It’s hard to recap the draft without thinking about Andy Reid’s Tommy Bahama shirts, or what exactly was happening in Mike Vrabel’s draft-room. Still, there are post-draft fantasy reactions to be discussed. For now, I guess the mystery of Vrabel’s setup remains unsolved. There were plenty of winners and losers this past weekend that are going to have a significant impact on fantasy football. I’ll be looking at each division in the AFC to let you know what their draft haul means for your rosters. Let’s head up to the AFC North to start the post-draft fantasy previews tour!
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Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: AFC North
What a disappointing end to the season for last year’s MVP Lamar Jackson and the AFC North winners. Following a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Ravens rebounded with a strong crop of young talent in the draft.
In standard-scoring leagues, the last quarterback to finish as the QB1 in back-to-back seasons was Daunte Culpepper in 2004. Given Lamar Jackson’s ability to weave through defenses with his legs, he’s as good a contender for a repeat No. 1 performance as anyone. The one area of his game that’s bound to slip is his insane touchdown rate. He threw a touchdown on 9% of his pass attempts last year. While that number is bound to slip, adding another weapon in Devin Duvernay offers him a safe floor in the passing game. He’ll go as the first quarterback in drafts this year, and rightfully so.
Day two of the draft proved to be frustrating after most of the elite running back prospects landed in timeshare situations. J.K. Dobbins fell into a Mark Ingram led Ravens backfield just one spot before Miami was on the clock. The Dolphins would have been great for Dobbins in the short-term. Prior to Miami trading for Matt Breida, Jordan Howard was the only viable show in town. Despite the opportunity for immediate production in Miami, Baltimore is the perfect destination for Dobbins’ long-term outlook. Baltimore has a young franchise quarterback and a run-friendly playbook. What more could you ask for?
Mark Ingram has been plenty productive in his NFL career. He’s coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season with 15 total touchdowns. He hasn’t shown any signs of letting up, but he’ll be 31 by the end of the season. The Ravens clearly felt the need to line up a replacement for the aging running back. If Ingram can manage to stay healthy for the duration of the season, Dobbins doesn’t project to be a fantasy starter. That isn’t to say Dobbins won’t see the field. Last season, Gus Edwards compiled 140 touches as Ingram’s backup. After spending a second-round pick on a player that John Harbaugh stated was the top running back on their draft board, Edwards will likely be relegated to third on the depth chart.
There won’t be a significant change in the Ravens backfield this season, but Dobbins should be considered as a late-round flier in redraft leagues. In dynasty, however, Dobbins is a first-round commodity.
Outside of rookie Marquise Brown, who only caught 47 passes, the Ravens lacked dynamic playmaking receivers in 2019. Lamar Jackson had to rely on Mark Andrews as his primary weapon through the air. Behind the Eagles, the Ravens threw to their tight ends the second-most in the league with a whopping 180 targets. Brown should take a step forward in his sophomore year, but Baltimore added Devin Duvernay in the third round as insurance. Duvernay won’t matter much in redraft leagues, but he does limit the opportunity for Miles Boykin to break out. Baltimore also added SMU’s James Proche with their sixth-round pick, but he won’t have a significant impact. Brown should be the only Ravens receiver on your radar come draft season.
The pecking order in Baltimore begins with Mark Andrews. He hauled in double-digit touchdowns last season, and he’s still Jackson’s go-to option. The only knock on Andrews is the addition of Devin Duvernay who could take away some of Andrews’ production in the middle of the field. The threat Duvernay poses isn’t substantial though, and Andrews is a locked and loaded elite tight end for 2020.
The Bengals had a dreadful showing last season. The team finished last in the AFC North and near the bottom of almost every major statistical category. Thankfully, they get last year’s first-round tackle Jonah Williams and star receiver A.J. Green back from injury to right the ship on offense. Immediately after the draft, Head Coach Zac Taylor has been outspoken about the lack of holes on his team’s roster. While he may be overly optimistic, Cincinnati is going to be a fun team to watch this season.
