Wed Oct 13 5:37pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) hauls in a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with Denver Broncos cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) defending during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. Johnson took the ball in for a touchdown. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool celebrates after catching a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) is upended by Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson (22) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. Smith-Shuster was injured on the play and left the field. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
PITTSBURGH (AP) A wide receiver will line up in the slot for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night against Seattle. They will find a pass headed their way on third down. They will go over the middle looking to deliver as much punishment as they receive.
None of them, however, will do it with the same easy swagger as JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The five-year veteran and social media star's season is over after injuring his right shoulder in a win over Denver last Sunday.
And no offense to Diontae Johnson or James Washington or Chase Claypool or anyone else tasked with taking over Smith-Schuster's myriad job responsibilities, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledges something will be missing without Smith-Schuster's familiar No. 19 in the huddle.
''You can't replace JuJu,'' Roethlisberger said Wednesday.
Few receivers in the league possess Smith-Schuster's unique skillset. The 24-year-old is an enthusiastic run blocker - he famously won over teammates as rookie four years ago by crushing former Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict - and a selfless receiver.
His yards per reception has dipped from 15.8 in 2017 while running alongside Antonio Brown to just 8.6 since the start of 2020, the result of him willingly running underneath while the 6-foot-5 Claypool and dynamic Johnson raced downfield.
''I'm hurt because I miss that guy,'' Roethlisberger said. ''I mean, what he brings to this team is energy, is excitement. The leadership. It sucks. It really does. And I'm not even the one hurt.''
Smith-Schuster went out on a play that has become symbolic of his role. He took an end-around from Roethlisberger in the second quarter against Denver, headed toward the sideline, then turned upfield. Broncos safety Kareem Jackson was waiting for him just past the line of scrimmage, so Smith-Schuster dipped his shoulder and tried to run him over. For one of the very times in his 63-game career, Smith-Schuster wound up on the wrong end of the exchange.
Now the Steelers (2-3) find themselves trying to build momentum without the player whose infectious energy galvanized a wide receiver group that is still impossibly young. Anthony Miller, signed off waivers from Houston on Tuesday, is the oldest of the bunch and he turned 27 last Saturday. No one has played more than four seasons in the league and all of them were in elementary school when Roethlisberger made his NFL debut in 2004.
Johnson, who has caught touchdowns in three of four games this season, stressed he's confident Pittsburgh can find a way forward.
''Everybody (in the wide receivers room) is capable of playing and contributing to the offense,'' said Johnson. ''So we are not worried about that. We are still going to go out there and play for JuJu.''
The job will likely extend beyond the receivers. Roethlisberger admitted Wednesday he needs to do a better job of trying to connect with rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has caught 11 of the 13 passes Roethlisberger has thrown his way through five weeks.
''I trust him,'' Roethlisberger said. ''He's in the right spot.''
There's a chance Smith-Schuster's absence could also create more opportunities for tight end Eric Ebron, who has become an afterthought. Signed as a free agency splurge in March 2020, Ebron has just five receptions for 37 yards a season after hauling in 56 passes and scoring five times.
Asked about Ebron's drop in production, Roethlisberger instead pivoted to make a larger point about the NFL's 27th-ranked offense.
''I don't think anybody in the skill side of the offense is having the season that we've hoped for yet,'' he said. ''And it really comes down to winning football games because that's what we all should want to do. Nobody's really had a huge game. And so I think everyone's just doing a good job of being patient, understanding that once the offense starts to click a little bit hopefully everyone will be able to start to reap the rewards.''
NOTES: Roethlisberger did not practice Wednesday while he continues to wrangle with hip and left pectoral injuries. ... Washington (groin) and Claypool (hamstring) were limited. ... DB Cam Sutton (groin), who missed the Denver game, was a full participant. ... LB Devin Bush, who left in the third quarter on Sunday with a groin injury, was also a full participant.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (hamstring) is inactive for Sunday's contest against the Atlanta Falcons. He last played in Week 4 against the Colts. With Parker out, look for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to focus on wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki against a weak Falcons secondary. Gesicki had 115 yards last week against Jaguars and should be a strong DFS play on this slate.
