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James Washington, Diontae Johnson Fantasy Stock After JuJu Smith-Schuster Injury

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 13, 2019

CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 24:  James Washington #13 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster reportedly aggravated his knee injury during Thursday's practice and is not expected to play against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Smith-Schuster, who has missed the past three games as a result of the injury, has 38 receptions for 524 yards and three receiving touchdowns on 60 targets for the season. He's the Steelers' most talented offensive player, and despite winning their three games without him, losing him is obviously a big blow against the Bills defense.

The No. 1 wideout exited his team's 21-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 11 in the second quarter because of a knee injury and a concussion suffered on the same play. From a fantasy football perspective, we have examples of how targets and touches may break down in his absence.

                                                                                                             

WR James Washington

James Washington is the team's No. 1 wideout sans Smith-Schuster. He led the team with seven targets at the Cincinnati Bengals, snagging three passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. The score, a 79-yarder, came via the arm of Devlin Hodges, who was inserted into the game in the third quarter and is now the team's starter.

Washington is used to catching passes from ex-Oklahoma State Cowboy teammate Mason Rudolph, who was benched, but the connection with Hodges has worked.

You can also take this picture of the two hunting together as a sign of potential chemistry:

Devlin Hodges @DevlinHodges10

Good morning with @JamesWashington #huntthemorningsonoffday https://t.co/9MxLPKC8Kb

Washington led the team in targets (11) from the time of Smith-Schuster's Week 11 exit until the final Week 12 horn. He amassed five receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown. Against the Cleveland Browns in Week 13, he caught four passes for 111 yards and one touchdown on four targets, although last week against the Arizona Cardinals he only caught four passes for 33 yards on four targets.

           

WR Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson has become the No. 2 on the Steelers' wideout depth chart. The rookie snagged four passes for 42 yards on nine targets in the time Smith-Schuster was out against the Browns and Bengals.

Johnson isn't a big-play threat like Washington, as he's averaged 11.5 yards per reception, but he's a dependable receiver who's turned in some noteworthy games (five catches, 84 yards and a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins, for instance). Last week against the Cardinals, he recorded six receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown on eight targets.

                                  

TE Vance McDonald

On the plus side, Vance McDonald led all running backs, wideouts and tight ends with an 85 percent offensive snap rate against the Cincinnati Bengals.

On the minus side, the tight end only had one catch for one yard on one target to show for it.

McDonald has 33 receptions for 245 yards and three touchdowns this year. In theory, his snap rate and Smith-Schuster's absence should produce more targets, but that hasn't been the case. He has just four receptions for 24 receiving yards combined the past two weeks, with zero touchdowns.

Because of that lack of production, he isn't much of a fantasy option.

               

Summary

Washington is the only Steelers pass-catcher worth rostering, with Johnson a decent bench option in deeper leagues of 14 teams or more. Even then, Washington should only be considered as a flex option at best, especially heading into a matchup with the Bills.

Any Steeler (minus the team's defense/special teams) is hard to trust, so Pittsburgh is largely a fantasy situation to avoid.