Home Division Previews AFC North Breakdown Part I

AFC North Breakdown Part I

Hey guys,

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Matt and I’m one half of The Fantasy Ashes. My mate Kev and I are both Fantasy Football degenerates and we decided that we should write some of our thoughts down. That did two things. 1) Stopped us from joining any more start up Dynasty Leagues (serious problem) and 2) Gave us a dream to launch our very own website which, I’m excited to say, we have done! It has been a wild ride so far but one I am thoroughly enjoying. You can check it out at www.thefantasyashes.com.

Anyway, enough about that. I am very excited to have the opportunity to write some stuff for Rowan and Arch AKA The TFL Podcast. If you aren’t already listening to their pod, what are you waiting for? Specifically check out their AFC North Preview show here. They offer great insight into all things Fantasy and cater to all levels of Fantasy Football experience. Writing for them is something I hope to be able to continue to do. Thanks for the platform guys!

I am looking forward to watching the AFC North in 2020. Four teams all with big, Fantasy relevant questions heading into the NFL season. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offence had a historic season in 2019. Can they repeat that again in 2020, or have we seen their best? The Cincinnati Bengals first overall draft pick Joe Burrow has Dynasty players foaming at the mouth following his enormous College year. The question is, will that translate to the NFL? The Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr led Cleveland Browns broke a lot of Fantasy players hearts in 2019. Will they finally deliver on promise? Big Ben comes back to be under centre for the Steelers once again (JuJu fans sigh in relief), but is Big Ben, and therefore, that offence washed?

There is no doubt that the AFC North is stacked with Fantasy relevant players. Join me as I dive into each (Fantasy relevant) player on each team and the Fantasy outlook for them in 2020. Please note, this is a surface level look and not an in-depth analysis. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @ashes_fantasy if you have any questions about this article or Fantasy Football in general.

***All ADP referenced is as per Sleeper, single QB, redraft league***

Baltimore Ravens

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Man the Ravens were fun to watch last year. A high octane, incredibly efficient Run Pass Option (RPO) offence. They ranked number 1 in total points scored and number 1 in rushing yards. Long story short, the Baltimore Ravens were gold for fantasy. I don’t expect that trend to change any coming in to 2020. The Ravens will run the same RPO offence and I expect them to be the top rushing team for 2020. The Ravens have an elite defence meaning their offence will have a lot of opportunities to be on the field. That my friends, translates to Fantasy money. The Ravens are very much in their Super Bowl window and they will be going to avenge the ghost of a disappointing Divisional Round loss to the surprise packet that was the Tennessee Titans.

Quarterbacks:

Lamar Jackson

Lamar was a Fantasy beast last year. An electric runner with a more than serviceable arm, it is no exaggeration to say that Lamar won people championships last year. People rode Lamar Jackson’s 421.7 half PPR Fantasy points (aided by a QB record 1206 rushing yards) to championship glory. There isn’t much to say about him. He should dominate again this year and be in the conversation for the #1 Fantasy QB. I’m not going to sell you on the arguments FOR Lamar Jackson. His record last year speaks for itself. Instead I am going to give you a couple of arguments AGAINST Lamar Jackson.

I owned Lamar Jackson in a couple of leagues last year, and it was fun. So much fun. But what made Lamar Jackson such a great pick was not the fact he finished with so many fantasy points, but the fact he finished with so many points and was drafted so late. I picked Lamar Jackson as a late round QB once I had filled the majority of the rest of my roster. While Patrick Mahomes was the Fantasy darling, Lamar Jackson languished in relatively innocuous mediocrity in terms of his draft capital. So when the QB drafted in the 15-20 range blew up to have one of the all time great fantasy years, it was gold. But that was then. This is now.

Even entry level Fantasy players who don’t follow the game closely have cottoned on to who Lamar Jackson is, and his current Average Draft Position (ADP) reflects it. Lamar Jackson is going in the first couple of rounds. First round in a Superflex league. For me that is eye watering. I don’t like to take QBs early because all QBs can score big points. Not just the elite ones. What drafting a QB early means, is that you will miss out on an elite RB or WR. Positions that can have significant drop offs in value if you don’t get one.

Given this isn’t an article about drafting late round QBs I’ll get the point. At Lamar Jackson’s current ADP he is being drafted at his ceiling; meaning he is too expensive for my taste. Unless I own him in a keeper league or a dynasty league, I won’t have him on my team. There is no way Lamar Jackson outperforms where you draft him. Best case scenario he equals it. There is a chance however, a big chance, that he underperforms.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying Lamar stinks and will be bad for Fantasy. That isn’t true. Lamar Jackson will score big Fantasy points. What I am saying is that the position he is being drafted means there is a huge amount of risk. If he doesn’t perform you have lost a high draft pick. Every year there are QBs drafted in the later rounds that score big Fantasy points and they are the players I’m after.