New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson is a healthy scratch again in Week 7, returning to the inactive list after playing for the past two weeks. Considering Stevenson had eight touches, a touchdown, and a 33 percent snap rate last week, him returning to Bill Belichick's doghouse is a bit of a surprise. Damien Harris is the only running back in New England worth anything when it comes to fantasy right now.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hamstring) has been ruled out for the Week 7 contest against the Carolina Panthers. He'll be joining running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle), who were ruled out on Friday, on the sidelines. The good news is that tight end Evan Engram (calf) and receivers Darius Slayton (hamstring) and John Ross (hamstring) will play, but the Giants offense will be missing their best weapons. It will be Shepard's third missed game of the season with his hamstring injury. Slayton will be returning after three straight missed games, so there's no guarantee he'll be the top receiving option in his first game back. Dante Pettis and Collin Johnson figure to be involved in three-receiver sets as well.
Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (shin) is active, as expected, in Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers. Cornerback William Jackson III (knee) is out, so Washington's corner depth will be shaky against the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Gibson has been playing through a hairline fracture in his shin the last couple weeks, although he did see only 10 carries in the Week 6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Consider him more of an RB2 than RB1 this week, especially since backup and pass-catching back J.D. McKissic could see more run if Washington is playing catchup against a strong Green Bay offense for much of the day.
New York Jets running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring) is inactive for Sunday's Week 7 contest against the New England Patriots. He's joined on the inactive list by tight end Tyler Kroft and wide receiver Jeff Smith. With Coleman out, there should be a few more snaps available for Michael Carter, but Coleman only played five offensive snaps in Week 5 against Atlanta, so his absence doesn't really move the needle here.
Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith (oblique) and cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) are out for the Week 7 battle against the Washington Football Team on Sunday. Smith will break his consecutive games played streak at 102 after suffering an oblique injury in last week's win over the Chicago Bears. King will be missing his second straight game with his shoulder injury. Eric Stokes, Chandon Sullivan and Rasul Douglas will once again serve as Green Bay's starting corners on Sunday. Green Bay's defense loses a little luster with Smith out of the lineup, but they're still on the streaming radar for this weekend against Washington.
New York Giants WR John Ross (hamstring) is expected to play in Week 7's game against the Carolina Panthers, barring a pre-game setback, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Ross had been listed as questionable on the injury report after participating in two of the team's three practice sessions this week on a limited basis. Although he had a good performance in Week 4's game versus the New Orleans Saints, he has not done much otherwise and can be avoided in most fantasy leagues.
The New York Jets have declared S Adrian Colbert, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Jeff Smith, DT Jonathan Marshall, LB C.J. Mosley and TE Tyler Kroft inactive for Week 7.
The Green Bay Packers have declared DT Jack Heflin, OT Dennis Kelly, LB Preston Smith, S Vernon Scott and CB Kevin King inactive for Week 7.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said there is no ETA on when running back Chris Carson (neck) might return from Injured Reserve, but he said Carson is workout out hard and is conditioning to be ready if/when he can return. Carson remains on IR and isn't eligible to return until Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers, and there's nothing to currently suggest that he'll make that timetable. Alex Collins has operated as the team's primary back in the last two games with Carson sidelined, but Rashaad Penny (calf) is returning from IR this week and figures to have a role alongside DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer. Collins remains the best bet for fantasy production as a touchdown-dependent RB2/3, but this backfield will be tougher to predict with Penny now in the fold.
