2019 Fantasy Football Preview: AFC North

Friday, Jul 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm ET

Training camps will be here before you know it followed quickly by the preseason. That means that fantasy drafts are right around the corner as is your fantasy research. Let's start that research with the AFC North.

Aggregated team reviews are below.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens Baltimore Ravens

Remember when Joe Flacco was the highest paid QB? Seems like such a long time ago. The Flacco-era is now officially over in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson under center, and his fantasy value has so far rested with his ability to run. How long that can last at the QB position remains to be seen. For any of the receivers to have fantasy relevance, Jackson has to elevate his passing game.

Top Fantasy Player

Mark Ingram

Mark Ingram - RB

There's a lot to like about Mark Ingram this season now that he's in Baltimore, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 4 in all leagues. He's no longer sharing touches with Alvin Kamara in New Orleans, and the Ravens are a run-first team, especially with Lamar Jackson under center. Ingram, 29, will likely lose some touches to Justice Hill, Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon, but Ingram should get the majority of work. He had six games in 2018 with double digits in PPR points of the 12 games he was able to play (he missed four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs), and he's proven he can be a three-down running back in his career. If healthy, Ingram could challenge to be a No. 1 running back in all formats this year.

Best Fantasy Players By Position

PositionPlayerPosition RankAuction Price
QBLamar Jackson16th$7
RBMark Ingram25th$20
WRChris Moore135th$0
TENick Boyle71st$0

Sleeper: Justice Hill

It's believed that Justice Hill will begin his career as a change-of-pace running back for the Ravens. For a squad that wants to run as much as possible, that's welcomed news. Hill was a featured back at Oklahoma State, consistently averaging at least 5.5 yards per rush and finding the end zone 31 times in 36 games. He did this with his fleet feet and juke moves, accelerating to burn past slower defenders and cutting to find room to run. He showed enough as a receiver (49 catches in three years) to be useful in passing situations, too. Where he's lacking is in size - his slight frame hurts him when it comes to pushing piles, breaking tackles and blocking. Odds are the Ravens will ask Hill to make an impact on 8-to-10 touches per week, marrying his speed with the rest of the burners in this run-friendly offense. Bank on him going in Round 11 or later in seasonal drafts this summer. As for long-term leagues, expect him to get taken a round sooner, while in rookie-only formats he'll get nabbed in late Round 2. The odds aren't good he'll be the Ravens' lead back one day, but it's not out of the question.

Breakout: Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson will be one of a handful of quarterbacks Fantasy managers in typical leagues will draft specifically as a stash-worthy breakout, not as a Week 1 Fantasy starter. His potential is rich given his rushing prowess (50-plus rush yards in seven of his last eight games with five scores in all of 2018), but his passing leaves a lot to be desired. In eight games as the Ravens' starter, including the playoffs, Jackson completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 7.0 yards per attempt with eight touchdown tosses and four interceptions. Jackson also fumbled at least once in every start he made, losing 5 of 13 total bobbles. Baltimore's offensive approach is being tailored to Jackson's game -- they're going to be aggressive with the run and selective with the pass. It suggests Jackson will do his fair share of running, which is great for Fantasy, but his inaccurate passing to a receiving corps loaded with rookies will make for some disappointing results. Think of it this way: Jackson will have to run for 100 yards and find two total touchdowns every week just to compete with the other top-flight quarterbacks in Fantasy. If you think he can do it, you should target him late on Draft Day in single-QB leagues as well as with a top-80 pick in two-QB formats.

Bust Alert: Mark Ingram

Ingram will do just fine and doesn't necessarily deserve the Bust label, but there aren't a lot of other Bust candidates for a team that doesn't have many players in the Top 150 to begin with. While Baltimore's offense is a clear downgrade from New Orleans', Ingram benefits from a clear lead role. Backups Kenneth Dixon and Justice Hill have ability, but they'll need to earn touches in camp. He'll only be a bust if he can't somehow reach his projected totals.

Cleveland Browns Cleveland Browns

Perhaps no other team has done more to turn themselves around than Cleveland. It wasn't that long ago that this offense was one of the worst in the league. Now it boasts such fantasy studs as Odell Beckham Jr, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, David Njoku, and Jarvis Landry. The talent is there. The question is how they're going to be utilized.

