AFC North Training Camp Preview

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Baltimore Ravens: Rookies 7/18, Veterans 7/24

John Harbaugh is now entering his 12th year with the team.  The biggest off-season change would be new OC Greg Roman, previously the OC in Buffalo and San Francisco before coming to Baltimore in 2017.  He was a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach in 2017 before becoming the assistant head coach and tight ends coach.  We will now get a full off-season of scheming for the Lamar Jackson offense.  Last year when Lamar took over, he was still running a Joe Flacco style offense, so this year we should see a significant improvement in terms of fit and scheme.
OC Greg Roman has had success with running style quarterbacks, most notably Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.  Many will write Lamar off as a passer, but I’m not so sure we should be quick to do so.  He was thrown into the starting role mid-season and most likely ran the ball a lot more than he should have because he was still new to learning the offense.  He reacted more with his legs, but did show some some nice ability to read his progressions and get the ball downfield.  A full off-season of being the man should only help Lamar develop as a passer.  He has the amazing rushing upside built into his fantasy floor and will flirt with QB1 numbers all season.
The Ravens will be one of the most run heavy teams in the league again this year.  This is in large part due to Lamar Jackson.  Baltimore was first in rushing attempts last year and second to only Seattle in rushing yards.  The Ravens added free agent Mark Ingram to be their lead back on a three year deal.  Ingram brings veteran leadership to this young group of backs that includes Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, and rookie Justice Hill.  Ingram will be the primary ball carrier on early downs and in the red zone.  He has RB2 upside this year and could return value for us in the mid to late fourth round.  The competition behind him will be one we definitely need to keep an eye on in camp.  Third down back Javorious Allen is now on the Saints, so we’ll see if Kenneth Dixon can hold off third round pick Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State.  Hill was the fastest running back at the combine this year and should have every opportunity to show what he can do.  Gus Edwards should be the main replacement if anything to happens to Ingram.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see all four of these backs have fantasy value this season, but my favorites would be Ingram and Justice Hill at ADP.
The Ravens let Michael Crabtree and John Brown walk in free agency and spent early draft picks on Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.  Marquise Brown is still recovering from a Lisfranc surgery in February and is on the NFI list to start camp.  I’m not sure how much value he will have for us in his rookie season, but continue to monitor his practice reports.  Miles Boykin should be ready to go and could get a jump start on Brown in terms of being useful for us in fantasy.  Boykin is a big target and tested as well as DK Metcalf at the combine.  Besides the rookies, the Ravens have Willie Snead, Chris Moore and Jordan Lasley.  Snead led the team in receptions last year and should have a solid chance at doing so again.  Chris Moore is also generating some positive buzz this summer and is likely to start.  The Ravens brought in four UDFA WR’s, so we really have to wait and see before I get excited about drafting a Raven WR for redraft leagues this year.  For now, I’m going to recommend drafting no Ravens WR until further notice.
Baltimore has one of the best young group of tight ends in the league, led by Mark Andrews.  Hayden Hurst was drafted in the first round last year and Andrews was drafted in the third.  Hurst was injured throughout his rookie season, allowing Andrews to get more playing time and finish as the TE17 in PPR leagues.  Hurst is injured again as training camps begin so we’ll see Andrews as the clear starter to start the season.  I’m drafting Mark Andrews in the late rounds of drafts as my TE2 with upside.  Behind these top two, we have Nick Boyle and three UDFA’s.  We’ll monitor the young rookies from a far in case Hurst misses any significant amount of time, but go ahead and target Andrews in the late stages of your draft.

 

