AFC North Division Review
Round three of the division reviews are here. We are going over the AFC North now in the surprises and disappointments. Also a quick early projection of the teams for the 2020 season/draft.
The 2-14 Bengals didn’t have many surprises for us in this 2019 fantasy season. Seeing Tyler Eifert play 16 games in fantasy was a pleasant surprise since he hasn’t done that since the 2015 season. Tyler Boyd had silenced any hater on him after finishing as a top 25 receiver in 2019 after a 2018 breakout season. There were times that the Bengals randomly put up big numbers, especially Dalton in the Week 16 championship game.
The entire season was a disappointment. The Bengals didn’t have many players worth rostering. Mixon had a disappointing season after finishing 16th overall among running backs. Mixon came out of the gates unproductive as he finished the first eight games as RB34. He luckily had a second-half surge which made his fantasy season, where he finished as a top ten RB. A.J. Green was also a major disappointment since he was unable to see the field at all during the season. He was highly targeted in the third/fourth-round pick in many drafts.
What to look forward to
The Bengals have plenty to look forward to in 2020. There is a great chance that college stud Joe Borrow will be selected first overall to the team. Mixon, with a healthier offensive line and a rookie QB, should be leaned on going into 2020. Still, a solid second or third-round pick next season. Boyd’s value will depend on if Green returns next season. If Boyd becomes the number one target, then expect him to be drafted as early as round five. John Ross and Auden Tate are double round high upside players you could take a shot on. If Green were to stay in Cincinnati then everyone else would take a step down. Green does come with risk, as he hasn’t played a full season in the last two years. The tight end position is undraftable unless Eifert decides to come back.
One of the biggest surprises has to be Jarvis Landry. He seemed to be an afterthought once the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. After a mediocre first half, Landry burst into the second half as a top-four fantasy receiver. He also had one of his best seasons in terms of yards per catch (14.1.) Fantasy owners who held onto Kareem Hunt until 10 weeks were also happy. He became very involved in the offense and finished the season as a solid RB2. The Browns had him mainly on passing downs, where he caught 37 passes in just eight games.
The Browns had a ton of disappointments for us in fantasy. Baker Mayfield was supposed to take the next step but he finished as the QB19 on the season. He regressed in his completions and yards-per-attempt. He also threw 21 inceptions which were the second-most in the league. We mentioned Beckham Jr. earlier but he was a major bust for fantasy. He was drafted mostly in the first two rounds and finished outside the top 30 in receivers. He also was on a high percentage of fantasy teams who missed the playoffs per the Fantasy Pros (https://www.fantasypros.com/2020/01/players-on-the-most-fantasy-teams-that-missed-the-playoffs-fantasy-football-2019/.) He had career lows in fantasy and now it has been three years since he's actually been a top-five receiver. David Njoku also was a highly drafted mid-round tight end who was out from week two and on.
What to look forward to
The Browns again have a new coach and a new offense coming into 2020. It's going to be a tough job to get this team’s chemistry right. Baker will hopefully get back on track but most likely will be a double-digit round player. There are rumors that both Odell and David Njuko both want out of Cleveland. Odell is still talented enough to be a top 30 fantasy receiver. Jarvis Landry, who led the way this season, should be considered a solid W2 and be drafted as early as round four. Njoku will be a bargain in 2020 after being an afterthought for us in fantasy last year.
Two words.. Lamar Jackson. Jackson wasn’t highly drafted in the 2019 drafts after going in the double-digit rounds. He sure made everyone pay for not drafting him as he finished as the QB1 and overall top fantasy player. He was so dominant as he went for 43 total touchdowns and 1,213 rushing yards for the season. Mark Ingram also benefited from Jackson’s stardom as he finished as RB8 on the year. He had just over 1,000 yards but his 15 touchdowns were second-best among running backs. Jackson’s favorite target also had a breakout season in Mark Andrews. Andrew was a huge sleeper in 2019 and he paid off for many who drafted him late. He was Jackson’s number one target (96 targets) and had 10 touchdowns on the year. The Ravens were a team you were thankful you had a stock in.
There weren't many if at all disappointments on the Ravens. The receiver core for most of the season was useless for us. They were so inconsistent for us that you never knew who to start. Hollywood Brown may have been the closest thing to consistent but after Week Two, he fell off mostly due to injury.
What to look forward to
The Ravens are looking to come back and dominate with this new-look team. I personally don't like this but Lamar Jackson’s projection is a late first round of drafts is a bit crazy. He also should be because Jackson is basically a QB and a RB2 combined for your team almost every week. Ingram may be over-drafted this year but he will be 31 years old. He will still be a strong RB2 but getting him in the fourth round makes more sense. Andrews is considered a top-five fantasy tight end due to his targets he will receive. Hollywood Brown will be a late mid-round player with upside because he can beat anyone in this league. This young Ravens team is ready to do right for us in fantasy again.
How different this team looked after years of stud fantasy performances. The Steelers were able to find their next group of receivers to take over when Antonio Brown had left. Diontae Johnson and James Washington both were able to show flashes during the year even with less than performing QBs. During the second half of the season, both receivers finished as top 35 receivers. Washington was able to show his ability to track the deep ball and Johnson was more of the finesse route runner. Benny Snell may be the only other player that shows flashes of being a lead running back or earning more work. He had at least 60 yards in three of his last six games of the season.
The Steelers we known to love that produced huge fantasy numbers were no more. Big Ben headed to the IR after week one and was done for the year. James Connor was a top 20 player drafted in 2019 but finished outside the top 30 running back on the year. Connor missed five games due to an injury. He also regressed about scoring double-digit touchdowns and his YPR dropped from 4.5 to 4.0. The biggest disappointment from the Steelers was JuJu Smith-Shuster who also was a top 20 fantasy player drafted but finished the year as WR62. We knew JuJu would have a tougher time without AB but with his new role, things didn't go according to plan. It seems JuJu needs a solid QB to be productive and the ones he had all season didn't have the talent to help.
What to look forward to
The Steelers are looking to get back on track with Big Ben hopefully coming back to the starting line-up. He's worth a late-round spot as he will throw the ball a ton. James Connor could come at a little bit of a bargain as owners may be nervous about his ability to stay healthy. If Big Ben is to come back next year then his receivers should all be someone worth targeting. The Steelers are a team that can produce multiple fantasy receivers especially with no threat at tight end. JuJu should still be looked at as a top 50 fantasy player.Johnson and Washington are both late-round receivers with a high upside to take a chance on for a true breakout season.