Top Fantasy Player

Odell Beckham

Odell Beckham - WR

Fantasy mainstay Odell Beckham has a new team and a new quarterback, but he's still a top-15 pick on Draft Day. When he's on the field, he's nearly automatic, converting 62.5 percent of his games since 2016 into successful Fantasy results (10-plus points in non-PPR, 18-plus in PPR). Problem is, Beckham has missed 16 games the past two seasons with a broken ankle (2017) and quad (2018). If you're risk-averse, you might not be ready to take Beckham. But elite talents catching passes from very good quarterbacks in downfield offenses are hard to come by, and Beckham has top-three potential with Baker Mayfield and the Browns. You should feel good if you get him in Round 2.

Best Fantasy Players By Position

PositionPlayerPosition RankAuction Price
QBBaker Mayfield5th$18
RBNick Chubb12th$48
WROdell Beckham5th$45
TEDavid Njoku9th$10

Sleeper: Baker Mayfield

If you're looking for the next Patrick Mahomes without paying full price, Baker Mayfield is your best bet in the sixth round. Mayfield was on a 4,300-yard, 33-touchdown pace as a starter in 2018 that was only better if you look just at the games with Freddie Kitchens in charge (4,508 yards, 38 touchdowns). Now add Odell Beckham to the equation, and Mayfield is one of a handful of quarterbacks for whom you can make a coherent argument as the best in Fantasy.

Breakout: Nick Chubb

Nick Chubb should be the best running back in Cleveland this season and among the best Fantasy running backs in the league. But there's some risk involved now that Kareem Hunt is a member of the Browns, which lowers Chubb's Fantasy value on Draft Day. He's worth drafting toward the end of Round 2 in most formats. The good news for Chubb is Hunt is suspended for the first eight games of the season and won't play until Week 10 because of Cleveland's Week 7 bye. If healthy, Chubb should have tremendous production until Hunt is active, and then we'll have to see how the Browns use their running backs to close the year, a group that also includes Duke Johnson. Chubb showed he can be a Fantasy star last season once he got the full-time job, getting 19 or more touches in seven of Cleveland's final 10 games. Over that span, he scored at least 13 PPR points seven times. The addition of Odell Beckham should make the Browns offense more explosive, and Chubb should have the chance for plenty of production, at least until Hunt is active. There might not be a better running back to get your Fantasy team off to a hot start than Chubb. And hopefully he can finish strong even when Hunt is able to play.

Bust Alert: Kareem Hunt

The Browns gave Kareem Hunt a second chance on his NFL career, and hopefully he will not have any issues off the field again. In 2018, Hunt was released by the Chiefs after a video surfaced of him beating up a woman. He signed with Cleveland in February, and the NFL suspended him for the first eight games of this season. The Browns have a bye in Week 7, so the earliest we'll see Hunt play is Week 10. And, if everyone is healthy, he'll share touches with Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson, which lowers his Fantasy value. As a player, Hunt is a dynamic running back and led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017. If he's able to resurrect his career in Cleveland, he could emerge as a featured back once again since he's playing on a one-year deal. But in 2019, his Fantasy value is limited on Draft Day because of Chubb and potentially Johnson. We only recommend drafting Hunt with a late-round pick in most formats this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers

No other team in the league lost as much talent as Pittsburgh did. Losing Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is likely to hurt given that both guys were regularly first round fantasy picks (albeit when one of them wasn't sitting the season out). All is not lost however. James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster are incredibly talented and shined bright last year. Antonio Brown averaged 171 targets during this time in Pittsburgh, and those targets will get spread around in one of the league's most prolific passing offenses. It will be interesting to see where they go.

Top Fantasy Player

JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu Smith-Schuster - WR

What do you do with one of the most productive young receivers ever, who is entering his third year and should receive a boost in targets? You draft him in the first round. Smith-Schuster should approach 180 targets with Antonio Brown no longer in the picture and could very well be the most productive receiver in the NFL. There will likely be a drop in efficiency without Brown drawing coverage, but you won't notice it in Fantasy.

Best Fantasy Players By Position

PositionPlayerPosition RankAuction Price
QBBen Roethlisberger14th$8
RBJames Conner8th$44
WRJuJu Smith-Schuster6th$43
TEVance McDonald10th$5

Sleeper: Vance McDonald

There's a chance Vance McDonald becomes a good Fantasy tight end, but it'll take a lot of touchdowns and plenty more targets. Maybe it can happen - he will no longer share the field with Jesse James and the Steelers will use McDonald, among others, to help replace Antonio Brown's production. McDonald has seen five-plus targets in 10 of 21 games with the Steelers already, so it wouldn't take too much for him to get the target bump needed to help his numbers. Unfortunately, McDonald is considered injury prone (23 games missed) and has never been a strong yardage contributor (70-plus yards in four of 73 career games). Your best move is to take him late as an early-season streaming tight end, especially if you like his schedule to begin the year.

