by Michael Nazarek - 7/14/2022
It's time to take a closer look at the North Division teams to see how they are shaping up in July. Letâ€™s get right to itâ€¦
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens failed to make the playoffs in 2021, mostly due to the fact that QB Lamar Jackson was injured most of the second half of the season, and a porous defense. Jackson enters his contract year without an extension, but odds are good that it will get done. On the field of play, he remains a dynamic threat, but with shaky weapons around him, he's closer to the #10 ranked fantasy QB than the top dog in my eyes. In the running game, RB J.K. Dobbins and RB Gus Edwards both tore their ACLs before the 2021 season began, leaving the team to mix and match fill-in players for most of the year. Dobbins and Edwards should be healthy at some point, but the team will not rush them back. Let's just say I'd avoid drafting either of these two until they are practicing with a firm timeline for their return set. Veteran RB Mike Davis was signed to fill in if needed. In the passing game, the team traded WR Marquise Brown to the Cardinals, leaving second-year WR Rashod Bateman as the new primary #1 WR, while WR Devin Duvernay and WR James Proche are likely to fill the #2 and #3 WR jobs. Yup, this corps is razor thin. Bateman has sleeper potential with solid upside, but this team remains a run-first group, and TE Mark Andrews returns as the primary scoring threat in the passing game. Andrews is an elite talent and top Tier fantasy TE in 2022. TE Nick Boyle returns to back up and play alongside Andrews. 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 five fantasy kicker for 2022.
Cincinnati Bengals:The Bengals surprised in 2021, winning their way into the Super Bowl and nearly upsetting the Rams to win it all. QB Joe Burrow has now developed into an elite fantasy QB talent with top-notch weapons in his arsenal. Best of all, you can wait a bit before drafting him this summer despite his development. In the running game, veteran RB Joe Mixon returns as the solid starter. Mixon is talented, and remains a clear top 10 fantasy RB in 2022, but he could catch less passes. RB Samaje Perine and RB Chris Evans will battle to be the handcuff and likely third-down pass-catching back this summer. In the passing game, WR Ja'Marr Chase, WR Tee Higgins, and WR Tyler Boyd return as one of the best 1-2-3 trios at wideout in the league. Chase and Higgins could both finish as top 10 fantasy WRs in PPR leagues, while Boyd is a solid WR4 with upside. WR Stanley Morgan Jr, WR Mike Thomas, and WR Trent Taylor provide depth. At tight end, TE C.J. Uzomah signed with the Jets this offseason, so the team signed TE Hayden Hurst to start. Due to the nature of the high-powered offense, Hurst has some interesting sleeper value. TE Drew Sample will back up Hurst. Second-year PK Evan McPherson got the nickname "Money Mac," after nailing several last second FGs in 2021 to help the team into the Super Bowl. He should see plenty of scoring chances in 2022, making him a top 10 fantasy kicker.
Cleveland Browns:The Browns failed to make the playoffs in 2021. As a result, QB Baker Mayfield was declared to be "immature" and eventually traded to the Carolina Panthers. Earlier this offseason, the Browns acquired QB Deshaun Watson as their new starter, but he seems destined to be suspended due to his legal issues for at least 6-8 games, if not all of 2022. Veteran QB Jacoby Brissett was signed to start if Watson can't play. Brissett is not a QB to target for fantasy reasons. The longer he plays, the longer the passing game will struggle for the Browns. That said, this is still a running team first, so RB Nick Chubb remains the primary back, even as RB Kareem Hunt returns as the 1B to Chubb's 1A role. RB D'Ernest Johnson was re-signed for depth, but could be traded later this summer. In the passing game, both WR Jarvis Landry and WR Odell Beckham Jr. are gone, as the team acquired WR Amari Cooper from the Cowboys. Cooper is the clear #1 WR, but when Watson sits, his upside won't be much compared to when Watson plays. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones is set to be the #2 WR opposite Cooper, while the team wants rookie WR David Bell to man the slot. DPJ has a bit of sleeper value, at least when Watson plays. You get my drift here. At tight end, veteran TE Austin Hooper was released, as the team franchise-tagged and eventually extended TE David Njoku to start over the long-term. Once again, Njoku has some fantasy value, but much more when Watson plays. TE Harrison Bryant returns to back up Njoku. At kicker, the team drafted PK Cade York to kick. You know how I feel about rookie kickers... AVOID.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers snuck into the playoffs last year, but veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger couldn't get the team into the big game in his swan song season. As a result, the Steelers have big questions at quarterback entering the 2022 season. First, they signed free-agent QB Mitchell Trubisky to start immediately, while drafting QB Kenny Pickett to be the eventual starter. Neither player is a quality fantasy starter, and the Steelers passing game could struggle for much of 2022. That said, the running game with workhorse RB Najee Harris will be leaned upon, early and often. That keeps Harris a top 10 fantasy RB for 2022. RB Benny Snell and RB Anthony McFarland return for depth. In the passing game, WR Diontae Johnson is very talented, but he can't throw the football to himself, so you can likely expect his numbers to regress a bit with Trubisky/Pickett leading the team. WR Chase Claypool returns as the other starter, with WR JuJu Smith-Schuster signing elsewhere. Rookie WR George Pickens is likely to be the new #3 WR, but he is not expected to see a lot of action immediately. WR Anthony Miller and WR Myles Boykin will provide depth. At tight end, TE Pat Freiermuth is coming off a solid rookie season, but could also see a dip in his stats with Big Ben retired. TE Zach Gentry will back up Freiermuth. PK Chris Boswell returns as the kicker, but is only a middle-of-the-road fantasy producer due to the questions surrounding the offense.
