Fantasy Football Help Wanted: AFC North Edition

Fantasy Football TraderContributor IMay 7, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 20:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for a touchdown as Jarrett Bush #24 of the Green Bay Packers attempts to tackle in the first quarter during the game on December 20, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

AFC North Help Wanted is the sixth entry in this eight-part series.  Throughout the offseason Fantasy Football Trader’s Columnist Ernie Estrella will be touring the NFL by division and identifying key positional battles with Fantasy Football implications up for grabs...


Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 2 WR

Candidates-Antwaan Randle-El, Arnaz Battle, Mike Wallace

A key position on the Steelers offense is their number two receiver.  After Santonio Holmes was shipped to New York, Hines Ward vaults into the top spot.  With respect to both Antwaan Randle-El and Arnaz Battle, they're special teams players, not fantasy playmakers; leaving us with Mike Wallace.

Last season was invaluable for the rookie Wallace who became a big part of the game plan; he'll play an even bigger role this year. He knows and understands the Steelers' offense, has played against top rated defenders, and now he's the most viable deep threat on the team. Wallace is a big play receiver in the making and he'll leave the short route scraps to Battle and Randle-El.

Prediction: Mike Wallace

Fantasy Implication: 6/10

There's no way this batch of receivers come close to producing the numbers from last season. With the instability at the QB position,  the Steelers are going to try and revert back to the ball-control offense that took them to Super Bowls in decades past. I'm not sure that's the wisest decision given the way pass-first offenses have become en vogue and the Steelers were tailor-made to compete with that trend.

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I truly doubt they'll abandon the pass as much as they say they will.

Once Big Ben comes back, the Steelers will pass the ball, regardless of how physical they want to be, you don't waste Roethlisberger's arm.

Wallace is worth a late round draft pick to fill your need for a number three fantasy receiver or flex option that will hopefully blossom into something much bigger later in the season.

Baltimore Ravens

No. 2 WR

Candidates- Derrick Mason, Kelley Washington, Mark Clayton, Donte Stallworth

Give the Ravens credit for the aggressive offseason acquisition of Anquan Boldin for their number one receiver in 2010. They finally filled a hole that has alluded them for several years.

That makes Derrick Mason a secondary target amongst the receivers. He still has great chemistry with Joe Flacco and despite his 36 years of age, he doesn't have to carry as much weight on his shoulders. His numbers may take a hit as a result, but Mason will still bring more value than what Mark Clayton or Kelley Washington bring to the table.

Prediction: Derrick Mason

Fantasy Implication: 7/10

It's important for Boldin to come and mesh with the team early so that his transition will be smoother. Otherwise, ask T.J. Houshmandzadeh how well he fit in with Seattle last season. Mason will still be targeted heavily by Flacco given their history together, and that's why he remains a big part of the Ravens' offense that should feature Ray Rice and Boldin first, and Mason and Todd Heap second. The offense will be Baltimore's biggest strength coming into 2010 and may have to make up for an aging defense, and that should make the fantasy potential of this team very, very appealing.

Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 2 QB

Candidates- Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich

Now we know that Roethlisberger will miss six games for violation of the league personal conduct policy. The ban could be reduced to four games, but could also be increased based on how Roethlisberger responds.  With the schedules out, we now know the Steelers start the season with four games and then a bye, which would be a ripe opportunity for Roethlisberger to return if he gets back on track.

Of the first six games, only one opposing team made the playoffs last year, but every team improved in the offseason. The Falcons, Dolphins, and Titans will not be easy wins, so to avoid a slow start, the Steelers need a quarterback who can win.

Admirable and serviceable in the past, Charlie Batch (3-1 as a starter in Pittsburgh) has had too many injuries in recent years to be counted on.  The big showdown in camp will come down to Dennis Dixon and the recently reacquired Byron Leftwich. 

Dixon looked good in his lone start against the Ravens last year, but Leftwich gives them a better chance to actually win those games. He's no stranger to the Steelers, having played with them as recent as 2008 and has a big arm too, he's just never used it as often as Roethlisberger.

Prediction: Byron Leftwich

Fantasy Implication: 4/10

Roethlisberger's off-field conduct has put the Steelers in a precarious situation. Not only are the Steelers now in the need of a good backup quarterback, but they need one who will play in at least 25 percent of the regular season. There's reason to panic, but there's no reason to draft his backup, as this offense is drastically different without Santonio Holmes and Willie Parker.

