AFC North Pre Draft Offseason Risers and Fallers
Our penultimate divisional offseason recap takes us to the rugged NFC North where defense has reigned for decades could now be home to one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Thereʼs plenty to discuss with these teams ahead of the draft so letʼs jump right in:
Coaching Changes - The Ravens have 40made many moves this offseason that prove they are all in on running the football and getting the most out of Lamar Jackson. Most importantly, they promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator who has had lots of success getting the most out of Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor - neither of whom had the pedigree or (arguably) the raw athleticism of Lamar Jackson. A big factor in that success came from a strong running game led by backs such as Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy and Romans teams were consistently in the top 5 in rushing attempts per game. All of this should add up to fantasy goodness for Lamar Jackson and their shiniest new free agent.
Free Agency - The most important free agent the Ravens brought in they offseason for fantasy purposes is running back Mark Ingram and Iʼve already come to realize that I am going to be the high guy on him this season. Not only should Ingram be the main guy in a system that could lead the NFL in rushing attempts, but he could also very easily lead this team in targets. Ingram is an under rated pass catcher and outside of not being used in the passing game much in 2018, he has always produced in that area. From 2015 to 2017 he averaged 63 targets and 51 receptions per season. He could easily surpass both of those numbers while being amongst the league leaders in carries. He is amongst my most targeted buy lows right now as I do not think most people realize how great he could be in this offense.
Fitting the theme of a run first offense, the Ravens let John Brown walk this offseason and Michael Crabtree has yet to sign anywhere. Ty Montgomery signed with the Jets, and Buck Allen and Alex Collins also remain unsigned.
Risers - I went into the offseason a little down on Lamar Jackson and there are certainly reasons for concern. As his new OC mentioned recently Jackson can struggle with his passing mechanics which results in accuracy issues that may give pause for fantasy owners wanting to invest in him. However, Roman went on to brag about how well Lamar processed where to go with the ball and complemented his overall vision. Iʼm certainly not going to say that learning the fundamentals of passing is easy, but itʼs a lot easier to learn that than to try to learn to be a quick processor after the snap. Considering Romans ability to turn Kaep and Tyrod into efficient, low passing volume QBʼs who produced quality fantasy seasons for us, I believe weʼre about to see a great season from Lamar Jackson.
Fallers - Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst will compete for Lamar Jacksonʼs attention this season and if someone emerges they could be a decent option for fantasy. What complicates this is Nick Boyle who led the team in snaps in 2018, mostly as an in line blocking TE. He appears to be returning in 2019 and since I donʼt think the Ravens will be primarily using 3 TE sets all season, Hurst vs. Andrews will be a camp battle Iʼll be looking at in a few months. I didnʼt really mention this anywhere else, but wanted to also note that Willie Snead is currently sitting atop the WR depth chart from the Ravens followed by Seth Roberts and Chris Moore. There is almost no way the Ravens roll into the season without adding to their WR room and whoever emerges as the number one could be fairly valuable.
Coaching Changes - For the first time in 16 years, the Cincinnati Bengals will go into a season with a new head coach. The guy taking over is the 35 year old Zac Taylor who spent time in LA last year as the QB coach under Sean McVay. There isnʼt much out there to give us direction on how Taylor will build his offense since to this point heʼs never called plays outside of a five game stretch in 2015 as the Dolphins interim OC. He will call the plays in Cincy and will be given the opportunity to build the offense the way he would like to, whatever that may be.
Free Agency - Thereʼs less turnover with the Bengals than you might expect with a new regime taking over for a previously long tenured one. The Bengals lost TE Tyler Kroft to Buffalo and thatʼs about it on offense. They did re sign Tyler Eifert who hopes to stay healthy in 2019 after only mustering 6 games in the previous two seasons combined.
Risers - Joe Mixon missed two games in 2018 and still managed to compile 1168 rushing yards to go along with 43 catches and 9 total TDʼs. With expectations that Mixon will be a work horse in 2019, he could be ready to take the next step into the elite tier of RBʼs. Heʼs an all around back that can be useful for fantasy regardless of game flow. With a new head coach that got to see Todd Gurley in practice every day, you start to wonder if he will plan to use Mixon in the same way. If so, Mixon has the skills to produce big numbers and while itʼs not the most likely outcome, it shouldnʼt be a total shock if he finishes the season as the number one over all back. Tyler Boyd is another guy Iʼm buying right now. Thereʼs lots of talk that he could take a step back with AJ Greens return, but itʼs not like Boyd only produced in games that Green was out of the lineup. In fact he averaged 3 more fantasy points a game WITH AJ Green in the lineup. His 3 100 yard games all came with Green as did 5 of his 7 TDʼs. He finished 17th in PPR fantasy points despite missing the last two games of the season in 2018 and could easily produce high end WR 2 numbers again in 2019. Heʼs easily worth a mid first round rookie pick and can be acquired for less than that right now in many leagues.
