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AFC North Bold Predictions for 2023 Fantasy Football

The AFC North is the Cincinnati Bengals’ to lose. After two straight AFC Conference Championship game appearances and a Super Bowl loss, Cincy feels like they’re on the cusp of finally taking home the Lombardi Trophy. However, the rest of the division continues to load up on talent to have a crack at it themselves.

After all, three quarterbacks from the AFC North, including Burrow, are inside the top 10 of the Fantrax quarterback consensus rankings. A bold prediction from each team could be enough to tip the scales in one way or another this season and, in turn, affect the fantasy football landscape.

I am continuing to highlight one fantasy football-related bold prediction from each team, division by division, until the start of the 2023 NFL season. These predictions will hopefully get the gears in your head turning. Most are positive while others may be negative. The likeliness that every single one of these predictions hits is certainly not 100%.  However, they should generate some buzz or cause you to think twice about each player. Just be confident in your feelings when you’re on the clock.

Be sure to check out bold predictions from the other divisions all summer long on Fantrax as well as follow me on Twitter @Colin_McT for plenty more fantasy football content.

What!? Your fantasy football league wasn’t hosted on Fantrax last season!? Once you see how Fantrax stacks up to the competition, we think you’ll be singing a different tune this season.

AFC North Bold Predictions for 2023 Fantasy Football

Baltimore Ravens

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: J.K. Dobbins rushes fewer than 150 times in double-digit games played

I feel like the last piece of this bold prediction is worth mentioning because it’s not very bold as a standalone statement to say that Dobbins records fewer than 150 carries. His career-high is just 134 in a single season. However, he’s played in just 23 games over three seasons due to injury. I’m making the claim that he still won’t reach the 150-carry mark if healthy enough to play in more than half of the Ravens’ games in 2023.

Baltimore ranks 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 6th respectively since 2019 in team rush attempts. That’s mostly in part to quarterback Lamar Jackson’s tendency to take off running since earning the starting job in 2019. Since that time, only one player, running back, Mark Ingram, has recorded 200 or more carries on the Ravens’ offense. That’s with a team average of 548.5 rush attempts per season since 2019.

I expect this trend to continue in 2023. Baltimore’s backfield should operate as a committee with Dobbins seeing most of the touches in the run game. However, Gus Edwards and even Justice Hill, should see their fair share of touches, especially given the injuries to all involved over the years. The Ravens also added Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers to their wide receiver room. In the new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken’s system, we should see Lamar moving the ball through the air more in 2023.

All things considered, while some are expecting a big breakout, I’m projecting low-end RB2 numbers from Dobbins this season. Unless he gets more involved as a receiver or leads the league in rushing scores, it’s hard to imagine him producing any higher value than that. His 5.9 yards per carry career average gives him a solid floor, but I’m more interested in the volume players like Dameon Pierce, Miles Sanders, and Rachaad White offer with similar draft capital.

Cincinnati Bengals

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Joe Burrow leads the league in pass attempts

From 2021 to 2022, Burrow went from throwing 520 times in 15 games to 606 times in 16 games season to season. That’s a difference of 32.5 times per game to 37.875 times per game. Even with the jump, Burrow still ranked fifth in attempts last season. Had he kept pace for the full 17 games, he would’ve tied Kirk Cousin with the fourth-most attempts (643) in 2022.

My bold prediction for Burrow in 2023 is that he leads all quarterbacks in attempts. If you play in a fantasy league with fractional points for attempts or completions, this is music to your ears. Last year’s league leader, Tom Brady, and his NFL record 733 attempts, are off into retirement. That leaves Burrow likely to compete with the usual suspects of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert and perhaps Kirk Cousins or Deshaun Watson.

The Cincinnati Bengals have the best group of starting wide receivers in the NFL. That’s the trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. As far as their backfield goes, it’s Joe Mixon as the lead back with Chris Evans and rookie Chase Brown behind him. After a tremendous 2021 season, Mixon recorded his lowest attempts per game (15.0) and rushing yards per game (58.1) averages since 2018. He’s now set to enter his seventh NFL season with 1,545 career touches.