Cincinnati Bengals: Rookies 7/24, Veterans 7/26

The Marvin Lewis era is finally over in Cincinnati! They hired first time head coach Zac Taylor, previously the quarterback coach for the Rams.  He was with the Rams in 2017 as the assistant wide receivers coach, and before that, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Cincinnati.  He was with the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2015 and served as the assistant quarterbacks coach before moving up to offensive coordinator in 2015.  Taylor’s offensive coordinator will be Brian Callahan, previously the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2018.  Callahan served as the quarterback coach for the Lions in 2016-17, and as an offensive assistant for the Denver Broncos from 2010-15.  Taylor is 36 and Callahan is 34, so it will be super interesting to see what new ideas these two can cook up year one.  The defense should be among the league’s worst and the offensive line is not much better.  This is usually the recipe for a juicy fantasy passing team so don’t overlook these Bengals players below.
Andy Dalton is returning from a torn ligament in his thumb that occurred against Cleveland in Week 12.  Dalton was actually playing fairly well in 2018, posting his second best QBR of his career.  All off-season reports are that Dalton looks great and is ready to go in this new, quicker paced offense.  He’ll be a QB2 in 2QB leagues and most likely has streaming capabilities for us in redraft leagues.  If the new Taylor/Callahan offense is successful at being a quicker paced offense, we just might see some new career highs from Andy Dalton in 2019.  With the Bengals having one of the worst defenses in the league this year, this could allow for a high number of pass plays as the Bengals play catch up or get into some shoot-outs.
All eyes will be on Joe Mixon taking a step forward this year and possibly entering the “elite” tier of running backs.  Mixon finished as the RB10 in PPR leagues last year, averaging 17.4 points per game.  He also finished fourth in the league with 1,168 rushing yards, which is extremely impressive considering the weaknesses on the offensive line and poor game scripts from the terrible defense.  Perhaps the most impressive stat from Mixon’s 2018 season is that he did all of this while only playing in 14 games.  Looking at 2019, the Bengal’s drafted OT Jonah Williams with their first round pick out of Alabama.  This was going to be a positive for Mixon and the Bengals as a whole, but Williams will be likely missing his entire rookie season because of shoulder surgery.  To make matters worse, veteran guard Clint Boling announced his retirement after missing all of the spring workouts because of a blood clot.   Mixon was good enough to over-come poor offensive line play last year, but now the Bengals are down 2 of their projected starting offensive lineman.  I still like Mixon as an RB1 for 2019, although his upside seems capped now.  His current ADP is likely his ceiling, so I might look elsewhere if I’m at the beginning of round 2.  I am into the idea of trying to get Mixon as your RB2 if you can.  Giovani Bernard is the backup, and early camp reports are saying that they want to get him more involved this year, perhaps getting 10-12 touches per game.  This would also be a negative for Mixon.  The Bengals also drafted two running backs this year, Trayveon Williams out of Texas A&M and Rodney Anderson out of Oklahoma.  We’ll watch these two in training camp and preseason games.
AJ Green suffered a torn toe ligament and played through a groin injury last season.  He was playing at a WR1 pace the first 8 weeks of the year until the toe injury sidelined him for a few weeks.  He tried to come back Week 13 but re-injured himself early in that game.  Green is now 31 years old and coming off of two injury plagued seasons.  Many are hesitant to take him with these two major concerns.  I’m optimistic on Green for 2019, mainly because we get a slight discount on the WR1.  He’s going in the third round of drafts right now and could pay off big dividends.  The new offensive system should benefit the Bengals offense as a whole and AJ Green was still playing at a high level last year.  Behind Green, Tyler Boyd enjoyed a third year breakout season last year.  He finished as the WR15 in PPR leagues, but his production actually dropped off after AJ Green went down.  This was also because Andy Dalton got hurt Week 12.  If we are expecting the 2019 Bengals to run a McVay style offense, Boyd should be expected to produce at a WR2/3 level for us this year.  After the top two, John Ross is the most intriguing option.  A fresh start with a new coaching staff could be just what he needs.  I’m open to snagging Ross as one of my last picks in redraft leagues.  He was able to catch 7 TDs last year and should be seeing the field a lot more in year three.  We’ll monitor the rest of the WR group that includes Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, Cody Core, Auden Tate and UDFA Stanley Morgan Jr.
The Bengals resigned TE’s Tyler Eifert and CJ Uzomah this off-season, while letting Tyler Kroft walk and sign with Buffalo.  They drafted Drew Sample in the second round out of Washington.  Sample is one of the better blocking TEs from the draft and should be able to act as an extra lineman right away.  He basically fills Kroft’s role from 2018.  As for fantasy, I’m not sure I’m very excited to try another round of Tyler Eifert, but his ADP is cheap.  If you wanted to wait and snag him as your TE2, I’m fine with that.  Just make sure you have someone ahead of him.  Uzomah has proved himself as a capable pass catcher and would step up in Eifert’s place if and when injury occurs.  Monitor Drew Sample in camp and preseason to see if he’s turning heads with is pass-catching abilities.