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Running Backs:

Mark Ingram

A veteran who continually churns out Fantasy production yet is perennially disrespected. And 2020 is certainly not going to be an exception to that rule. Last year Mark Ingram punched in 10 TDs and added another 5 through the air, leading to an RB 8 finish come seasons end. Mark Ingram is extremely talented both on the ground and in the passing game. You add that talent to a team that is very well coached and has the reigning League MVP and it is a recipe for success.

Mark Ingram is currently coming of the board at RB 25. 25!! While this is crazy I think there are two reasons for this. The first reason is J.K. Dobbins. The Ravens took Dobbins in round 2 at pick 55 overall. That’s some significant draft capital. To give you a preview for my take on Dobbins: I love him. He is an electric, talented runner who is more than serviceable in the passing game and more importantly for NFL coaches, he is a very good blocker. Draft capital plus talent plus a good offence spells fantasy gold and I am all aboard. That doesn’t change the fact however, that in 2020 Mark Ingram is the guy. I fully expect Dobbins to be the back up behind Ingram.

This brings me to the second reason Ingram’s ADP is in the basement. His age. Mark Ingram is 30. That is hella old for a Running Back (I wince as I write this as I’m 31. My potential NFL playing dream is all but over). People assume therefore that Mark Ingram is done. Anyone who says that Mark Ingram won’t produce this year didn’t watch the Baltimore Ravens last year. The guy was a beast and he will be again. There is no doubt Mark Ingram is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but don’t write him off yet.

The fact Mark Ingram’s ADP is so low is the exact reason I want him. It is almost guaranteed that Ingram will out produce where you draft him. Even if Dobbins get’s some work, the Ravens RPO offence will provide more than enough opportunity for Ingram to be more than relevant. In terms of his age, if I’m competing in a Dynasty League I am going after Ingram as hard as I can. You will almost get him for free and I promise you, you will be very happy having him on your team. Go get Mark Ingram guys. 

J.K. Dobbins 

As stated above, I am all aboard the J.K. Dobbins train in Dynasty Leagues. Electric runner, solid pass catcher, great blocker. He has the skill set for a genuine 3 down Running Back. When you have one of those on the best rushing offence in the NFL, it’s a recipe for success. In rookie drafts he is right behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Johnathan Taylor for me. I have him there knowing full well that he is a play for 2021 and beyond. This year he will sit behind Ingram. No doubt he is involved, but it will be an impossible task picking the weeks when he is a good play. Dobbins in 2020 is no more than a very high upside handcuff. The fact that I am seeing Dobbins go ahead of Ingram in some Redraft Leagues is madness. Go get Mark Ingram guys.

Gus Edwards

The Gus bus will struggle to leave the station this year as he won’t see much of the field. Worth paying attention to him on the waivers should Ingram or Dobbins get injured. Should both get injured (please God no), fire up the Gus bus.

Justice Hill 

RIP Justice Hill’s fantasy prospects 2019-2020

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Wide Receivers:

Marquise Brown

What Marquise (Hollywood) Brown was able to achieve last year doesn’t get enough credit. Coming off the Lisfranc injury (see Evan Engram) that required surgery, Brown still managed to finish as a top 50 (46 overall) Wide Receiver. That’s impressive given he had barely any preseason to speak of, only played 14 games and, most importantly was a rookie Wide Out in a run first offence. The reality is rookie Wide Receivers can take some time to develop. They are much slower to hit Fantasy relevance than rookie Running Backs are. Couple that knowledge with the fact that the Ravens had the lowest run to pass ratio in the league (simply meaning they ran a whole lot more than they passed) and Marquise Brown had a stellar season.

He has all the talent to become a viable deep threat in the NFL which can equate to Fantasy points. The problem will be however, his Fantasy points will not be consistent or reliable. Hollywood will absolutely have blow up games this coming season. I fully expect him to finish higher than last year’s WR 46, but there is no way I want to be in a position where I have to rely on Brown as my WR 1,2 or even 3.

I don’t like being in a position where I don’t know if I’m going to get 20+ fantasy points, or 0. That is the reality of drafting Brown. Given his ADP is currently WR 28, he won’t be on many of my teams. I will draft players like Landry, Parker or Boyd who are all being drafted in a similar range and have much safer floors, albeit lower ceilings.

Willie Snead

Do not draft. He will have games where he annoys you by sharking one of Andrews Red Zone targets for a touchdown, but there is no way he should be on your roster unless you are in a very deep league. 

Miles Boykin

See above.

