No player was more coveted after Week 13’s action than Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels. Fellow running back James Conner suffered an injury against the Los Angeles Chargers and was quickly ruled out of Week 14’s matchup against the Oakland Raiders. While most figured Samuels would be the de-facto lead back, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
According to multiple Pittsburgh beat reporters, the Steelers are planning on utilizing both Samuels and Stevan Ridley in a committee approach. While this obviously eats Samuels’ overall ceiling, this isn’t a kiss of death by any means. You can still start Jaylen Samuels and feel comfortable heading into the fantasy playoffs.
It’s not hard to figure out how playing time will be divided for the Steelers running backs. Samuels is a versatile weapon capable of lining up all across the formation, including at wide receiver. Stevan Ridley, meanwhile, is a north-south runner who has just 45 receptions in his eight-year NFL career.
It’s safe to assume that Samuels will take the passing snaps while Ridley will take the running snaps. Obviously, there be some slight overlap to avoid predictability, but this is generally how Pittsburgh will run their offense.
This is good news for Samuels, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are far more likely to air it out than run it in Week 14. It’s no secret that the Steelers aren’t afraid to incorporate their running backs into the passing game. James Conner averaged just over five targets per game, and it’s safe to assume Samuels will match or exceed that volume in Week 14. The running back saw three targets against the Chargers, all of which came after Conner’s injury. Samuels demonstrated the ability to get open and make guys miss in space, so the Steelers should continue to target him in the passing game.
The reason he’ll see more targets than a typical Conner game is that the Steelers will probably throw more than normal. Conner was one of the best runners in the league, compiling 909 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on 201 carries. Pittsburgh could feel comfortable about running the ball on any given play, knowing Conner could pick up the necessary yardage.
The Steelers will not have that type of confidence in Stevan Ridley. Ever since tearing his ACL back in 2014, the once-promising running back just hasn’t looked the same. Bouncing around the league, Ridley is averaging a measly 3.1 yards per attempt since the 2015 season. This year, Ridley has compiled just 56 rushing yards on 18 attempts.
The run game will not be there for Pittsburgh, so the Steelers will have every reason to go to the air. This plays to Samuels’ strengths, who has already shown natural ability as a pass catcher. Players like James White have shown it’s possible to be an effective fantasy running back without actually running the ball. Samuels probably won’t have a White-like game, but he’s still a solid flex play, even if he’s only catching the ball.
A Favorable Matchup
Adding to Samuels’ value is the Steelers underwhelming Week 14 opponent, the Oakland Raiders. Per Football Outsiders, the Raiders defense currently ranks 19th against running backs in the passing game and 32nd overall. Samuels should have no problem getting open against this subpar unit, and Ben Roethlisberger should have no trouble finding him.
This game has blowout potential, which should also play to Samuels’ favor. As long as the game is close, the Steelers will try to use Ridley as the between the tackles runner. However, if this game gets out of hand, they’ll probably turn that duty over to Samuels.
At this point in time, everybody knows who Stevan Ridley is as a player. The 29-year old is now in his eighth season in the league and has no room for growth. Samuels, meanwhile, is a young, exciting player with a promising future ahead of him. The Steelers would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t see what they have in Samuels once the outcome is decided.
Samuels doesn’t need to be the most naturally gifted runner to get rushing yards against this Raiders defense. Oakland is the 31st-ranked run defense, per Pro Football Focus, while the Steelers have the 13th-best run blocking offensive line. All Samuels will need to do is follow his blocks, as Pittsburgh should win at the point of attack. While a blowout could hypothetically eat into his production in the passing game, the extra work in the run game should cancel out any missed production.
Last Word On Jaylen Samuels Splitting Snaps
Jaylen Samuels splitting snaps is obviously not ideal for his fantasy production. He was never going to replicate James Conners’ production, but this timeshare news limits his ceiling. However, Samuels is still capable of putting up a solid stat line against the Oakland Raiders.
Samuels is a naturally gifted pass-catcher, while Stevan Ridley is a pure between-the-tackles runner. This makes it easy to predict Samuels’ role, and the fact he’s the pass-catcher is good news for his value. The Steelers love to use their running backs in the passing game, so Samuels should still see a solid volume. Stevan Ridley really isn’t a good running back anymore, so Pittsburgh will probably air it out more than normal. More passing attempts means more targets for Samuels, which means more fantasy points.
Additionally, the Oakland Raiders are terrible at just about everything. They can’t stop running backs in the passing or the running game, so Samuels should exploit every matchup he gets. Oakland doesn’t have linebackers capable of sticking with him in coverage, and Samuels has already shown the ability to get open at the professional level.
Even if this game turns into a blowout, Samuels should still see a decent amount of touches. Pittsburgh will want to see what they have in their young running back, so long as giving him carries doesn’t directly lead to a decreased chance of victory. Stevan Ridley is a known commodity, while Jaylen Samuels still has the potential to grow into something. Pittsburgh would be doing themselves a disservice by giving Ridley any more touches than absolutely necessary.
All this is to say that Samuels will get his touches. While this move probably limits his ceiling to a low-end RB2, he’s still going to be a startable asset in fantasy football. He won’t win you a matchup, but he also won’t be the reason you lose.
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