Big Ben has won two Super Bowls so it's hard to imagine the Steelers parting ways with their franchise quarterback especially one they've heavily invested in. So thinking a backup will play much longer than Roethlisberger's suspension just doesn't seem likely, nor does it appear wise to waste a fantasy roster spot on Leftwich or whoever wins this battle.

Cleveland Browns

No. 1 WR

Candidates- Mohamed Massaquoi, Chansi Stuckey, Brian Robiskie, Joshua Cribbs

The Browns are not paying Jake Delhomme $7 million to hold a clipboard, so for one year no one has to guess who the quarterback is going to be playing on Lake Erie. With that established, who does Delhomme have to throw the ball to? There's not a lot of experience in this group and it's in sore need of a groomed veteran to not only show the way on the field, but also take these youngsters under their wing and teach them a thing or two

Cribbs is a player who can do it all. We all know he's a special teams playmaker and is continually learning how to be a wide receiver, but a number one target, he's not. He will be more involved in the offense after signing a new contract, and may play on defense. Unfortunately, the jack-of-all-trades doesn't always make a good fantasy player.

Robiskie proved to be more of a project than the advertised polished product he was supposed to be. Not much more can be said about Stuckey, either.

As scary as this sounds, with 34 career receptions, second-year receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is the best candidate currently on this team to take the mantle of a number one receiver.  He caught on much quicker than Robiskie, got behind defenders, and at times showed good hands. Hopefully he continues to grow and develop in the right direction (which could happen with Delhomme under center).

Prediction: Mohamed Massaquoi

Fantasy Implication: 6/10

The Browns will be running a modified version west coast offense on behalf of team president Mike Holmgren and that will somehow be morphed into whatever Neanderthal version of the power-wildcat head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll were cooking last season.

In his best years at Carolina, Delhomme zeroed in on one to two targets; but I tend to believe that in the heat of the moment, quarterbacks rely on their instincts regardless of whatever system is installed.

Delhomme will find his comfort zone with the former Georgia receiver and feature him while slowly bringing Robiskie into the fold. I only hope and pray for the Browns sake that Delhomme left last year's version of himself in Carolina.  He had a nightmare season with two phenomenal running backs and Steve Smith, which is far more than what he now has in Cleveland.

With the return of the old Delhomme, Massaquoi figures to be a potentially solid number two fantasy receiver with plenty of upside.

Cincinnati Bengals

No. 2 WR

Candidates- Antonio Bryant, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, Quan Cosby

After swinging and missing with Laveranues Coles in 2009, I expected the Bengals to go and get one of the big diva receivers such asTerrell Owens or Brandon Marshall.  They needed to bring a legitimate threat to line up opposite Chad Ochocinco; Andre Caldwell isn't there yet, and neither is Quan Cosby, or are they?  I don't believe so.

So they settled for Antonio Bryant.  I'm sorry, but he's underwhelming for lack of a better description. Bryant's not known as a team player and is someone who thinks of himself much higher than what actually shows up on the field. He's never been accountable for his shortcomings and this is his fifth team in eight seasons give him a few years and he'll wear out his welcome in Cincinnati too. 

Bryant has talent but not much upside. I'm not sure if his knee will hold up for the entire season; his 29 years are a bit of a concern too.  All of this precedes his less-than-desirable attitude. Still, he'll try to fill the vertical element that was missing after Chris Henry's sad and untimely death.

Caldwell will slip into the slot role, which suits him just fine, but the big numbers won't be there for either receiver.  The Bengals drafted Jordan Shipley out of Texas to compete for a starting role.  While Shipley is good football player with a great work ethic, he'll require at least a year of development before he is ready to become a viable starting receiver.

Prediction: Neither, No. 2 Wide Receiver by Committee

Fantasy Implication: 3/10

The Bengals are built to feature Cedric Benson and his hard running style and lull defenses to sleep and then hit you with Ochocinco first, and based on what the defense shows Carson Palmer, Bryant or Caldwell. I see both players getting fairly equal targets and receptions (35-45), but Bryant should have more yardage at the end of the season because his routes will allow him to get down the field more.

Perhaps Shipley will work his way into the mix as the season progresses, but that is far from a sure thing.  Unfortunately, adding either Bryant, Caldwell, or Shipley to one's roster will not provide any fantasy owner sleep at night.

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