 

Cleveland Browns: Rookies 7/24, Veterans 7/24

Cleveland had the most exciting off-season in the NFL.  New head coach Freddie Kitchens was promoted from within, serving as the associate head coach and running backs coach last year.  He was also the offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson was fired.  The new offensive coordinator will be Todd Monken, who last year coordinated the league’s top passing offense in Tampa Bay.  We should be very excited about what these two can do with Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr.
Baker Mayfield finished around QB16 last year playing in 14 games, but he actually scored as QB7 after Hue Jackson was fired.  Mayfield should be a lock for top ten numbers this year and will be in the mix for a top five season.  He is being drafted around QB5 right now so he’s being drafted near his ceiling.  I generally don’t like to draft players at their ceiling, but with the additions of OBJ and Todd Monken, I’m willing to draft Mayfield as my QB1 if he falls to the 6th/7th round range.  We’re looking at 4,000+ passing yards and 30+ TDs here.  We’ll have to watch and monitor training camp reports to see how Mayfield is adjusting to the new Monken system.  The only knock I can think of with Mayfield is that defenses will be ready for him this year.  He’s still one of the most exciting young QBs and should only benefit from playing with a talent like Beckham.
Nick Chubb enters his second season clearly atop the depth chart.  He finished as RB17 in PPR leagues, racking up 996 yards and 8TDs on 192 carries.  He added 20 receptions for 149 yards and 2TDs.  He’s currently going in the second round of drafts and is one of my favorite targets in this round.  There’s a good chance he finishes in the top five in rushing yards and is likely to score double digit touchdowns again.  The big question in this backfield is with Duke Johnson.  If Duke gets traded before the season, Chubb will see a rise in targets and receptions.  Even if Duke gets traded in season before the trade deadline, we’ll see Chubb’s receiving numbers rise.  The Browns did sign Kareem Hunt this off-season, but he’ll be suspended for the first eight weeks of the year.  Once he’s back, it might take him a few weeks to get up to speed so I wouldn’t worry about him over-taking Chubb or ruining Chubb’s value right away.  Hunt may have some RB2/Flex value for us late in our playoff runs however.  Duke Johnson’s value could skyrocket if he gets traded to a team like Tampa Bay that will use his skillset to the fullest.  We’ll have to monitor Johnson’s situation the next few weeks before we decide to start drafting him, but I’d assume he’ll get what he wants and land on a new team in 2019.  If/when it happens, second year back Dontrell Hilliard will be the name to know.  He could step right into Johnson’s role.  We’ll see how Hilliard plays in pre-season before we ge too excited.  For now, draft Chubb.  The rest will sort itself out.
The trade for Odell Beckham Jr. will be one of the most exciting trade’s we’ll ever see.  He’s going from Eli Manning to Baker Mayfield, making me think we haven’t seen the best of OBJ yet.  Feel free to make Beckham your first round pick in the back end of round one, or roll the dice and see if you can snag him early round 2.  Beckham has had a handful of soft-tissue injuries throughout his career so there is some injury concern, but his pairing with Mayfield should be pretty special when he’s healthy.  Jarvis Landry will be the WR2 and should slide back into his complimentary slot receiving role.  Landry can provide us a steady WR3 this year.  After the top two, Rashard Higgins is the favorite for the number 3.  Antonio Callaway has a chance to to beat out Higgins, but for now, Callaway is the clear number four.  If anything happens to Beckham or Higgins, Callaway will be a a must add.  Callaway is a better dynasty stash and best ball pick than a redraft target this year.  We shouldn’t worry about anybody besides these top four, just be sure to see who’s name(s) keep popping up in camp.
David Njoku took a step forward in his second year, finishing as TE9.  He hauled in 56 receptions for 639 yards and 4TDs on 88 targets.  One has to wonder if his production will take a hit with Odell on the team.  He’s still an intriguing option because he’s in such a potent offense.  It makes sense to pair Njoku with another promising tight end that has TE1 upside just in case his numbers take a step back.  Behind Njoku, the Browns added Demetrius Harris from the Chiefs.  Seth DeValve is still there but is viewed as more of a blocking tight end.  Harris has more upside as a receiver so I’ll be watching this camp battle for the Browns TE2.  I believe Njoku is being drafted at his ceiling so I haven’t been drafting too many shares for 2019.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Rookies 7/24, Veterans 7/25

