The Pittsburgh Steelers and their QB Ben Roethlisberger have had an up-and-down season. Unfortunately, that season took another twist ahead of Week 10 of the 2021 season when the Steelers placed Roethlisberger on the COVID-19 list. What does this mean for Roethlisberger’s availability in Week 10, and who could have to step up in his place?
Why isn’t Ben Roethlisberger playing today?
Roethlisberger will not be available for the Steelers in Week 10 after testing positive. He recently told the Dan Patrick Show that he is vaccinated, so he should be eligible to return in Week 11. The issue for Roethlisberger in Week 10 is that he would now need to return two negative COVID tests 24 hours apart, which is not possible before they face the Lions.
It is frustrating for Roethlisberger, who had improved in recent games. After having an average passer rating of just over 80 through his first four games this season, that has improved to an average of over 100 in the last four. Across his last four starts, Roethlisberger has completed 87 of his 129 pass attempts (67.4%) for 953 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.
Mason Rudolph will start his first game for the Steelers in 2021
Roethlisberger’s absence means that we will see Mason Rudolph for the first time this year. The fourth-year QB has started nine games in his career and played in 15. He has a 5-4 record, and he’s completed 61.7% of his passes for 2,089 yards, with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His only start of 2020 saw him go 22 of 39 for 315 yards, 2 TDS, and 1 INT in Week 17 last season.
Rudolph’s home/road splits indicate he performs better when playing at home than on the road. At home, he has a 66.7% completion rate with 9 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. His passer rating is 94.9. In comparison, he has completed just 55.7% of his passes on the road with 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Roethlisberger’s absence could have a ripple effect on fantasy managers
The issue for fantasy managers is what this means for Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Najee Harris, and Pat Freiermuth. In terms of the receivers, Johnson and Washington see a slight downgrade, but we have seen Rudolph can still get his receivers involved. It is not ideal for either, but both should still post reasonably solid numbers as the leading two receivers.
The situation for Harris is slightly different. If the Lions now look to load the box, it could have a major impact. Harris has averaged just 3.6 yards per rush attempt this season. He has not averaged over 3.5 yards per rush in any of his last three games.
Do Harris and Freiermuth have fantasy upside vs. the Lions?
The good news is that Harris’ fantasy value is built on volume. Nonetheless, the loss of Roethlisberger does hurt his ceiling somewhat. If the team is chasing the game because Rudolph struggles early, Harris’ role could be marginalized. He is enough of a receiving threat that it should be ok, but there is a risk. He is still a top-10 fantasy option, but managers should be prepared that the ceiling is lower without Roethlisberger.
Freiermuth is the third receiving option, and his fantasy value has been touchdown-dependent. If we assume the Steelers’ offense will be less potent with Rudolph, there are potential knock-on effects for Freiermuth’s fantasy ceiling. The good news is that Freiermuth has averaged 6.7 targets per game in the last three weeks. That volume should give him a solid floor in PPR formats.