Devin Duvernay

See above with an asterisk. Duvernay is an exceptional athlete. Exceptional. The dude is really, really fast, has strong hands and most importantly, lines up in the slot. I say most importantly as a target to a player lined up in the slot, averages 1.1 more fantasy points than a target on the outside over the course of the past 5 years.  Given the Ravens spent 3rd round draft capital on him and his skill set, there is a path to Fantasy relevance. That being said, Duvernay is a do not draft in Redraft Leagues but a tantalising prospect in Dynasty Leagues. Especially given he is going in the 3rd-4th round in rookie drafts.

Tight Ends:

Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews won me multiple Fantasy leagues last year (See Lamar Jackson). It was the breakout many Fantasy Experts (including me if you excuse the self-pat on the back) predicted. In just 15 games he caught an impressive 64 of 98 targets (65% catch percentage) for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. This gave you a TE 4 finish. Mark Andrews was an absolute gold mine given he was being drafted as the TE 12 or later. But, as is the case after all breakouts, people have cottoned on.

Mark Andrews is currently being drafted as the 3rd TE off the board and rightly so. What this means however, is you are drafting him at his ceiling. You can cut and paste the argument I made about Lamar Jackson and place it here because it is just as relevant. It is very unlikely Andrews returns value on the high price you pay for him.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. Mark Andrews is an elite Tight End. The chemistry he has with Lamar Jackson is undeniable and he will feast in the RedZone once again. He is a big play guy who could absolutely beat his stats from last season. If that’s the case, you would be very happy having him on your team. But where you have to draft Andrews this year, he would need to beat last years stats just to break even on the draft price. That’s not a risk I am personally willing to take. That all being said, Andrews is a lock for a top 5 TE finish. 

Nick Boyle

Not much to be said about Boyle. He shouldn’t be rostered at all in redraft. Will be worth looking at as a Tight End streaming option should Andrews miss time.

Cincinnati Bengals

This might be a hot take but I don’t think the Bengals will be last in the league. In fact, I think they significantly improve. I can see this team having 5 wins (I know, I know, hot take). They have a massively improved the Offensive Line which was by far the biggest problem the Bengals had last year. The return of Jonah Williams at Left Tackle after a season ending injury cannot be understated. I expect the Bengals to be a much better offence than in 2019. If their defence can show anything, expect improvement from this team. 

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Quarterbacks:

Joe Burrow

The single greatest College season for a Quarterback OF ALL TIME. Truly historic. What Burrow achieved for Louisiana State University is truly remarkable and he deserved the Heisman Trophy and his billing as the number 1 overall NFL draft pick. How does this translate to the NFL? Burrow finds himself in the unenviable position of shouldering the burden of expectation for an entire city never mind an entire franchise. Burrow has the skill set. That’s not up for debate. Burrow also seems to have the temperament needed to succeed at the highest-pressure position in the NFL. It remains to be seen however, whether or not he can make the jump from College star to NFL star.

What we do know, is that Burrow is surrounded by weapons. Green, Boyd and Mixon are all outstanding talents who will aide their rookie signal caller. The Bengals also have a much-improved Offensive Line which is a good things because last year it was diabolical. In terms of Fantasy relevance, Burrow is easily a top Rookie pick in Superflex and worthy of a mid-round rookie pick in single QB leagues. In terms of redraft, I think Burrow will be in the QB 12-20 range. Meaning he should be rostered in Superflex leagues (all 32 QBs should be) but is only a streaming candidate in single QB leagues.

I’m excited to watch Burrow in 2020. That being said, proceed with caution when it comes to your Fantasy Football teams. Rookie fever is a real thing and when a player is the number 1 NFL pick overall, that is only exacerbated. Don’t over-draft or over pay for a player that is yet to complete a pass at NFL level.

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Running Backs:

Joe Mixon

I love Joe Mixon. Big love. Should be taken mid to late 1st round love. Mixon is one of the few Running Backs that has a genuine bell cow skill set. Dynamic between the tackles, elite pass catcher (relative to Running Backs) and blocks well enough to be on the field for the majority of plays. There isn’t much to not like. Fantasy players were burned however, when Mixon had a slow start to the season. Then, what happened after the Bengals bye, was Fantasy gold. So what happened you might ask? Did Mixon suddenly remember how to play football?

I think the blame for Mixon’s less than ideal Fantasy output to begin the 2019 season can be placed at the feet of the play calling. From weeks 1-8, Mixon averaged only 12.6 carries per game. That is putrid for a bell cow back. To make matters worse, he punched in precisely 0 TDs on the ground. If it wasn’t for the 3 TDs passes he caught, there is a strong chance Mixon could have ended up on the Waiver Wire.

There is a saying in the Fantasy Football landscape. Opportunity is king. And in 2019, Mixon proved just that. 12.6 carries is not much of an opportunity. But then something amazing happened. The Bengals woke up after the bye week and decided to feed the man. Mixon went from averaging 12.6 carries weeks 1-8 to an eye watering 22.1 carries from weeks 10-17. You’d never believe it but in that span Mixon all of a sudden started scoring BIG Fantasy points. 16, 16, 8, 15, 26, 17, 8 and 30. They were his scores in that span. Talent was never the problem for Mixon. He just wasn’t getting the ball. Opportunity is king.