Mike Tomlin enters his 13th season as the Steelers head coach, while OC Randy Fichtner enters his second season as the offensive coordinator.  Both of these guys started coaching in Pittsburgh back in 2007, so we pretty much can expect more of the same for 2019.  The Pittsburgh offense ranked 4th last year in total yards and 2nd in passing yards, but mysteriously finished 31st in rushing yards.  Despite the low rushing totals, they were still able to finish 6th in points per game, mainly because of a career year from Ben Roethlisberger.
Ben Roethlisberger is entering his 16th year in the league and is coming off of his best statistical season, recording 5,129 passing yards and 34 TDs.  This put him at QB2 in most scoring systems.  We are expecting a step back this year with the loss of Antonio Brown, it’s just a matter of how much.  He is being drafted around QB13 right now and could end up as a value at that price tag. For some perspective, we can take away 600 passing yards, 3 passing TDs and his 3 rushing TDs from last year and he would still finish as QB12.  Roethlisberger is a nice target for a late round quarterback strategy.
With Le’Veon Bell finally out of the picture, James Conner is locked and loaded as the RB1.  Conner was the RB6 in PPR leagues last year and even missed three games.  He just missed out on a 1,000 yard rushing season with 973 yards.  He was a touchdown machine, rushing for 12 TDs and adding one through the air.  It was his pass catching ability that caught most by surprise, racking up 55 receptions for 497 yards and that one touchdown.  There has been talk about the Steelers using more of a committee approach for 2019, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  Conner can be taken as early as RB6 and is an ideal late 1st round target.  The guy who will be getting more time in this backfield will be Jaylen Samuels.  Samuels ended the 2018 season with five straight games of double digit PPR points.  He’s a versatile player, having experience at tight end, running back, wide receiver and even full back at NC State.  His college position coach has also been added to the Steeler coaching staff as the fullbacks and tight ends coach.  I expect Samuels to get more opportunity this season, but not enough to scare me away from Conner being an RB1.  Antonio Brown and Jesse James leave behind a ton of targets, so it’s reasonably to expect Pittsburgh to spread these around.  After the top two here, we have fourth round draft pick Benny Snell Jr out of Kentucky.  It appears that the Steelers really like Snell, so I’d expect him to get sprinkled in here and there in his rookie season, but not enough for us to own in redraft leagues unless injury to one of the top two.  If Conner misses time, Snell would get the most benefit.  If Samuels misses time, I’d expect Conner to be even more involved in the passing game, with Snell giving him the occasional breather.  Either way, there are fantasy points to be had in this backfield.
The receiving group in Pittsburgh will be among one of the most difficult to project.  Juju Smith-Schuster clearly sits atop the depth chart and will lead this team in targets, receptions, yards and most likely touchdowns as well.  He’s being drafted around WR6 right now and is an ideal target if you hold the 11th or 12th position.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Juju led the NFL in receptions this year and finished as a top 5 WR.  The camp battle for the #2 WR appears to be in favor of free agent Donte Moncrief.  Moncrief spent 2018 lost on the Jaguars roster but was somewhat productive earlier in the season.  Moncrief has had success in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck so I’m open to him putting up a career season with Roethlisberger.  He will turn 26 this August, so his best football is still ahead of him.  He just needs to stay healthy.  A lot of attention will be on second year WR James Washington taking a step forward this year.  Washington flashed in the preseason last year and had a couple of nice games to end his season.  He caught 3 for 65 yards in Week 15 against the Patriots, and then 3 for 64 yards in Week 17 against the Bengals.  Washington should be on the field a lot more in his second season, but feels like more of a best ball pick than a redraft target.  We have a couple slot receivers to mention here with Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers.  Juju will likely play more slot this year so I’m not expecting much to happen from these two, but in case of emergency, just know that they’d be next up.  The Steelers drafted Diontae Johnson out of Toledo in the third round this year.  He’ll be the most interesting name to watch for in camp and preseason games, but he’s more of a dynasty stash at this point.
Vance McDonald will be the main receiving tight end this year now that Jesse James has left for Detroit.  McDonald was the TE10 last year in PPR leagues, but was very inconsistent.  He only recorded 5 games over double digit fantasy points out of 15 games, but he did become more consistent down the stretch.  With James out of the picture now, McDonald is a candidate to push for a top 5/6 finish this year at the position and remains one of my favorite later round targets.  We have Xavier Grimble behind him to fill James’ role.  Grimble is a super athletic pass catching tight end, so if McDonald misses any time, this will be the name to know.  The Steelers drafted Zach Gentry in the fifth round out of Michigan.  He’ll be more of a dynasty stash for us this year, but just keep an eye on him in August to see how he’s developing.

 

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