AFC North Fantasy Football Studs and Duds: Way Too Early Edition
Training camp battles haven't played themselves out yet. Rookies have yet to master their teams' playbooks. But as the the primary secondary pastime of NFL fans, fantasy football talk is in full swing, as fans everywhere start researching potential draft picks in earnest.
With that in mind, here are my picks for three studs and three duds in the fantasy game this year. This by no means encompasses every stud and dud in the division (do I really have to tell you that Ray Rice is amazing?), but it does highlight six players who should be on your must-add and must-avoid lists as your draft day approaches.
Dud: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Many fantasy experts are high on BenJarvus Green-Ellis this year, but if you're looking for a true feature back to start every week, you'll need to look elsewhere than the new Cincinnati Bengal.
Green-Ellis, while reliable, does not have the explosiveness necessary to get 20 or more carries per game on an every-week basis. And he's coming from a team (the New England Patriots) that focused more on the passing game than the run, to a Bengals team that's trying to do the same thing.
He'll be splitting carries almost equally with fellow back Bernard Scott, and the end result should be well fewer than 1,000 rushing yards this year. Though he'll be a goal-line threat, and he certainly has pass-catching skills, I don't recommend going all-in on Green-Ellis this year.
He has more value in PPR leagues, for sure, but if you're hoping he pushes into the upper echelon of fantasy backs by moving to a new team, then you're bound to be disappointed.
Last year, Green-Ellis had 667 yards on 181 carries but redeemed himself with 11 touchdowns. This year, look for similar yardage, but his scores could drop to the single digits.
Stud: Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
In his rookie season, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith caught 50 passes on 95 targets for 841 yards and seven scores. He was neither the Ravens' most targeted receiver nor the one with the most yards, but that all seems set to change this season.
There are a number of reasons to assume Smith is going to be a fantasy powerhouse this year. One is that he's fully recovered from offseason hernia surgery, an injury that had been bothering him since Week 3 of the 2011 season. At full health, Smith will be far more able to move around freely and without discomfort, making him a more dynamic target for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Secondly, the Ravens are likely to throw the ball less to running back Ray Rice as they try to get their passing game back on track. That will ultimately mean more passes thrown Smith's way.
Third, last year's top Ravens receiver, Anquan Boldin, will likely have a slightly more limited role. Depending on how the battle for No. 3 receiver plays out, Boldin could be used more on the inside, as a slot receiver. That makes Smith Flacco's most important weapon when it comes to touchdown strikes.
Smith guaranteed that he'll have more than 1,000 receiving yards this year. I am in full agreement with this, and he should add to that touchdown total as well. He's certainly worth a mid-round draft pick in every league.
Dud: Jacoby Jones, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Though the Ravens are working hard to improve their passing game—and they have a true battle on their hands for the team's No. 3 receiver—no matter who wins the job (and I believe it will be the veteran Jacoby Jones), he won't be relevant on the fantasy stage.
The Ravens haven't been known to use No. 3 receivers effectively during offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's tenure—none have had more than 34 receptions in a season. Though snagging a team's No. 3 receiver in a fantasy draft is a risky proposal, it ultimately depends on the squad he comes from.
Jones should prove an effective No. 3 receiver in Baltimore—he won't be called upon to do too much, which was his downfall with the Houston Texans—but that helps his real-life team far more than your fantasy team.
Whether it's Jones, Tandon Doss or someone else who gets the No. 3 job in Baltimore, simply keep him off your fantasy roster. He may prove to be a decent waiver wire add later on (especially in deeper leagues and especially in leagues that start three wide receivers), but unless your league heavily values return yards, I'd steer clear of using a draft pick on Jones.
Stud: Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
Trent Richardson hasn't played a single professional snap, which is exactly the kind of thing that makes fantasy football GMs nervous come draft day. All we know of Richardson is what he accomplished in college at Alabama and all the hype that has trailed him since being drafted third overall by the Cleveland Browns.
But Richardson looks poised to live up to that hype. He may not score the 24 touchdowns he did last year at Alabama, but it's hard to deny that a running back as dynamic and powerful as him will make a significant rookie-year impact.
A must-draft Browns player is a few-and-far-between proposal, marking another reason why fantasy owners may be wary of Richardson. But Richardson is going to be the Browns' true feature back, they'll likely be starting a rookie quarterback and Richardson brings more to the table than just being a capable runner.
Draft Richardson, start him every week and don't look back. A Browns fantasy player who you can truly be excited about? It's a new world, people.
Dud: Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
It has been a while since Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller has been worth starting on your fantasy team. And though it seems like perhaps his value could increase this year with Todd Haley as the team's new offensive coordinator, I recommend you cool your jets on that idea.
Haley has had nothing but praise for Miller, who has been one of the most reliable—though not the most flashy or productive—tight ends in the past few years. He's Ben Roethlisberger's safety valve, a very real red-zone receiving threat and, of course, a capable blocker.
Blocking has increasingly been Miller's bread-and-butter in the Steelers offense. He generally averages around 50 or 60 receptions and 500 to 600 yards per season; that's been mitigated by touchdowns, which at one point were in the five-to-seven a year range, but in both 2010 and 2011 he had just two apiece.
Miller's still going to see his fair share of passes, of course, but so will newly-added free agent Leonard Pope, a Haley favorite. That's going to cut into his targets somewhat and further lower his stat line. There are other more dynamic, threatening tight ends in the league—go with one of them to round out your fantasy roster.
Stud: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Relatively speaking, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a down year in 2011. Yes, he threw for over 4,000 yards, but his 21-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 40 sacks made him a rather risky every-week starter.
There were, of course, far, far worse fantasy quarterbacks out there. And this year, Roethlisberger should bounce back significantly enough to put him in the top five or seven fantasy quarterbacks of the year.
Last year, Roethlisberger was helped immeasurably by wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, both of whom had more than 1,000 receiving yards apiece. That should continue into 2011, with greater success, thanks to some smart offseason moves and the hiring of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator.
Roethlisberger should be better protected by a more talented and reliable offensive line; in concert with that, Roethlisberger will also be spending more time in the pocket, which should limit his sacks.
Haley is also fond of throwing to running backs, which gives Roethlisberger a greater variety of targets. Don't believe the rumors that the Steelers are going to re-focus on the run—while they may run the ball a bit more often, it's more about the effectiveness of the run game rather than the number of handoffs.
Roethlisberger is still the fount from which the Steelers offense flows, and he should have another year with over 4,000 passing yards, fewer interceptions to touchdowns and fewer sacks, which should help him prevent injury.
But do keep in mind you might want a solid backup quarterback (more solid than usual), considering that even though the offensive line is improved, Roethlisberger has just one season in which he has played all 16 games.
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