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Does Ben Roethlisberger COVID absence mean I should bench Steelers in fantasy football?

We break down what fantasy managers can expect from Pittsburgh’s skill players with Roethlisberger sidelined.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
Diontae Johnson of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers were surging with four straight wins heading into Week 10 before having to suddenly hit the breaks. Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out Saturday due to COVID-19, leaving Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins as the team’s quarterbacks in Week 10 against the Detroit Lions. There’s a good chance neither quarterback took practice reps with the first team, as Roethlisberger was expected to start.

The question for fantasy managers now becomes whether to start any Steelers skill players at all. Diontae Johnson, Pat Freiermuth, Najee Harris and James Washington would be the most relevant options with Chase Claypool ruled out but all those players rely on Roethlisberger in some fashion for a functional offense. The pass catchers in particular will be impacted more.

Harris remains a starting option in any case. He’s going to get more volume as the Steelers try to keep the ball out of an inexperienced, unprepared quarterback’s hands as much as possible. In the last four games, Harris is averaging 89 rushing yards on 23.8 carries per game. He’s going to get volume no matter who the quarterback is.

Here’s how Roethlisberger, Johnson and Freiermuth have performed over the last four weeks.

Ben Roethlisberger: 67 percent completion rate, 953 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 104.6 RTG
Diontae Johnson: 22 receptions, 297 yards, 1 touchdown
Pat Freiermuth: 18 receptions, 152 yards, 3 touchdowns

For comparison, Rudolph has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine starts. His QB rating in those starts is 80.7. With Claypool sidelined, there’s going to be some additional targets to go around. Washington could take in some of those opportunities but Johnson and Freiermuth could still get work.

Johnson’s stat line in the last four games hasn’t been great. He’s still the top receiving option on this team and remains a starter in fantasy formats with Rudolph likely locking in on him more often instead of going through progressions. Freiermuth is a bigger question mark, as his productivity relies almost entirely on redzone opportunities. With Rudolph coming in unprepared, there’s a good chance the Steelers don’t see the redzone much. Tight end is such a tough position to replace on a week-to-week basis that even Freiermuth is likely worth starting. The Lions are a favorable matchup, so these skill players are still worth a go over waiver wire replacements. If managers have alternatives already on their roster, it might be worth slotting them in over Johnson and Freiermuth.