Thursday Night Start 'Em or Sit 'Em: Week 11: Marcus Mariota, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Derrick Henry & More

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by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Thursday games are often tricky as it is, because there isn’t necessarily a reason to take any undue risks with questionable options (which could set you back and spoil your week).  Who are the borderline players that should be in lineups?  Who should be sat down?  Let’s take a look at the skill players taking the field tonight and try to answer those questions:
 
Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota – Quarterback
Many will want to believe that he’s a viable option, given the name, but the numbers tell a completely different story.  Thus far he’s thrown for 1,783 yards, 7 TD and 6 INT, with his overall value being buoyed by running the football (3 TD).  With that being the sole “value”, it’s hard to get excited considering the Steelers have allowed the third fewest points per week to opposing quarterbacks and limited them in all aspects:

  • Passing – 1,851 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT
  • Rushing – 69 yards, 1 TD

Lack of Production + Difficult Matchup?  There’s little appeal.
Verdict – Borderline QB2, but unusable in anything but deeper formats
 
DeMarco Murray – Running Back
It’s impossible to call him a must use RB1, as much as we’d love to, as he’s fallen into a timeshare with Derrick Henry.  If that wasn’t enough Murray has also struggled mightily, especially over the past four games, averaging 3.0 yards per carry on 53 carries.  He is capable of finding the end zone, coming off a 3 TD performance (2 rushing, 1 receiving), but that’s hard to count on from a player who has 5 total TD on the season.  Throw in the matchup, with the Steelers allowing 5 total TD to opposing RB, and Murray is more of a risky RB2.
Verdict – RB2 play, but there’s risk
 
Derrick Henry – Running Back
Henry has had a bit more spring than Murray, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season, and he is sharing time.  He’s dependent on the one home run though, and that’s not out of the question with Pittsburgh having allowed 10 runs of at least 20+ yards (tied for tenth most in the league).  Obviously there’s a lot of boom or bust to his game and that keeps him on the FLEX radar as opposed to being anything more.
Verdict – High risk, high reward FLEX play
 
Corey Davis – Wide Receiver
Davis has been hit or miss in the target department over his four games played, including 10 targets this past week against the Bengals.  However he turned those opportunities into 4 catches for 48 yards and he also lost a fumble in the process.  With a very similar matchup and not much time to work on his rapport with his QB, Davis is a tough sell even as a WR3.
Verdict – Desperation WR3 and nothing more
 
Rishard Matthews – Wide Receiver
He’s been the team’s best receiver, though part of that is due to the absence of Corey Davis.  It’s a “default” label, especially with the numbers lacking appeal (36 receptions, 513 yards, 2 TD).  He doesn’t have the upside of Davis, though carries the same matchup concerns.  In other words, he’s an even worse desperation play.
Verdict – Nearly impossible to trust
 
Must Start Option:

  • Delanie Walker – Tight End

 
Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger – Quarterback
Roethlisberger is often viewed as a must use option, though that shouldn’t be the case this season.  Just look at these four numbers….
17…  14…  17…  19…
Those are the number of completions he’s had over the first four games.  That said he’s a known commodity in a fairly favorable matchup, as the Titans have allowed the ninth most completions to opposing QB (205) as well as 17 TD.  Is he an elite option?  Nope, but he’s a solid play given the questions throughout the league.
Verdict – Viable QB1
 
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Wide Receiver
It’s impossible to think that he’s going to overtake Antonio Brown as the team’s top receiver, but he’s now scored in three straight games and has entrenched himself as the #2 receiver.  Over the past two weeks he’s totaled 290 yards and 2 TD while turning 17 targets into 12 receptions.  There is the risk of all of the opportunities going to Brown and Le’Veon Bell, plus Martavis Bryant is looming in the background.  The recent production puts him as a borderline WR2, but he’s a clear must play WR3.
Verdict – Must play WR3
 
Martavis Bryant – Wide Receiver
The emergence of Smith-Schuster has made Bryant a forgotten man, and it makes sense.  Bryant has missed time and as the third wheel is no guarantee to get more than a handful of targets.  He’s become forgotten for a reason and he should remain that way until he proves otherwise.
Verdict – Must sit
 
Must Start Options:

  • Le’Veon Bell – Running Back
  • Antonio Brown – Wide Receiver

Sources – ESPN, NFL.com
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Make sure to check out all of our Week 11 rankings:

RankPlayerTeamQuick Thoughts
1)Jacob deGromNew York MetsAfter back-to-back Cy Young Awards what's left for deGrom to prove? It turns out he may have been tipping his pitches in April (4.85 ERA), once he corrected the issue he didn't have an ERA above 2.92 in any month after. Even if he's not your #1, he's clearly in the top tier.
2) Max ScherzerWashington NationalsWhen healthy Scherzer continued posting elite numbers, the problem was that he was limited to 27 starts (and missed time in the playoffs). Current reports have him fully healthy for Spring Training, but it will be something that needs to be monitored.
3) Justin VerlanderHouston AstrosWe keep waiting for Verlander to start slowing down, but he is showing no signs (including racking up 300 K in '19). There is some slight concerns in his luck metrics (.218 BABIP, 88.4% strand rate), but that just makes his first half 2.98 ERA a better expectation.
4) Gerrit ColeNew York YankeesHe signed a massive contract this winter (9 years, $324 million) and there will be questions as to whether or not he can live up to it in New York. While opponents need to make contact for it to become an issue, groundball rates of 36.0% and 40.3% the past two seasons, now pitching in Yankee Stadium, raises a small red flag.
5) Walker BuehlerLos Angeles DodgersThe Dodgers took it slow with their young ace in the spring, and that may have factored into his early season struggle (5.22 ERA). In 24 starts from May 1 through the end of the year he posted a 2.88 ERA, and he showed strikeouts (10.61 K/9) and control (1.83 BB/9) all season long.
6) Chris SaleBoston Red SoxIt's fair to be concerned about Sale, after he was limited to 147.1 IP in '19 due to elbow issues and posted a 4.40 ERA when healthy. However he continued to show strikeouts (13.32 K/9), control (2.26 BB/9) and should improve upon his luck (66.7% strand rate). Reports have him healthy heading into Spring Training, so don't ignore him.
7)Shane BieberCleveland IndiansBieber put his name on the map in '19, with a 3.28 ERA and 1.05 WHIP courtesy of a 10.88 K/9 and 1.68 BB/9. He's always displayed elite control, but now he's delivering swings and misses (14.0% SwStr%) while utilizing his secondary pitches more and more (he threw his fourseam fastball 45.73%) has solidified his place among the elite.
8)Stephen StrasburgWashington NationalsCan Strasburg stay healthy? That's always been the biggest question, though Washington is betting on it after signing him to a 7 year contract. Last year he showed just how good he could be, utilizing his sinker and curveball more led to a 51.1% groundball rate (to go along with strikeouts and control).
9)Mike ClevingerCleveland IndiansClevinger's SwStr% rose to 15.2% in '19, and he's continued to throw strikes (2.39 BB/9 in the second half) and limit hard contact (33.0% Hard%). That's the makeup of a Top 10 starter, though he's often not considered so highly.
10)Patrick CorbinWashington NationalsA year after receiving a big free agent contract, Corbin lived up to the expectations with a 3.25 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 202.0 IP. He did it while showing all three skills we look for from a pitcher, and also improving his Hard% (34.5%).
11)Luis CastilloCincinnati RedsHad it not been for a late season swoon (ERA of 5.70 and 4.40 over the last two months), there would be a lot more chatter about Castillo being a potential Top 10 option. He showed strikeouts (10.67 K/9), control (3.73 BB/9) and groundballs (55.2%), and even as he struggled late in the year an improvement in his control (2.76 BB/9 in the second half) speaks to just how high his ceiling could be.
12)Charlie MortonTampa Bay RaysAfter breaking out in Houston it was fair to wonder if Morton could replicate the success while maneuvering through the AL East. He proved more than capable, with a 3.05 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 194.2 IP. With his skill set and believable luck metrics (.298 BABIP, 75.3% strand rate), the good times should continue.
13)Blake SnellTampa Bay RaysHe missed time due to injury (107.0 IP) and struggled when on the mound (4.29 ERA), though it was poor luck (.343 BABIP, despite a 34.8% Hard%) and not a regression in skills that caused the issues. Maybe he's not as good as he was in '18, but he should continue to be in the mix for a Top 10 spot.
14)Carlos CarrascoCleveland IndiansRegardless of the results, the fact that Carrasco returned late in the year is promising after he was limited by injuries. Over his career he owns a 9.37 K/9, 2.25 BB/9 and 48.5% groundball rate, as he's consistently been among the better starters. As long as he's healthy he should return to that status.
15)Frankie MontasOakland A'sHe was limited to 96.0 innings, but don't take that to mean that the breakout wasn't for real. He began using a split-finger fastball, which contributed to his 9.66 K/9, 2.16 BB/9 and 49.4% groundball rate. He should continue on the same path, which would allow him to maintain that success over a full season.

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