Does it count as a post-draft fantasy preview if we’ve been expecting this outcome for months? To no one’s surprise, the Bengals took Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick. With Burrow likely taking the reins, Andy Dalton’s status hangs in the balance. Recent reports have speculated about a quarterback controversy heading into training camp, but that seems highly unlikely. Keep in mind, this is a team that benched Dalton last season to see what they had in Ryan Finley. Expect to see Burrow under center come Week 1.
Burrow is walking into a unique situation in Cincinnati. A rookie quarterback rarely has as many weapons at his disposal as the Bengals offer. Their wide receiver corps is among the deepest in the league, especially after adding Tee Higgins to the mix. When Dalton was the starter, he had a handful of serviceable fantasy weeks. Mind you, this was all without A.J. Green on the field.
The biggest question mark in the Cincinnati offense is whether or not running back Joe Mixon holds out to start the season. He not only provides stability in the run game, but the combination of him and Giovani Bernard make a dynamic pass-catching duo out of the backfield. If Mixon holds out, defenses won’t be intimidated by Bernard and Trayveon Williams toting the rock. Their opponents can then load up in the secondary and make life difficult for the rookie quarterback.
Burrow has the kind of pinpoint accuracy that allows him to make any throw that’s asked of him. Not only does he carve up secondaries, but teams have to account for his ability to scramble and make plays with his feet. If Green and Mixon are on the field, Burrow offers late-round value in fantasy drafts as a high-end QB2.
Zac Taylor didn’t add anyone to his stable of running backs in the draft. Their leading man Joe Mixon will get the lion’s share of the work if he doesn’t hold out. Some of the passing downs work will go to Giovani Bernard, but he’s only a late-round handcuff. For everyone’s sake, hopefully, the Bengals can work out a long-term deal with Mixon.
With A.J. Green and John Ross both set to become free agents next season, there was a strong possibility that the Bengals would draft a receiver. Taking Tee Higgins in the second round, however, was unexpected. Fittingly, Tee Higgins’ NFL player comparison is A.J. Green. Green is going to be 32 when the season begins, and before missing all of last season, he missed seven games in 2018. Despite his injuries, he recently signed his franchise-tag. The Bengals aren’t likely to pay up next season, and it appears they’re already grooming his successor.
Pairing Higgins up with Burrow at the beginning of their careers makes Higgins a first-round dynasty pick. Although in redraft, rookie wide receivers rarely make a fantasy splash. The problem with this addition to the team is what he does to the fantasy value of his peers. If Green is healthy, he’s the alpha. Not only will he be their WR1, but he’ll also be a steal in drafts with fantasy owners scared off due to injury concerns. Ross and Tyler Boyd, on the other hand, now have capped upside. Aside from Green, take caution when grabbing a Bengals receiver in your draft.
There were more pressing needs on Cincinnati’s roster, but it’s a shame they didn’t add a tight end. The Bengals don’t have a legitimate pass-catching option at the position. Their leading man C.J. Uzomah is a better blocker than he is a receiver. Burrow has too many weapons to consider taking Uzomah with even a late-round pick.
What an exciting offseason it was for Cleveland last year. The long plagued franchise finally offered a glimmer of hope of becoming a Super Bowl contender. How did the Browns handle the hype? Well, they played like the Browns.
For all the talent the Browns brought in on offense, head coach Freddie Kitchens couldn’t put things together. Pro Football Focus ranked Cleveland’s offensive line 23rd in the league. They didn’t much help their young quarterback, and Baker looked like a deer in headlights. Luckily, there is still plenty of talent on the roster, and a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. should help improve their underperforming offense.
The Browns made an effort this offseason to protect and develop their former No. 1 pick. When pressured last season, Baker only managed to complete 45.5% of passes. Cleveland not only drafted Jedrick Willis Jr. with their first pick, but they also brought in former Titans tackle Jack Conklin. Both additions to the offensive line should help Baker immensely by providing him more time in the pocket.
As far as pass-catching options go, both Jarvis Landy and Odell remain on the team. To complement their pair of studs, the Browns signed tight end Austin Hooper in free agency. If that wasn’t enough, Cleveland drafted Florida Atlantic’s tight end Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones out of Michigan. The strengthening of both the offensive line and receiving options make Baker a prime bounce-back candidate in 2020.