Breakout: James Washington

James Washington has a big opportunity in front of him this season with Antonio Brown gone, and Washington is a sleeper to target with a late-round pick in all formats. The Steelers have to replace Brown's production from 2018, which was 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns on 168 targets. Washington should be the top candidate to fill the starting spot opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he will face competition from Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson. We expect Washington to win the job, but he had a disappointing rookie campaign in 2018 with 16 catches for 217 yards and one touchdown on 38 targets. Now, it was hard to find targets behind Brown and Smith-Schuster, but there's a big opening now. And the Steelers led the NFL in pass attempts last year with Ben Roethlisberger, so Washington should have the chance to help Fantasy players in a big way. He's a potential sophomore sensation in 2019.

Bust Alert: Ben Roethlisberger

For the first time since 2011, Ben Roethlisberger will take to the field without Antonio Brown on his team - and the Fantasy ramifications figure to be huge. Before Brown boomed in the Steel City, Roethlisberger had one year with over 26 touchdowns and one with over 4,000 yards - and that was when he had guys like Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes! When Roethlisberger walks on the field in 2019, he won't have Brown (or Le'Veon Bell), but he'll still have JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and a number of quality role players (Vance McDonald, Donte Moncrief) and even a breakout candidate (James Washington). Still, replacing a receiver who was responsible for a minimum of 25 percent of Roethlisberger's yards and 31 percent of his passing touchdowns every year since 2014 is impossible. If you're going to draft Roethlisberger, you shouldn't do it until the very late rounds, you shouldn't have high expectations and you better have another quarterback on your Fantasy roster to begin the season.

Cincinnati Bengals Cincinnati Bengals

New HC Zac Taylor has said that the Cincy offense starts with the ground game. Establishing the run game opens up play-action and makes moving the chains easier. He'll have some help there with the ultra-talented Joe Mixon and A.J. Green fully capable of moving the ball downfield.

Top Fantasy Player

Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon - RB

There are few workhorse backs in the NFL, and those who remain are worth a first-round pick. Joe Mixon is one of those backs. He had 290 touches in 14 games last year and finished as a top-10 back in both formats despite the missed time. Mixon should be among the league leaders in carries with heavy involvement in the passing game as well. The expectation is 1,600 yards and double-digit scores.

Best Fantasy Players By Position

PositionPlayerPosition RankAuction Price
QBAndy Dalton26th$1
RBJoe Mixon9th$42
WRA.J. Green11th$38
TETyler Eifert26th$1

Sleeper: Tyler Boyd

Tyler Boyd was among the biggest surprise performers in 2018, and he's looking to repeat that performance this year. He's worth drafting as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver in all leagues as early as Round 5. Boyd wasn't drafted in most Fantasy leagues last season but finished the year as the No. 17 PPR receiver. He was a third-year breakout with career highs in targets (108), receptions (76), yards (1,028) and touchdowns (seven), and he scored at least 11 PPR points in nine of the 14 games he played. He missed the final two games of the season with a sprained MCL in his right knee, but he's fine now. And he will be the Robin to A.J. Green's Batman in Zac Taylor's offense for the Bengals. While Green should lead the team in most receiving categories if healthy, Boyd won't be far behind. He's a quality starting option in 2019.

Breakout: Joe Mixon

Mixon's just 23 years old entering his third season. He projects to stay busy after finishing 2018 with a hefty 66% carry share. He reached 100 total yards seven times and impressed fantasy owners with a pair of 2-TD outings (vs. Tampa Bay and vs. Oakland). Gio Bernard — with 35+ catches in each pro season — will remain involved in the passing game. But a lack of depth beyond A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd make it realistic for Mixon to tally around 50 catches. If Mixon remains available into Round 2, he'll be tough to pass up.

Bust Alert: Tyler Eifert

Someone's going to draft Tyler Eifert in every league this summer because he scores at about a 50 percent clip. That's great, but he's missed 34 games over the past three seasons with a slew of injuries including a broken ankle in 2018. Can he stay healthy and become a Fantasy superstar like he was in 2015? It's possible, but no one should risk more than a late-round pick on finding out. If his Week 1 matchup looks good, he could be a streaming tight end to begin the year.

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