With tough divisional matchups as well as games against top-tier teams such as the 49ers, Bills, and Chiefs, I think the Bengals will throw a ton this season. Putting the ball in Joe Burrow’s hands gives them the best chance at winning. Period. Cincy has a solid offensive line, with the addition of Orlando Brown Jr., and should give Burrow a clean pocket all season long. If possible, I’m stacking Burrow with any one of Chase, Higgins, or Boyd on my redraft rosters in fantasy football this season.

Cleveland Browns

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Amari Cooper sets career-highs in receptions, yards, touchdowns

Amari Cooper is quarterback Deshaun Watson’s top target in Cleveland. Cooper’s not quite at the level of DeAndre Hopkins, but in Houston, we saw the kind of seasons Hopkins put up as Watson’s top guy from 2017 through 2019. As Watson enters his first full season as the Browns’ starter, my bold prediction yields a career year for Cooper.

Cleveland is now one year into Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed $230 million contract. This year, though, he’s beyond the suspension that spurred trading for him in the first place. With such a heavy financial investment, there’s reason to believe the Browns want Watson to throw more in 2023. His 28.33 attempts per game in six games with the Browns last year was down from 32.87 attempts in 57 games, including playoffs, as the starter in Houston. Trading a second-round pick for receiver Elijah Moore, drafting receiver Cedric Tillman, and letting Kareem Hunt walk in free agency is further indication of this.

Amari Cooper is likely a salary cap casualty next off-season, as well. If released or traded after June 1, 2024, the Browns will save $20 million against the 2024 salary cap while taking on just $10.2 million in dead cap money. That’s just before Amari Cooper’s 30th birthday.

Amari Cooper has seen at least 96 targets in all eight seasons of his career on three different teams. He has a career average of 7.6 targets per game and saw a career-high 132 in Cleveland last season. He is a true WR1 for the Browns team and should see the majority of Watson’s looks this season. Assuming Watson has shaken the rust off and this team takes a pass-heavier approach, Cooper is set up for major success in 2023.

A stat line of 93/1,190/10 would be career-highs in each category. I think those numbers are in the realm of possibilities as he caught 78 passes for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns just last season with Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson throwing him the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Diontae Johnson scores 10 receiving touchdowns

Diontae Johnson is a glaringly obvious bounce-back candidate for the 2023 fantasy football season. After finishing as the WR8 on a points-per-game (17.5) basis in 2021, Johnson’s 10.8 points per game in 2022 land him at WR44. There’s already a faction of fantasy football managers who will refuse to draft him in 2023 for this reason.

However, looking at Diontae Johnson’s numbers from 2021 to 2022, he caught 21 fewer passes for just 275 yards. That’s 48.5 total PPR points of a difference, which averages out to 2.85 points per game over a 17-game season. The biggest reason for Johnson’s one-year drop is that he scored ZERO touchdowns. Having scored eight the year prior, that’s a 48.0 point difference, equivalent to the difference of both his receptions and yards. Even if he scored four touchdowns last year, that’s at least a WR36 finish which is a back-end WR3.

Ahead of the 2023 season, quarterback Kenny Pickett gets a full off-season taking starter reps in camp. Additionally, Pittsburgh emphasized improving their offensive line this off-season, as well. Other than that, this offense is generally the same as last year. While Diontae Johnson’s production isn’t a season to remember, he still led the team in targets with 147. That’s 49 more than the next closest pass catcher. In fact, his 147 targets rank eighth amongst all positions last season. His 16 red zone targets also rank 18th among all players. It’s actually crazy he didn’t score one touchdown.

So, while many are writing Johnson off for 2023, I’m making him a priority for my fantasy rosters. He’s going to lead the Steelers in targets and I expect Pickett to take a step forward as the full-season starter. Positive touchdown regression is coming, and I think Diontae Johnson cashes in in a big way and hauls in a career-high 10 scores in 2023.

For more great rankings and analysis, make sure to check out our 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!

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