Seattle Seahawks rookie wide receiver Dee Eskridge (concussion) was out of the area this week getting more tests done and currently has no timetable to return from his head injury, according to head coach Pete Carroll. Eskridge caught his only target for six yards and had two carries in the season opener for 22 yards before suffering a concussion, and he hasn't played since. The 24-year-old appears to have a pretty serious concussion and remains on Injured Reserve, so he doesn't appear close to returning anytime soon. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett remain Seattle's dynamic one-two punch at receiver, with Freddie Swain serving as the No. 3. But until quarterback Russell Wilson (finger) returns (possibly in Week 10), Seattle's passing attack will be hindered with backup Geno Smith under center.
Seattle Seahawks running back Alex Collins (groin), who is listed as questionable for Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints, is expected to play on Monday night, according to head coach Pete Carroll. Collins returned to practice on Saturday after missing practice on Thursday and Friday and looked good. The 27-year-old has functioned as Seattle's primary early down back with Chris Carson (neck) on Injured Reserve the last two weeks, carrying the ball 35 times for 148 yards and one touchdown. DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer have served in change-of-pace roles, but Rashaad Penny (calf) has returned from his own IR stint and is expected to play on Monday night, which will likely cut into Collins' workload a bit. The Saints have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to RBs in the last three weeks, but they've only allowed 130 rushing yards in their last two games combined. Collins will be on the RB2/3 borderline and will probably need a touchdown to return solid value.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (concussion) and wide receiver Deonte Harris (hamstring) have been ruled out for the Monday night game in Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks. With Hill and Harris out, it will mean more red-zone opportunities for the likes of running back Alvin Kamara, wide receiver Marquez Callaway and tight end Juwan Johnson against Seattle. Hill has operated as the backup to Jameis Winston this year, but he's been a successful goal-line weapon for New Orleans with three rushing touchdowns on only 16 attempts through five games. Callaway will be the team's top receiving threat, while Kenny Stills should also have an expanded role in the passing attack with Harris sidelined after getting injured before the Week 6 bye.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson (ankle) will play in Week 7's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson had been listed as questionable on the injury report after logging two limited practice sessions during the week. Although he has had a disappointing season from a fantasy standpoint, he should see plenty of targets this afternoon, making him worthy of consideration as a flex option in most leagues.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (ankle) has an outside chance to play in the Week 8 game but is more likely to return for the Week 9 game, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players can monitor Barkley's practice participation next week to see if he will be able to play in Week 8. Barkley is a weekly starting option when healthy.
Las Vegas Raiders TE Darren Waller (ankle) 'doesn't feel great' after being added to the injury report because of an ankle issue Saturday, Oct. 23. The team will not know until pregame warmups if he will be able to play in Week 7's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Fantasy Spin: Waller makes a risky fantasy option this week because the Las Vegas-Philadelphia game will not get underway until late Sunday afternoon, which would leave owners with few alternatives if he is declared inactive for Week 7. When healthy, he should be viewed as a must-start option in all fantasy formats.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker (shoulder, hamstring) appears to be facing an uphill battle to play in Week 7's game against the Atlanta Falcons, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Parker had been listed as questionable on the injury report after being a limited participant in all three of the team's practice sessions throughout the week. If he is declared active for the game, he could be viewed as a flex option in fantasy leagues, although owners should have alternatives available in the event that he misses this afternoon's contest.
Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff is not in danger of losing his job as the team's starting quarterback to QB David Blough, according to multiple sources.
Fantasy Spin: Goff has only thrown two touchdown passes in his last four games and has not reached the 300-yard passing mark since the season opener. With few offensive playmakers on the roster, he should be avoided in most fantasy leagues.
New York Giants wide receiver John Ross (hamstring) is likely to suit up for Sunday's outing against the Panthers. Ross has been dealing with a hamstring issue, although he managed to practice sparingly on Thursday and Friday, which is always a good sign regarding a player's anticipated availability. The former Bengal received an uptick in snaps over the last few weeks. However, with Darius Slayton (hamstring) andEvan Engram (calf) expected to play, andSterling Shepard (hamstring) labeled as a game-time call, Ross should be avoided in all fantasy formats in Week 8.