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Like a lawyer who amassed and presented his evidence in court, James Conner now rests his case. It's up to his coaches to decide his future.
The Steelers go into their bye with a 3-2-1 record after a thrilling come-from-behind win at Cincinnati — a game they wouldn't have been in if not for Conner's 19-carry, four-catch, 129-total-yard (119 rushing), two-score effort.
It's Conner's third game with over 100 rush yards and two touchdowns this season. Per the NFL, he's just the fifth player since 1970 to have three 100-rush-yard, two rushing touchdown games within the first six games of a season. And, per NFL Research, Le'Veon Bell has three games with over 100 rush yards and multiple rushing touchdowns in his entire career.
Which begs the question: If Bell reports during the Steelers' bye week as ESPN has reported, what, exactly, will the Steelers plan at running back be?
When he came back from suspensions in 2015 and 2016, Bell immediately was inserted into the Steelers offense and had his usual role. But this isn't a suspension that he's coming back from — this is a holdout. This is a contract squabble that's been played out through the media and seeped publicly into the Steelers locker room. It's been ugly, and it might even get uglier if the Steelers ask for a two-week roster exemption to keep him from playing once he does report.
There's also the possibility of trading him, something we're on alert for every Tuesday. They could also simply allow him to return and sit on the bench — there's nothing in his contract that mandates he must play.
Frankly, it seems like the last thing they'll do is let Bell come right back to his usual hefty workload of carries and catches.
And the reason for that is Conner.
With Bell skulking from afar, Conner has averaged 4.4 yards per carry with seven touchdowns in six games. Though there were some dicey outings in there — Week 4 against the Ravens was a definite low-point — he's proven to be a trustworthy back. In each game Conner's had a Le'Veon-esque workload in, he's delivered at least 14 PPR Fantasy points (nine in non-PPR), along with a rushing average above 4.0 and at least one explosive run of 20-plus yards.
Not many Steelers players were talking about the holdout after the game, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wryly joked that Sunday was Conner's "last game for us, cause Le'Veon's coming back," adding he doesn't know anything about Bell's return and was just going off of the reports we've all seen.
That includes this doozy from CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora which says the Steelers haven't heard from Bell, have designs on trading him, and plan on moving forward as if Bell isn't part of their plans.
While Conner's long-term Fantasy value will only be solidified once Bell's status is known, his week-to-week value is as high as it could possibly be. As we sit here following the games of Week 6, Conner is an undeniable top-10 Fantasy running back. Anyone who's starting him should continue to do so — trading him only makes sense if you're getting something very good in return.
In fact, it might be prudent to acquire Bell for as cheaply as possible just to lock up the Steelers' explosive run game. The guy or gal who's had Bell on the bench for the past six games could probably use a replacement who will actually play. The timing is right to at least try to make that move.
Five big questions from Week 6
- What to do with Odell Beckham? Trade for him. Eli Manning isn't going to help him have monster outings every single week but his target share (30 percent) doesn't figure to sink. The Giants play at the Falcons next week — a guaranteed monster game for Beckham — followed by the Redskins, then a bye, then matchups with the 49ers and Buccaneers. He should string together some excellent games, and is worth targeting in trade this week.
- Is Jameis Winston a must-start Fantasy QB? If you had told me Winston would have had a big game without strong numbers from DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans, I would have called you crazy, loco and, kooky. Cralokooky. But Winston made use of his tight ends, showed off his scrambling skills and, most of all, played like a competent quarterback. Interceptions will still be part of his game, but he's surrounded by a talented receiving corps and working with an aggressive play-caller. He's going to keep firing, so keep him in your lineup.
- Has David Njoku arrived? Or is he a sell-high? We knew Baker Mayfield had a thing for tight ends and we've seen it the last three weeks. Njoku's touchdown against the Chargers was the exclamation point on a seven-catch, 55-yard game. With Mayfield, Njoku has turned 32 targets into 20 receptions and 212 yards with the score. If you've been benching him, now's the time to try and spin him in a package deal for a starter at another position. If you've been starting him, keep it up!
- Is Jordan Howard no longer the best running back in Chicago? Maybe, just maybe, the Bears' game plan coming into their matchup with Miami was to run on the Dolphins. That much was evident after Howard had seven carries in the first half to Tarik Cohen's two carries and three catches. But football games don't always go as planned, and as the Bears found themselves in a dogfight, Cohen turned on the jets and was the more effective rusher. Howard still had 14 carries including three inside the Dolphins 10, but the one closest to the goal line was fumbled away. Fantasy owners must be concerned about Howard's limited upside moving forward, especially since the guy has one score this season — Cohen has one in each of his last two games.
- What's happened to Jordan Reed? For the most part, targets have been there for him, including a season-high nine against the Panthers on Sunday. But he's not displaying explosiveness consistently enough. Pair that with a lack of touchdowns, and it's making Reed the worst big-name tight end you'll keep starting week after week. It was so bad Sunday that the ageless Vernon Davis had a 10-point Fantasy day while Reed slunk into the locker room with 36 yards on five grabs. Hang on to him — after the Redskins' Week 7 game versus the Cowboys, Reed will see a bunch of favorable matchups and could certainly make a difference for your team.
Three big waiver pickups for Week 7
- Mitchell Trubisky (57 percent owned): Need a bye-week quarterback? What about someone to help you get through the next three weeks? With another game involving multiple touchdowns and plenty of yardage, Trubisky has evolved into a viable starter. His next three matchups are against the Patriots, Jets, and at the Bills. There are numbers to be had. He's a fantastic passer to roster if you're worried about Deshaun Watson going down; if you've been streaming, he's the answer to your prayers.
- O.J. Howard (49 percent owned): It was surprising to see Howard play in Week 6, but pleasing to see him involved in the Bucs offense. Verified tight-end targeter Jameis Winston figures to keep leaning on this gargantuan all over the field. And get this: Howard has at least seven Fantasy points in non-PPR (13 in PPR) in three of his last four games. He's teetering on the cusp of being a must-start tight end moving forward, including next week at home against the Browns.
- Frank Gore (32 percent owned): Hey, stats are stats, and Gore is picking them up. Week 6 against the vaunted Bears defense was his best game of the year, notching 11 Fantasy points thanks to his 119 total yards. More importantly, he wasn't Kenyan Drake, the Dolphins running back who fumbled at the goal line in overtime and nearly cost his team the game. We've seen Gore's touches ramp up as the season's gone on, so there's no reason to think things will revert back to being weighted toward Drake. Gore is worth rostering and is okay as a bye-week running back when the matchup isn't scary ... or even when it is scary, since they don't come much scarier than the Bears.