With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt leading the way in Cleveland, the team was wise not to draft a running back. It’s going to be interesting to see how Hunt affects Chubb now that he’s eligible to play an entire season. When Hunt joined the action in Week 10, he limited Chubb’s production in the passing game. Chubb went from averaging 19.7 points in PPR to 13 points following Hunt’s return. Cleveland’s situation is reminiscent of Atlanta when Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were in charge of the backfield. Freeman was the first and second-down back, and Coleman lit up defenses with his receiving abilities on third-down. Hunt is the ultimate handcuff, and he provides flex-value in PPR leagues. Meanwhile, Chubb will still be their leading rusher, but his upside is severely limited by Hunt’s presence.
The addition of Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones was nothing more than a depth move. Before drafting him, the Browns lacked a viable third option at the position. Both Odell and Jarvis are locked into long-term deals making the rookie a late-round dynasty stash at best. Barring a trade or injury, Peoples-Jones won’t be a fantasy factor early in his career.
Newly hired head coach Kevin Stefanski utilizes two tight end sets frequently in his offense. Hooper and David Njoku figured to be a rather formidable tandem. Then the draft happened. The Browns took Harrison Bryant, who was considered by some to be the best tight end in the draft, with their fourth-round pick.
Before leaving Atlanta, Hooper had just shy of a 15% target share last season. Even as the top dog in this rotation, there are simply too many mouths to feed in this offense. Steer clear of Cleveland’s tight ends.
After losing Ben Roethlisberger in the second game of the season, the Steelers put up a respectable 9-7 record. If not for the horrendous quarterback play, they may have been wildcard weekend participants. In the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers have been among the top fantasy offenses year in and year out. 2020 didn’t yield their typical results. Steelers, meet Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph. Devlin, Mason, meet the ire of fantasy owners everywhere. Hopefully, with Big Ben’s return, Pittsburgh’s playmakers can earn their way back into your lineup.
We can all take a deep sigh of relief. Ben is back! Sure, given his history he’s one big hit away from another injury. For now, let’s just rejoice in his return. Roethlisberger comes back to a crowded, but talented group of young receiving options. If he’s healthy and ready to go, Pittsburgh’s offense has the chance to rebound in a major way. Assuming he doesn’t miss time, Ben is going to be a draft-day value. If you like to punt at quarterback and pair two late-round options together, Roethlisberger is your man. He offers QB1 upside, and he’s a perfect QB2 candidate in two-quarterback leagues.
It seems odd that Pittsburgh didn’t address this position in a meaningful way. Sure, they added Anthony McFarland Jr. with a fourth-round pick, but he’s hardly any threat to James Conner. The incoming rookie is a speedster, but he’s too small and injury-prone to be a three-down running back in the league. If not for Conner’s injury history, McFarland Jr. probably wouldn’t be mentioned. If you take the chance on Conner, pay close attention to Pittsburgh’s training camp and preseason for a glimpse of who his handcuff might be. It’s likely going to be Benny Snell Jr., but it’s a situation that bears watching.
JuJu Smith-Schuster was considered an elite fantasy option going into drafts last year. Things didn’t quite pan out for him. Between dealing with injuries and the Devlin-Rudolph train wreck, he couldn’t get it going. His athleticism and familiarity with Ben should elevate him back to a solid fantasy starter. The rest of his crew faces a bit more uncertainty with the addition of Pittsburgh’s second-round pick Chase Claypool.
The rookie receiver out of Notre Dame has a unique combination of size and speed that allows him to make plays all over the field. Anyone with stock in James Washington should be none too pleased about this selection. Washington flashed throughout the season, but he’s yet to live up to his draft value. Washington operates on the outside, and he’ll now have to compete with the rookie for the third spot on the depth chart. While Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson will be mostly unaffected, Claypool deflates some of the air out of Washington’s tires.
Vance McDonald got some company this offseason. Eric Ebron joined the team and effectively tanked McDonald’s fantasy value. With a stud tandem like Pittsburgh has, it wasn’t necessary for the team to address the position in the draft. Neither of the two should inspire excitement, but Ebron offers weekly upside with his touchdown potential.
Stay tuned for more post-draft fantasy previews over the next two weeks!
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