by Michael Nazarek - 7/15/2019
It's time to take a closer look at the North Division teams to see how they are shaping up in July. Let’s get right to it…
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens made the playoffs in 2018, but failed to make the big game. Veteran QB Joe Flacco was traded to the Broncos in the off-season, after rookie QB Lamar Jackson took over to lead the team into the playoffs. Jackson struggled throwing the football, but was a dynamic runner, so that makes him an interesting fantasy sleeper for 2019. That said, if he doesn't improve as a passer, he could flame out sooner than many think. QB Robert Griffin III returns as the backup. In the running game, veteran RB Alex Collins is gone, as the team signed free-agent RB Mark Ingram to start. Second-year RB Gus Edwards believes he will remain the starter, but that won't be the case come September. RB Buck Allen is gone, leaving RB Kenneth Dixon and RB Tyler Ervin for depth. The team drafted RB Justice Hill in April, but the guy to target in your draft remains Ingram, as a good #3 fantasy RB if possible. Remember, Jackson could easily steal a lot of rushing scores from Ingram. In the passing game, veterans WR Michael Crabtree and WR John Brown are gone, leaving only WR Willie Snead to return as an impact veteran. The team did sign WR Seth Roberts and WR Michael Floyd, but they are inconsistent #3 WRs at best. Rookie WR Marquise Brown could actually make the starting lineup if he impresses this summer. That said, it's clear the Ravens will be a running team in 2019. At tight end, second-year TE Mark Andrews and TE Hayden Hurst return to share time at the position. Hurst is still getting some buzz, but Andrews may be the better player. Veteran TE Nick Boyle also returns for depth. Veteran PK Justin Tucker returns, coming off another nice season. With this team likely to continue to struggle in the red zone, Tucker remains a top tier fantasy kicker for 2019.
Cincinnati Bengals:The Bengals missed the playoffs again in 2018. Veteran QB Andy Dalton struggled last year, but returns as the starter for 2019. Dalton can still produce the big game here and there, but consistency has never been his forte. As a result, I still avoid drafting him in fantasy leagues. QB Jeff Driskel returns as the backup. In the running game, third-year RB Joe Mixon returns as the solid starter. Mixon is talented, and is a clear top 10 fantasy RB in 2019. RB Giovani Bernard returns, as the primary backup and handcuff. In the passing game, WR A.J. Green and breakout WR Tyler Boyd return as one of the better 1-2 tandems at wideout in the league. If Green can stay healthy, both should be very productive for their fantasy owners. Third-year WR John Ross needs to pick up his production if he's to have any chance of sticking with the team beyond 2019. Is Ross a sleeper? Not if both Green and Boyd stay healthy. WR Cody Core and WR Josh Malone return for depth. At tight end, TE Tyler Eifert (ankle) was re-signed, but may still not be healthy when camp begins, making his fantasy stock very shaky at best. When healthy, he can produce solid numbers, but he's been unable to stay healthy the past several seasons. Backup TE Tyler Kroft is now a Bill, leaving TE C.J. Uzomah to backup Eifert (or start if Eifert can't play). Veteran PK Randy Bullock returns, but it's probably best to avoid him in your draft due to inconsistent scoring chances.
