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Fantasy Friday: PSU’s Injured NFLers, and how did Ben DiNucci go from Pitt to Cowboys’ starting QB

Photo by Pitt Athletics: QB Ben DiNucci

Our Fantasy Friday column will appear each Friday throughout the NFL season. It will focus primarily on Penn State alums in the NFL, Steelers players and other players of interest to fans in central PA.

By Jason Dambach

Two months ago during the heart of fantasy football draft season, Penn State was as well represented as any college program at the top of most boards.

Saquon Barkley (Giants) was the consensus second overall selection behind Christian McCaffrey, while fellow running back Miles Sanders (Eagles) was a late first rounder in most leagues.

If you wanted to grab Chris Godwin (Buccaneers) or Allen Robinson (Bears) as a starting wide receiver, you needed to act by the third round.

Fast forward to Week 8, and there’s a possibility that all four could be unavailable this weekend due to injury.

We already know that Barkley is out for the season with a torn ACL and Godwin is out for at least this week after undergoing surgery Tuesday to address a fractured index finger.

As of Friday, Robinson was still in the NFL’s concussion protocol after a late-game injury Monday night against the Rams. His status for this Sunday’s game against the Saints is highly questionable.

Meanwhile, Sanders still hasn’t seen the field — game or practice — since suffering a knee injury two weeks ago against Baltimore. If he can log even a limited practice on Friday, there’s a chance Sanders will  play this Sunday night, but the Eagles could probably get away with another week of Boston Scott as the lead back against the Cowboys’ swiss-cheese defense.

With trade deadlines coming up soon in most fantasy leagues, the Penn Stater I want to target is Chris Godwin. His value is as low as it is going to be and there’s a good chance that whoever owns him in your league is fed up with his lack of availability this year.

The impending addition of Antonio Brown might be viewed as a negative by some, but personally I think it’s only going to draw attention away from a healthy Godwin, who is going to play the same number of snaps with or without AB.

Plus, if you can weather the next few weeks, along with Tampa Bay’s poorly timed week 13 bye week, Godwin and the Bucs’ fantasy playoff schedule is delicious. Who wouldn’t love to roll him out in Weeks 14, 15 and 16 against the Vikings, Falcons and Lions?

That makes Godwin a potential league winner.

Ben Di … Who?

On September 9, 2017, three quarterbacks saw the field during Penn State’s 33-14 victory over Pitt at Beaver Stadium.

One finished as Penn State’s career record-holder in passing yards, touchdowns and pretty much every other meaningful statistical category, won 31 games in three seasons and appeared on Heisman Trophy ballots.

Another — that day’s starter for Pitt — was a former 5-star, can’t-miss prodigy who began his career at USC and once won a training camp battle against fellow blue-chipper Sam Darnold to become the Trojans’ starting QB.

And the third was a former Ivy League commit out of Pine-Richland High School in suburban Pittsburgh who later in the 2017 season became Pitt’s starting signal caller only to lose his job a few games later. He eventually transferred down to the FCS level at James Madison.

Well, would you believe it was the latter of the three who is on track to be the first to start an NFL game?

Huh?

Yes, as it turns out, Ben DiNucci — not Trace McSorley or Max Browne — appears likely to start for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday night at Philadelphia.

From a fantasy perspective, DiNucci, who started the season as a third-string, developmental QB behind Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, isn’t worth discussing in season-long formats.

However, those playing Sunday night showdown contests — that is, a contest on a daily fantasy site like Draft Kings or FanDuel in which lineups are built solely from players in that singular game — might consider rolling with DiNucci.

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That’s a risky proposition, but his cheap salary will allow showdown players to pay up for some of the more expensive players in the game like Zeke Elliott, Amari Cooper, Travis Fulgham and, hopefully, Miles Sanders (see above).

Behind a patchwork offensive line that will be facing an Eagles’ defense with a good pass rush, DiNucci’s first NFL start is more likely to be a flop than a success, but if you have some money to gamble in DFS, he could still do enough to help you build a winning showdown lineup.

Interestingly, DiNucci won’t be the first Pitt transfer to start an NFL game this season.

Joe Flacco, who forgettably was a backup QB for the Panthers in 2004 before moving on to Delaware and then became a Super Bowl winner in Baltimore, made a pair of starts for the Jets earlier this season.

Week 8 Fantasy Plays and Fades

(Note: These picks come from the week’s consensus Top 12 rankings at each position)

Top Plays

QB Aaron Rodgers (GB vs. MIN)

RB Derrick Henry (TEN at CIN)

WR D.K. Metcalf (SEA vs. SF)

TE George Kittle (SF at SEA)

DEF Tampa Bay (at NYG)

Top Fades

QB Josh Allen (BUF vs. NE)

RB Josh Jacobs (LV at CLE)

WR Adam Thielen (MIN at GB)

TE Rob Gronkowski (TB at NYG)

DEF Baltimore (vs. PIT)

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