Fallers - Letʼs just all pour one out for Tyler Eifert who now has next to no value at all in dynasty leagues. Injuries derailed a promising career and itʼs hard to envision him ever reaching the lofty expectations we once had for him. With that said, heʼs basically free right now and if the new head coach brings in the west coast offense heʼs expected to, the TE in this offense could have some value. Could Eifert stay healthy long enough to benefit? Even if he could, TE has to be a position the Bengals address in the draft so any value he could have would most likely be short lived.
Coaching Changes - Freddie Kitchens turned a successful 8 games as the interim OC in Cleveland into a full time head coaching gig. When looking at the offensive numbers over that span thereʼs lots of cause for optimism and thatʼs before you factor in any of the offensive additions. Kitchens relationship with Baker Mayfield is credited for some of the reason he was offered the head coaching position. A talented QB with a great offensive mind has been responsible for a lot of fantasy gold in the past and this situation looks no different.
Free Agency - Clevelands biggest move this offseason came via trade, but weʼll touch on that below. Their second biggest move was arguably signing Kareem Hunt to a modest 1 year deal. If things go right for Hunt then he could get some opportunities in a potentially potent offensive attack, however I think Clevelands deal last year with Carlos Hyde may provide a better road map for what theyʼll do with Hunt.
Tyrod Taylor, Breshad Perriman and Ricardo Louis all exited Cleveland via free agency, but I donʼt expect either to be missed. An interesting signing could be former Chief TE Demetrius Harris depending on whether or not he can get his drops under control. For now, heʼll slot in behind Njoku as a depth piece that could get some red zone work.
Risers - I was already on the Baker Mayfield train before the trade that landed them Odell Beckham Jr, so his addition only helped to cement him inside of my top 3 dynasty QBʼs. Mahomes and Luck are the only QBʼs I want ahead of Baker for now and I could see him overtaking them at some point depending on how things go this season. His rookie year couldnʼt have gone much better than it did as he now holds the rookie record with 27 passing TDʼs. Now add in OBJ, a nice red zone threat in Harris, some backfield insurance in Kareem Hunt and this is an offense ready to explode in 2019 which should mean big things for Baker. Iʼll add OBJ as one of my players that improved their dynasty stock this offseason as well. The shift from the NYG offense to this Browns offense comes with some unknowns and if nothing else, Eli Manning proved he could support Odellʼs fantasy numbers. Will Baker be able to do the same? Does Jarvisʼs high target volume lower Beckhamʼs ceiling? I understand the questions for sure, but letʼs keep things simple. Odell is one of the most talented WRʼs in the game, moving to an offense we expect to be much better than the one in New York, and playing with a QB that is significantly better (right now) than the one heʼs moving away from. Heʼs in the elite tier of WRʼs and if you can get a discount based on the uncertainty then you should take advantage.
Fallers - Nothing this offseason has lowered the value of anyone on this team, though their may have been some suppression on Nick Chubbʼs value when the team signed Kareem Hunt. There are many questions about how this will affect Nick Chubb and I donʼt think any of those questions have definitive answers at this point. Hereʼs what we know for sure - Chubb is an extremely talented RB and will have the first 8 games to assert himself. As stated above, all of the worry could become useless if they trade Hunt a la 2018 Carlos Hyde. Even if Hunt sticks with the team, I still expect Chubb to get a healthy amount of touches every week and to produce for our fantasy squads.
Coaching Changes - None
Free Agency - Leveon Bell and Jesse James left via free agency and Antonio Brown was traded to Oakland (who will talk about in part 8). Donte Moncrief was the only skill position player the Steelers brought
in of note and he could compete right away for snaps depending on how the draft shakes out. Sine JuJu has spent most of his time operating out of the slot Moncrief could start in 3 WR sets, but could be competing with James Washington for snaps out wide in 2 WR sets.
Risers - Juju Smith- Schuster is perhaps the biggest riser of the offseason in terms of perceived value by the dynasty fantasy football community as a whole. While Iʼm on board with Juju as a top tier fantasy WR, itʼs not for the reasons most of the community seem to be giving right now. The trade of Antonio Brown puts Juju as the focal point in this offense which should increase his value, right?? After all, Antonio Browns 168 targets have to go somewhere, donʼt you think?? Letʼs just say Iʼm skeptical both of those things mean a whole lot to Jujuʼs value. First, Juju had 166 targets in 2018 which was good for the 4th most in the league and I donʼt think Brown hurt his ability to produce considering he finished as the number 8 WR last season. Could he take some of Browns TDʼs? Thatʼs possible, but I would caution that we should balance that out by saying that Juju will now be treated differently by opposing defenses than he was last season. All things considered, I have Juju as an easy top 10 wide receiver headed into 2019.
Iʼll briefly also mention that James Washington and Jaylen Samuels will be targets of mine this season. Washington because he is going to be the most talented option to replace Antonio Brown and Jaylen because he will be cheap and as long as he remains the number 2 RB he should have an opportunity this season.
Fallers - Ben Roethlisberger has spent a lot of time as a trusted fantasy QB and has benefited from an offense full of talent. He will still have talented options this season, but the loss of Leveon Bell and Antonio Brown certainly donʼt help him. Add to that the fairly recent rumors of his retirement and the time to get out of your Big Ben shares and get something in return is passing by.