peterson)?

    2. Need a flex: Assuming I start A.J Green and Michael Thomas at WR 1&2, options are whichever RB from #1, Jarvis Landry, or Juju?

  2. reggie says:

    hey professor – so glad you still do what you do!

    season long question – I have Trey Burton with Doyle as back up. I also have TY Hilton and dont like to double up teammates if possible.

    You are high on OJ Howard so given the above would you pick up OJ and drop Doyle?

    thanks so much!

  3. Cameron J Schieble says:

    Would you start james conner over dion lewis in a 14 man ppr? If Le’veon sits that is.

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