Benny Snell Jr., More Updated Fantasy Outlook After James Conner's Injury

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2020

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24) rushes against the New York Giants during an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Adam Hunger/Associated Press

With James Conner suffering an ankle injury early in the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Benny Snell Jr. took on an expanded role during Monday night's opener against the New York Giantsand fantasy football managers likely took notice.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Conner has been diagnosed with a sprained ankle and that the Steelers are "optimistic for a timely return."

Conner, who missed time because of a shoulder injury in 2019, saw limited action after getting banged-up in the second quarter. His absence last year gives fantasy managers a good idea of what to expect from Pittsburgh's backfield.

Snell ran for 426 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games as a rookie. His overall production wasn't necessarily underwhelming, but his 3.9 yards per carry raised questions about how effective he would be in a bigger role. He had a minimal impact on the passing game (three receptions for 23 yards) as well.

However, when his number was called Monday night, he was more than ready. He ran for 113 yards on 19 carries, good for an average of 5.9 yards per rush. He also showed the ability to break off a long run, notching both a 21-yard and 30-yard run on the night.

If there's one area that Snell left fantasy managers wanting more in, it was in the passing attack. The second-year back had zero receptions against the Giants. Last year, he had just three catches in 13 games.

Outside of Snell, though, there wasn't much in the way of action for Steelers running backs. Jaylen Samuel had just two touches on the night, recording one carry and one catch for three total yards. At this point, Samuel would be a risky play for any fantasy team even if Conner misses time.

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Fantasy managers in points-per-reception leagues may want to keep an eye on Samuels should Conner's injury linger, however. With Snell's lack of involvement in the passing game, that opens the door for Samuels—who has 73 receptions in two seasons—to have a role in the offense.

In the event Conner's injury leaves him out for multiple games, Snell showed Monday night that he will be worth including in the lineup. Even if Conner is healthy enough to play moving forward, Snell's season-opening performance makes him worth monitoring in the coming weeks to see if he takes over as the team's No. 1 option in the backfield.