I project that the Bengals will utilise Mixon in a way that his talent demands. He is easily a top 5 running back in terms of his skill set. Given the Bengals have a young QB they are pinning the hopes and dreams of a franchise upon, I imagine they will lean on arguably the best player on the roster. There are rumours about a potential Mixon holdout if he doesn’t sign a new deal. To me that just means his ADP is slipping to the mid second round which is an absolute steal. Go get yourself some Mixon shares.

Gio Bernard

Want to know something hilarious about Gio Bernard? He is paid more than Mixon, hence the rumoured hold out. Want to hear something even more hilarious? Before Henry (Franchise Tag), Drake (Transition Tag), Gordon and McCaffery signed new deals, Gio was a top 10 paid Running Back in the NFL. Big yikes. There is a reason the Bengals franchise ended up with the number 1 overall pick folks. Gio will hold value should Mixon hold out (please God no), otherwise not worth a roster spot. 

Trayveon Williams

 Sneaky late round flyer in Dynasty Leagues. Other than that, completely irrelevant.

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Wide Receivers:

A.J. Green

A.J. Green is in the conversation when talking about the best physical beasts at Wide Receiver (see Julio Jones and Antonio Brown) over the past 5 years. In full flight, A.J. Green is a sight to behold. I remember (fondly, as I owned him in Fantasy) Green lighting up the Ravens in round 2 of 2018 for 3 TDs. 3 TDs in the FIRST HALF! It was a brutal display of one player completely dominating his opponent. Few players in the league are capable of such a feat. Unfortunately, Green got injured that year and hasn’t seen the NFL field since round 13 2018.

The Bengals are reporting Green back to 100% health. In theory that’s great. The reality is however, that Green carries a huge amount of risk. Given his age and injury profile, Green is virtually worthless in Dynasty Leagues. If he falls late enough in Redraft, he may be worth a late round gamble. Sigh. I’ll always remember that first half hat-trick.

Tyler Boyd

What if I told you that you could draft a player who is a lock for 120+ targets lining up in the slot (where targets are statistically worth more fantasy points) as the 34th Wide Receiver off the board. You’d bite my hand off. Well guess what? That is exactly what I am telling you about Tyler Boyd. Boyd had 147 targets in 2019 and 108 targets (14 games) in 2018. Both years he had over 1000 yards. That’s about as safe of a floor as you can get. No Boyd isn’t going to have blow up, week winning weeks. That’s not his style of play.

He also won’t completely burn your week either. He will graft out week after week of 6-15 targets a game and go about his business. It won’t be flashy, but my word will it be reliable. At his draft cost, he is criminally undervalued. He will absolutely finish higher than where he is being drafted. I love Tyler Boyd as a flex player that I can count on week in and week out. I see Boyd as a Jarvis Landry or Julian Edelman type who just won’t ever let you down. Get your hands on Boyd everywhere you can.

Tee Higgins

Tee Higgins is one of my favourite Rookie wide Receivers. I love the fact that his size and athletic profile are comparable to his now teammate A.J. Green. If Higgins can learn from one of the best to do it in modern times, the future is bright. A lot can be said for the fact that the Bengals used such high draft capital on him (pick 33 overall) and the fact that he was the second player taken after the new darling of the franchise. They clearly view Higgins as their weapon of choice for Burrow given how many excellent Wide Receiver prospects were left on the board.

Higgins is absolutely worth the high second round rookie pick in Dynasty Leagues where he is currently being drafted. However, as is the case with all rookie Wide Outs, proceed with caution in Redraft Leagues. Given how thirsty people are for rookies, Higgins will not make many of my rosters. In the years to come, watch this space. There is no denying his talent and opportunity.

Tight Ends:

C.J. Uzomah

Uzomah is going undrafted in redraft leagues. The reason is quite simple. He isn’t a reliable week in, week out option. The reality is though, when Uzomah has been healthy (granted this is rare) during periods when Tyler Eifert was injured (which was all the time), he has returned Fantasy value. Uzomah is a player I have down as an interesting Tight End streaming option should you decide to punt the Tight End position in your drafts (and if you don’t draft George Kittle or Travis Kelce you almost definitely should). Uzomah is someone I can see returning value against weaker defences (See Cardinals 2019. A Tight Ends dream). All that being said, Uzomah should not be drafted.

Drew Sample

See above but younger with more of a reputation as a pass blocker and the clear number 2 on the team. Nothing to see here.

Well that is the first half of my AFC North preview. Stay tuned for the second installment (check it out here) as I breakdown the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Again, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @ashes_fantasy if you have any Fantasy Football questions!

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