Fantasy Football 2011: AFC North Preview

Daniel WheelockContributor IIIAugust 25, 2011

Fantasy Football 2011: AFC North Preview

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    The AFC North has always been known for its ground-and-pound offenses and great defenses. This year is no different. In a pass-happy league, these four teams still rely on their running game to win ball games. 

    That's not all they do, however. 

    There are some solid quarterbacks and receivers that can help you out as well.  Let's take a closer look at each team heading into the season.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Flacco is entering the prime of his career and is coming off a pretty good season in which he threw for 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns.  That being said, he lost Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh this offseason.  Flacco isn’t in the same class as the top eight or so quarterbacks but he would be a super backup with upside. 

    Ray Rice was a top-five pick a year ago but didn’t live up to his price tag.  The problem was that Rice only had six total TDs.  Every time the Ravens got close to the goal line, the vulture back Willis McGahee would come in.  McGahee is gone but he was replaced by Ricky Williams, who will likely take some goal-line carries away from Rice this season.  Despite his lack of TDs, Rice is still a top-10 back, especially in PPR leagues.

    Anquan Boldin should get a ton of looks now that the three aforementioned ball catchers are out of town.  According to Mock Draft Central, Boldin is currently being taken 25th among receivers, after guys like Kenny Britt and Percy Harvin.  Yes please. 

    On the other side, Lee Evans just received a huge bump in value after being traded from Buffalo.  In his first game with the new team, Evans hauled in three balls, including a 43-yard pass from Flacco.  Look for a lot of hit-or-miss games from Lee.  All he can really do is run deep.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    No matter who starts at quarterback for the Bengals, whether it’s rookie Andy Dalton or the inept Bruce Gradkowski, you don’t want to own him on your team. 

    Cedric Benson only averaged 3.5 yards per rush last year with eight total TDs.  Opposing defenses are going to crowd the line of scrimmage because of the lack of a passing game, so Benson probably won’t have many holes to run through again this season.  I’ll pass.

    The Bengals receiving corps is almost completely new.  Rookie A.J. Green is getting a lot of buzz this preseason.  Unfortunately, Green is on a horrible team and it’s going to be hard for him to be fantasy relevant.  For some reason, fellow rookie Julio Jones (who is in a much better situation in Hotlanta) is going a whole round after Green is. 

    Jerome Simpson, a 2008 second-round pick, is a nice sleeper WR.  The dude caught 18 balls for 247 yards and three scores in the final two weeks of the season last year when T.O. and Ochocinco were injured.

    Jermaine Gresham is a freakishly athletic tight end that will be a nice security blanket for whoever is throwing the rock.  Sleeper alert.

Cleveland Browns

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    I think there is a lot to look forward to in the Dawg Pound.  Second-year man Colt McCoy has looked fantastic so far this preseason.  He seems to be taking to the West Coast offense pretty well.  Colt has plenty of upside and will be a solid backup QB for you.

    Of course everyone knows Peyton Hillis’ Cinderella story from a year ago.  He came almost out of nowhere to rush for almost 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Surprisingly, Hillis also caught 61 balls for almost 500 yards and two more scores.  He did slow down considerably down the stretch and now Montario Hardesty is healthy.  I will probably leave Hillis for another owner but he is a solid RB2.

    The Browns are probably going to spread the ball around in their new offense so I wouldn’t draft any of their receivers to start on my team. 

    Special team extraordinaire Joshua Cribbs and rookie Greg Little are intriguing options to consider late in your draft as late-round sleepers.  Tight end Ben Watson is a nice sleeper too.  He quietly caught 68 passes for 763 yards a year ago.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ben Roethlisberger is a low-end starting quarterback in fantasy football.  He threw for 3,200 yards despite missing four games in 2011.  He didn’t throw many touchdowns though (17) and the Steelers rely heavily on the run.  I would rather take someone like Matt Ryan before Big Ben.

    You might not like him as a person, but Rashard Mendenhall is a top-10 running back and could be worthy of a first-round selection.   While he did average less than four yards per carry, he rushed the ball 324 times.  Mendenhall is one of the few workhorse backs left in the league.  Because of the pounding he takes, Isaac Redmon is a good handcuff pick just in case Mendenhall breaks down this season.

    Mike Wallace is a home-run-hitting wide receiver and can be hit or miss week to week.  He only caught 60 balls but averaged 21 yards per reception.  He fits in the same mold as DeSean Jackson.  I’d rather draft a consistent receiver who will catch more passes. 

    Possession receiver Hines Ward could be worthy of starting in PPR leagues.  One of Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown could emerge as a viable option but I probably won’t draft any of them without knowing which one will see the most action.

    There is nothing special about Heath Miller except that he is still alive after this hit.

    The Steelers’ defense is worthy of being the first defense off the board on draft day.

    For more fantasy football insight and advice, visit us at www.fantasysportskings.com.