clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fantasy Football in Review: The AFC North

Before the season I previewed all 32 teams for fantasy purposes. Proof is here.

The Baltimore Ravens lost a heart-breaker yesterday and failed to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2000. They've had their chances, but another missed opportunity leaves one less year in the Ray Lewis-Ed Reed window to win a championship.

The NFC North sent three teams to the playoffs, including the surprise Bengals. The division is much more about defense than offense, with even the Browns fielding a respectable D. There are a few top notch fantasy performers in the division though, and this is how I saw them pre-season:

The Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco

What I Said: He's started every game for the Ravens in the 3 years since he was drafted, and won at least one playoff game each season. He's gradually improved each year and had 25 TD/10 INT last year with a 93.6 QB rating.

What He Did: Flacco had the worst season of his career, but still won a playoff game for the fourth straight season. He posted 57.6% completions, 3,610 yards, 20 TD/12 INT and a 80.9 QB rating. The TD/INT ratio is okay, but he doesn't complete enough passes to be considered much of a QB1 in fantasy. His 6.7 yards per attempt is pretty low on the "starting QB" spectrum and he can't make the excuse that he has no weapons. Baltimore has some weapons now. He needs to get better in year five or he might need to find another place to play.

Ray Rice

What I Said: I think Rice is capable of big things in 2011. I like Rice for 90 yards per game rushing, 70 catches, 10-15 touchdowns, and a few really big games that could carry you to a victory all by himself. He's a first round pick in my book for sure.

What He Did: Rice had his best season to date. 1,364 yards (85 per game), 76 catches, 15 total touchdowns and 4.7 yards per carry. He's a #1 RB and an easy first round pick next year again.

Anquan Boldin

What I Said: He had a career low 52 YPG last year, but with Flacco a year older and Lee Evans stretching the field, he could be in line for a bounce-back season. He disappeared at the end of last season, so its easy to forget he had 700 yards and 7 scores in the first 12 games. He could find himself in good position for 80 catches and 1000 yards this year, which would make him a good WR2 and a great WR3.

What He Did: Boldin caught 57 passes for 887 yards and 3 scores. It's funny, I remembered him being better than that this year. Probably because he had a couple of big games, but he never really performed like a WR1 and only sometimes performed as a WR2. At 32 next year, I'll consider him a flex option only.

Lee Evans

What I Said: While Boldin will rack up the catches, Evans will try to make the big play. I'd like him for something like 40-50 grabs, 700-800 yards, and a few scores. I wouldn't start him in my top 3, but I'd be happy to have him on my bench in case he does figure it out again.

What He Did: He's hardly worth mentioning, but I have to point out my misses. Evans was not a factor at all and caught four passes in the regular season. Is he "done" for good? Maybe. Maybe he'll figure it out somewhere else. Who knows?

Torrey Smith

What I Said: He seems very talented with lots of potential to breakout one day, but without much training camp, it did seem crazy that he would be starting week 1. The move to get Evans means Smith can relax and work on learning the playbook and being a third option for Flacco. He's not someone I'd draft, but someone to keep an eye on, as he's looked really good in camp.

What He Did: Smith had a few really big games and used big time speed to rack up 50 catches for 841 yards and 7 TDs. I think he's a good breakout candidate next year as a potential WR2.

Ed Dickson

What I Said: He was a third round pick in last years draft and had 11 catches behind Heap. Dennis Pitta is the other tight end, and he led the team with 4 catches and 47 yards in the first preseason game. Neither are worth drafting, just someone to keep an eye on, since one of them could be the starting tight end and the Ravens had a good situation for Heap.

What He Did: Dickson had a nice first season as first TE option and he looks good out there at times. Also some bad drops at times. He finished with 528 yards and 5 scores while Pitta had 405 and 3.

Cleveland Browns

Colt McCoy

What I Said: The Browns had options on draft day, but they passed on players like Jake Locker andBlaine Gabbert because they clearly believe in McCoy and they also got a hefty bounty in return from theFalcons to trade out of the #7 spot. I think Colt is a good backup option in fantasy, someone to take a flier on in the late rounds of a deep league.

What He Did: I was a believer in McCoy. But as I watch the Browns play, I am no longer one and I think they absolutely must get a quarterback. Whether that's Robert Griffin or Matt Flynn, they should no longer go with McCoy. It's time to find the future and the Browns have been hesitant to do so since Tim Couch failed. Stop worrying about whether your next guy will bust, just replace McCoy.

Peyton Hillis

What I Said: I'd comfortably draft Hillis at the end of the 1st round and I'd love it a lot more if I got him in the 2nd. He's a RB1 in my book, but I admit I'm going into that with caution.