Cleveland Browns:The Browns finally broke their long losing streak in 2018 and became respectable. Rookie QB Baker Mayfield made an immediate impact when he played, and returns as a rising young star QB. How good he can be is up to debate, but I believe he's already a top 10 fantasy QB. QB Drew Stanton will back up Mayfield. In the running game, second-year RB Nick Chubb had a breakout rookie season, and returns as the solid starter. The team signed RB Kareem Hunt, whom is suspended for the first eight games. RB Duke Johnson has asked to be traded, but the Browns aren't budging. They do not want to take a risk that Hunt messes up again, and is banned for life. That said, things could change as we creep towards September. In the passing game, WR Jarvis Landry returns, but the big move was the acquisition of WR Odell Beckham Jr.. OBJ is an elie fantasy STUD, no question, even as a Brown. As for Landry, he's still a top 30 fantasy WR, especially in PPR leagues. Second-year WR Antonio Calloway returns as the deep threat, while WR Rashard Higgins returns for depth. This is a very talented wideout corps. At tight end, third-year TE David Njoku is the clear starter, a player whom should produce another solid top 12 fantasy TE season. That said, his ceiling may be capped due to the talent around him. TE Seth DeValve returns as the backup, while veteran TE Demetrius Harris was signed for depth. At kicker, the team drafted PK Austin Seibert to kick. You know how I feel about rookie kickers... AVOID.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers missed the playoffs last year. Veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger returns to lead the team in 2019, but lost WR Antonio Brown in a big trade to the Raiders. As a result, Big Ben slides out of the top 10 fantasy QBs list. QB Landry Jones is gone, leaving unproven second-year QB Mason Rudolph as the backup. The Steelers better hope Big Ben stays healthy. In the running game, the big news is that RB LeVeon Bell finally flew the coop to New York in free agency. That leaves RB James Conner as the clear starter, although second-year RB Jaylen Samuels will see some action, enough to likely push Conner out of the top 10 fantasy RBs. That said, if you draft Conner, you should target Samuels later in your draft, as a handcuff. In the passing game, with WR Antonio Brown gone, third-year WR JuJu Smith-Schuster moves into the #1 WR job. Smith-Schuster is a solid top 10 fantasy WR, possibly top 5. Second-year WR James Washington will battle newly signed WR Donte Moncrief for the #2 starting job. The guess is that Moncrief wins it. Rookie WR Diontae Johnson was drafted to make an impact, but it may take a bit for him to develop. That said, he is one to watch later this summer. WR Eli Rogers was re-signed for depth. WR Ryan Switzer also returns to boost the corps. At tight end, TE Vance McDonald returns, but TE Jesse James left via free agency. TE Xavier Grimble returns to back up McDonald. I really like McDonald for fantasy this season, as he's a clear top 10 fantasy TE. PK Chris Boswell returns as the kicker, but he struggled in 2018, so he will have to earn the job in camp this summer. For that reason, it's probably best to avoid him in fantasy drafts.
Chicago Bears: The Bears surprised to make the playoffs, but didn't make the big game. Third-year QB Mitchell Trubisky had a solid season with a few big games. He returns as the starter, but I'm not very excited about his fantasy potential. QB Chase Daniel returns as the backup. In the running game, RB Jordan Howard was traded to the Eagles, as the Bears drafted RB David Montgomery to share time with RB Tarik Cohen in the backfield. Veteran RB Mike Davis was signed to compete with Montgomery for the starting job. In the passing game, veteran WR Allen Robinson returns, but is coming off a bit of a disappointing season. At this time, he's nothing more than a solid #3 fantasy WR with Trubisky spreading the wealth around. Second-year WR Anthony Miller flashed before an injury curtailed his rookie season. He has some sleeper potential. WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Cordarelle Patterson figure into the mix, as depth players. Rookie WR Riley Ridley is the brother of Falcons WR Calvin Ridley, so he's one to keep an eye on this summer. At tight end, veteran TE Trey Burton returns as the starter, but too often he disappeared in games last year. That said, he's still a top 15 fantasy TE. TE Adam Shaheen returns as the backup to Burton. The kicker is TBD, so it's best to avoid all of them until someone wins the job this preseason.
