James Conner is also a big part of the equation, not to mention the financial aspect and Bell's fractured relationship with the team. There was never a realistic scenario for Bell to rejoin the Steelers after sitting out an entire season, especially after the team saw what Conner and Samuels are capable of doing. The former should enter training camp unchallenged as a starter, while the latter made a strong case to replace Conner in passing situations, hauling in 26 of 29 targets for 199 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Conner was also productive in the passing game, but he doesn't have comparable receiving upside to Samuels, who often lined up as a tight end and H-back at NC State.
Samuels ran twice for two yards and caught seven of eight targets for 40 yards during Sunday's 16-13 win over Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh struggled on offense the first half, managing just 27 yards on the ground, and it was no surprise that Samuels was used more as a pass receiving back than a rusher with the return of James Conner (ankle) after a three-game absence. Samuels finishes his rookie season with 56 carries for 256 yards (4.6 average) and 26 catches (on 29 targets) for 199 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. He has three years remaining on his current contract -- and with Le'Veon Bell (held out) likely to be playing elsewhere next season -- Samuels is the clear backup to James Conner heading in to the 2019 season.
Samuels ran for 53 yards on 12 attempts, adding three receptions for 11 yards and one touchdown during Sunday's 31-28 loss to New Orleans.
His eligibility as a tight end on some fantasy outlets will be discussed for generations, but Samuels' production over the past three weeks has resembled that of a low-end RB1 -- 109.3 total yards per game, with 12 receptions and one touchdown during that span. If James Conner (ankle) is ruled out for a fourth consecutive contest in Week 17, Samuels will likely garner double-digit carries once again, while providing the benefit of a pass-catching high floor in PPR formats. Opposing running backs have tortured Cincinnati all season, as the Bengals have allowed 20 total touchdowns to the position in 2018 (second most to only the Bills).
Samuels is slated to head the Pittsburgh backfield Sunday against the Saints with James Conner (ankle) sidelined for a third straight game, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Samuels, who racked up 172 total yards against the Patriots last weekend, is expected to dominate the backfield snaps, leaving Stevan Ridley to handle only a light complementary role. The rookie will take aim at a Saints run defense that has allowed a league-low average of 79.1 rushing yards per game. Still, with double-digit carries and involvement in the passing game presumably on tap, Samuels represents a viable Week 16 fantasy lineup option.
Frequently bottled up in Week 14 by a Raiders run defense that was among the worst in the league coming in, Samuels played like a man unleashed Sunday. The rookie frequently found expansive running lanes against an over-matched Patriots front, and he particularly enjoyed success on counter plays that frequently seemed to catch New England defenders off balance. Samuels also appeared to run much more decisively than he had in his starting debut versus the Raiders, and his performance certainly has to give Steelers coaches confidence in his ability to fill for James Conner (ankle) in Week 16 against the Saints if necessary. Conner's outlook for that contest isn't likely to be known until late in the week, so owners of either player will have to monitor the situation frequently heading into the showdown against New Orleans.
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