Chicago Bears: The Bears failed to make the playoffs in 2021. Veteran QB Andy Dalton is gone, leaving second-year QB Justin Fields as the clear starter. A lot of fantasy players like his potential, but I need to see him produce more consistently before I become a believer, and I've yet to really see anything special, so I will let others draft him in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. In the running game, RB David Montgomery is the workhorse back, making him the most valuable fantasy player on the Bears' roster. Second-year RB Khalil Herbert returns to back up Montgomery, as he showed flashes his rookie season when Monty couldn't play due to injury. In the passing game, veteran WR Allen Robinson is gone, leaving WR Darnell Mooney as the clear #1 WR, and obvious fantasy sleeper. Others in the revamped wideout corps include: WR Byron Pringle, WR Tajae Sharpe, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, WR Dante Pettis, and rookie WR Velus Jones. When paired with Fields, none of these players interest me for fantasy. At tight end, TE Cole Kmet returns, and is still looking to break out. The team signed TE James Oâ€™Shaugnnesy to boost the tight end group. The kicker is PK Cairo Santos, but due to inconsistent scoring chances, he's not one to target for fantasy in 2022.
Detroit Lions:The Lions missed the playoffs once again in 2021. QB Jared Goff showed why the Rams ditched him for former Lions QB Matthew Stafford, as Goff didnâ€™t come close to leading the team to the promised land. That said, Goff returns for 2022, so you can expect limited upside at this position in Detroit for fantasy. In the running game, RB D'Andre Swift impressed last season, until a shoulder injury knocked him out for most of the final 1-2 months of the season. I like Swift a bit more than most, as the Lions really want him to be more of a workhorse in 2022. Veteran RB Jamaal Williams returns, but should see less action behind Swift this season. RB Godwin Igwebuike and RB Jermar Jefferson return for depth. In the passing game, second-year WR Amon-Ra St. Brown lit it up, catching everything in sight late in 2021. He should be the clear #1 WR, while the team signed WR D.J. Chark to be the deep threat opposite St. Brown. Chark has potential, but Goff's presence limits his upside. Then there is rookie WR Jameson Williams, the speedster from Alabama, coming off a torn ACL. When healthy, he will upgrade this corps immediately, but he might not play until October. Meanwhile, WR Josh Reynolds and WR Kalif Raymond return for depth. At the tight end position, TE T.J. Hockenson returns, coming off a somewhat disappointing season. He still is talented, but he's closer to being a top 10 fantasy TE for 2022 than a top 5 guy. At kicker, PK Riley Patterson is the guy, but with what appears to be an inconsistent offense, is only a middle-of-the-road fantasy option at kicker at best.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers made the playoffs, but once again, they didn't make the big game. That said, veteran QB Aaron Rodgers returns, and remains a very effective NFL starter, but in fantasy terms, take a big hit with the loss of WR Davante Adams to the Raiders. As a result, Rodgers is not in my top 10 fantasy QBs for 2022. Now, that is not to say he won't have his moments, but they are likely to be fewer than they used to be. In the running game, RB Aaron Jones and RB A.J. Dillon form one of the top tandem backs in the league. And while they should both see more touches without Adams on the roster, their presence is likely to keep either of them from being a top 10 fantasy RB. In fact, do not be surprised if by season's end, Dillon passes Jones in terms of overall touches. In the passing game, both Adams and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling are gone, leaving WR Allen Lazard and WR Randall Cobb as the most experienced wideouts on the roster. Unfortunately, neither are solid #1 WRs, but the Packers hope rookie WR Christian Watson quickly develops into that role. Time will tell if that happens, but any time you are catching passes from Rodgers, good things should happen. Veteran WR Sammy Watkins was signed, and this could be his final chance to make an impact in the NFL. Second-year WR Amari Rodgers says he's learned a lot since his rookie season ended and is ready to contribute. At tight end, TE Robert Tonyan returns, but is rehabbing a torn ACL and not a lock to play come week #1. Watch his progress closely, since if he's ready, he could play a much bigger part in the passing game when healthy without Adams on the roster. TE Josiah Deguara will fill in when Tonyan can't play, possibly giving him a bit of fantasy value early in the season. Veteran TE Marcedes Lewis returns for depth. Veteran PK Mason Crosby returns coming off a so-so season, and is now only a middle-of-the-road fantasy kicker for 2022.
Minnesota Vikings:The Vikings missed the playoffs last year. Veteran QB Kirk Cousins returns as the starter with a new coaching staff in place. This staff says they will not focus so much on the run, which could mean even better stats for Cousins in fantasy terms. As it is right now, Cousins is an underrated fantasy producer, but one prone to having bad games when you least expect it. In the running game, RB Dalvin Cook returns as the workhorse back. He is a top 10 fantasy RB talent, but always misses 2-4 games per season due to various injuries, including a separated shoulder that can pop out at any time. If you select Cook this summer, be sure to handcuff him with RB Alexander Mattison later in your draft. In the passing game, WR Justin Jefferson and WR Adam Thielen return as the clear starters, and one of the best tandem wideouts in the league. Jefferson is a top 3 fantasy WR, while Thielen is still a top 20 guy, but has been injury prone in recent seasons. WR K.J. Osborn has a bit of fantasy value as the team's #3 WR, especially if Thielen goes down again. WR Bisi Johnson and WR Albert Wilson provide depth. At tight end, TE Irv Smith missed all of 2021 with a knee injury, but is once again healthy. He will start and should provide some solid fantasy sleeper value with TE Tyler Conklin having left via free agency. TE Johnny Mundt will back up Smith. PK Greg Joseph is the kicker, and should see enough scoring chances in 2022 to be a borderline fantasy starter in 12-man leagues.
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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