What He Did: I stressed caution with Hillis, but I thought he was a safe bet to put up 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns or so. Unfortunately, the Hillis situation in Cleveland was dicey all season and he missed a big chunk with injury and health concerns. In the beginning of the year, he was almost the entire offense though. In 9 starts, Hillis had 587 yards, 3 TD, 3.6 YPC. No matter where he plays next season, you have to draft him, but not as a starter.

Greg Little

What I Said: He's impressed in camp and pre-season while Massaquoi is recovering from injury, so there's a good chance he could find his way into the starting lineup. As far as really deep sleepers go, Little makes quite an interesting case. As a potential #1 target for McCoy, and potentially drawing little (no pun intended) attention from the defense in the early going, he could be a sneaky play.

What He Did: Little led the Browns with 709 yards and 2 TDs. That's low enough to keep him under the radar, but high enough for a rookie to make him a great sleeper next year. Especially if the Browns get a new QB.

There's not much else to highlight in Cleveland. Josh Cribbs had 518 yards and 4 TDs. Mohamed Massaquoi had 31 for 384. Ben Watson had 37 for 410 and 2 TDs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton

What I Said: So it stands to reason that they might feel comfortable going with the QB of the future soon out of the gates. Because Dalton seems to be mature, smart, and less of a project as a high-floor game manager, he might do okay in year one. Don't draft him unless you're in some sort of weird league or a deep keeper league.

What He Did: The Bengals went with Dalton from the get-go and he put up some impressive numbers for a rookie. 58.1% completions, 3,398 yards, 20 TD/13 INT, 6.6 YPA and 80.4 QB rating. You may notice those are the same numbers that I dogged Flacco for, but Dalton is a rookie and not a fourth year player. He could get better or this could be the best he'll do. I would say he's got a shot to have a decent low-end QB1 career for fantasy.

Cedric Benson

What I Said: Under Gruden, Benson is probably a solid RB2 in fantasy. Where else to the Bengals have to go on offense? Defenses might stack the box, but he'll still get a heavy load and could total 1,000 rushing yards and 8-10 TDs.

What He Did: 1,067 yards, 6 TDs. So, yeah. He'll be turning 30 and at the end of his career.

A.J. Green

What I Said: Andre had 976 yards with David Carr. Fitzgerald had 780 yards with Josh McCown. If Green really has a similar talent level as those guys, 50 catches for 700 yards and a few scores seems reasonable. In keeper leagues, he's solid. In 1-year leagues, he's a WR4.

What He Did: Green surprised everyone by posting awesome numbers for a rookie receiver. 65 catches for 1,057 yards and 7 TDs. People who have watched him all year say he's still a work in progress... and that's scary.

Jerome Simpson had 725 yards and 4 TDs and sold some dope. Jermaine Gresham was kind of useful as a TE and posted 596 and 6.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger

What I Said: This season he probably has the most talented supporting cast he has ever had, as you will see, so if he plays a full season he might have a career year. It seems like he's been in the league forever, but he's only 29 years old. With a defense that will create a lot of turnovers and give the Stealers a short field, expect Bad Ben to potentially match his 2007 season, the only time he's ever been named to the Pro Bowl.

What He Did: It was not a career year, but he posted some big numbers at times and captured some AFC Monthly awards along the way. He finished with 63.2% completions, 4,077 yards, 21 TD/14 INT, 7.9 Y/A, and a rating of 90.1.

Rashard Mendenhall

What I Said: Pros: He's fast, young, and plays on a good team. Cons: His value relies heavily on touchdowns because he does little in the way of catching out of the backfield, and touchdown scoring can be very volatile. He's a top 15 running back, I'm just a little too nervous to take him in the first round.

What He Did: Mendenhall struggled this year and posted 928 yards and 9 TDs without much else in terms of catches or total yards. That's low-end RB2 stuff.

Mike Wallace

What I Said: Leagues don't generally care about yards per catch but a point-per-reception is becoming much more common. He's a WR1, probably a hair behind DeSean Jackson, but still downgraded compared to guys who catch a few more balls in the elite-class.

What He Did: Wallace finished with 1,193 yards and 8 TDs. My biggest issue with him is the same issue I have with DeSean Jackson. Relying too much on big plays in fantasy. Over the first 7 weeks he was phenomenal and posted four games over 100 yards with five touchdowns. In the second half of the year though, he posted a high of 82 yards and just three TDs. He went from very valuable to almost unstartable when Antonio Brown stepped up.

Antonio Brown

What I Said: Well regarded by the coaching staff and other players, he's viewed as a steal in the 6th round of last years draft. Though he only caught 16 passes last year and is drowning in a sea of other talented players at the position, he's another one to keep an eye on if he manages to swim to the top of that pool.

What He Did: He clearly was a steal. Brown had 69 catches for 1,108 yards and 2 scores. Both Brown and Wallace made the AFC Pro Bowl.

Heath Miller had 631 yards and 2 TDs. Hines Ward had only 381 yards on 46 catches.

Follow me on twitter and check out my website.