Detroit Lions:The Lions missed the playoffs again in 2018. That said, veteran QB Matthew Stafford returns as the starter after a frsutrating season where he played hurt and lost two thirds of his WR corps to an injury and a trade. I would like to think Stafford will rebound, but something tells me not to trust him as anything more than a cheap fantasy backup come draft time. QB Tom Savage will back up Stafford in 2019. In the running game, second-year RB Kerryon Johnson had a very nice rookie sason, until he injured his knee. He's healthy now, and returns as a solid #2 fantasy RB. Veteran RB LeGarrette Blount is gone, as the team signed RB C.J. Anderson to be the bruiser opposite Johnson. In addition, veteran RB Theo Riddick returns as the change of pace and primary pass-catching back, although there are rumors he may not make the final roster with Johnson very adept at catching the football. RB Zach Zenner returns for depth. In the passing game, WR Kenny Golladay and WR Marvin Jones return as the starters, and have become a solid 1-2 pass-receiving tandem. With WR Golden Tate long gone, the Lions signed WR Danny Amendola to man the slot. Veterans WR Jermaine Kearse and WR Tommylee Lewis were signed for depth. At the tight end position, the Lions drafted rookie TE T.J. Hockenson, and he should immediately start. He makes a nice fantasy middle-to-late-round sleeper. Veteran TE Jesse James was signed for depth and could factor into the equation early in the season if Hockenson gets off to a slow start. At kicker, veteran PK Matt Prater returns, but with what appears to be an inconsistent offense, is only a middle-of-the-road fantasy option at kicker.
Green Bay Packers:The Packers missed the playoffs in 2018 again, and fired the coaches. That said, veteran QB Aaron Rodgers returns, and remains an elite fantasy producer, but injury concerns and a new coaching staff do not have him at the top of the heap. QB DeShone Kizer will back up Rodgers. In the running game, RB Aaron Jones emerged as the clear starter last year, besting RB Jamaal Williams over most of the season. Jones returns as the starter, and clear solid #2 fantasy RB with upside potential. The only issue here is the fact that the Packers still prefer to throw the football over running it. In the passing game, WR Davante Adams returns as the clear #1 WR, and elite fantasy producer. If you do not take a RB in the first round of your draft, there is a good chance you will take Adams instead. WR Randall Cobb ws not re-signed, and is now in Dallas, leaving WR Geronimo Allison and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling to battle for the starting spot opposite Adams. Thus far through OTAs, MVS has a lead on that slot. That said, both MVS and Allison are interesting late-round fantasy sleepers. WR Equanimeous St. Brown and WR Trevor Davis will provide depth. At tight end, veteran TE Jimmy Graham returns after a disappointing season. He still has some red zone value, but let's just say he's more of a fantasy backup than every-week starter at this point of his career. Veteran TE Marcedes Lewis returns as the backup. Veteran PK Mason Crosby returns coming off a solid scoring season, and is a top 12 fantasy kicker for 2019.
Minnesota Vikings:The Vikings missed the playoffs last year. Veteran QB Kirk Cousins had a nice first season with the team, but petered out late in the year. That said, he returns, and is a decent fantasy backup option. Why not higher? Well, Cousins doesn't run much and if RB Dalvin Cook remains healthy, the running game should score more, taking passing chances in the red zone away from Cousins. QB Sean Mannion is the new backup. In the running game, RB Dalvin Cook struggled through another injury-filled season, but kicked it into gear late when he was healthy. As a result, he is a top 10-12 fantasy RB in 2019. RB Latavius Murray flew the coop in free agency to New Orleans, leasving a lot of uncertainty behind Cook. The team drafted RB Alexander Mattison, so do not be surprised if he wins the backup job over both RB Mike Boone and RB Roc Thomas. In the passing game, WR Stefon Diggs and WR Adam Thielen return as the clear starters, and one of the best tandem wideouts in the league. Both are top 15 fantasy WRs. WR Chad Beebe and WR Laquon Treadwell will battle for the #3 WR job, but that position holds little value on this team. At tight end, TE Kyle Rudolph returns as the veteran starter, but his fantasy value slides a bit with the drafting of rookie TE Irv Smith. Still, Rudolph is a top 12 fantasy TE, while Smith is a very interesting latter round fantasy sleeper. Veteran PK Dan Bailey returns as the kicker, but his accuracy and distance kicking isn't what it used to be. As a result, he's not much more than a middle-of-the-road fantasy kicker.
That does it for the North divisions. Look for my views regarding the teams in the South shortly. All comments, complimentary or otherwise, are always welcome via the contact page. Let's talk fantasy football!
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