Hello everyone, and welcome to another post in our Razzball Divison Preview series. Today I’m taking a look at the NFC North, which, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting divisions in fantasy this year. There are so many storylines and moves that occurred over the offseason that have made this division incredibly relevant fantasy-wise (not that it hasn’t been in the past though). This could either be a great division, or a frustrating one, but we’ll have to see how it shakes out during the regular season itself. But we can’t wait forever, right? So let’s get started now and talk about these four interesting teams.
I’m going to keep it fairly straightforward just because there are more in-depth and complex situations to talk about. Long story short, draft everyone on Pittsburgh that you can. Okay, maybe not Darrius Heyward-Bey, but as of now, the Steelers have the potential to have the best offensive line in the NFL, possibly even ahead of Dallas, sporting giants like Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert. Because of the excellent play of these guys, I’m really high on every aspect of this offense. I don’t need to write paragraphs on why Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are good, so let’s focus on the others.
The upside of Martavis Bryant is second to none out of any wide receiver in the NFL. Sure, he’s had some off the field issues that have resulted in us never seeing a full 16 games from him in his career, but we have to always keep in mind that he’s had 14 total TD’s in 21 career games, which is pretty insane. The great thing about Bryant’s stock in 2017 is that whenever he’s been off the field, no one has really stepped in to replace or even threaten him as the second wideout across from Antonio Brown. Sure, we’ve seen flashes of Markus Wheaton (now in Chicago) and Sammie Coates, but they’ve never panned out, so Bryant still can step in as the immediate WR2. His current ADP is at 58th overall, which is the 26th wideout off the board, which is great value for where his ceiling is at.
My favorite QB this year is probably coming down between Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, Jameis/Mariota and Ben Roethlisberger, but Big Ben is rising in my personal rankings as each day passes. The last time Roethlisberger played on the same field with Bell, Bryant and Brown, they were on pace for setting all of the NFL offensive records after 10 games in 2014. Add standout rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, and this offense looks like a pretty delicious one heading into 2017. Roethlisberger currently has an ADP of 90th overall, which is the 13th QB off the board. And some people still ask me why it’s a good idea to wait on QB’s. Big Ben has a semi-tough first half of the year, with games coming against Minnesota, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Kansas City, before playing at Indianapolis, at home versus the Titans, at home versus the Packers after the bye. His playoff schedule is certainly an interesting one, playing at home versus Baltimore and New England in W
Weeks 14 and 15, then at Houston in Week 16. Definitely something to keep in mind throughout the year.
The Bengals are a difficult team to read heading into the year. One the defensive side of things, they have all of the names to get the job done, but as we saw last year, they don’t score any TD’s, and only get o the QB at slightly below-average rate. On the offensive side on things, we have a pretty interesting unit heading into the season. They added two fantastic rookies in WR John Ross and HB Joe Mixon. There is some hype around Ross and his chances to produce in 2017, but for Mixon, the hype train is unreal. Everyone in Cincinnati, players, coaching and reporters alike, all love Mixon and what he can bring to the table for this offense and team. I don’t mind Mixon as a RB2, but I probably won’t be drafting him. He falls around a range of backs that I don’t find really appealing, names like Carlos Hyde, Spencer Ware, and C.J. Anderson. Now you yourself may be satisfied with one of these names or Mixon as your RB2, but I myself will most likely be taking my second back from the list before these guys, names like Leonard Fournette, Lamar Miller, and my main man Isaiah Crowell, or waiting some time, taking receivers, then choosing from names such as Ameer Abdullah, Bilal Powell, or Frank Gore (best move). A reason why I won’t probably take Mixon is due to the lack of risk associated with him. First off, I am aware of the great reports, but there have been many OTA and Training Camp MVP’s that don’t pan out in the slightest. That sounds like a weak excuse, but the Bengals have plethora of other offensive weapons in the passing game, where they might not place any pressure on their rookie runner. But for actual defined reason, I’m not interested in any Bengals running backs because their offensive line situation is not good at all. Over the offseason they lost Andrew Whitworth to the Rams and Kevin Zeitler to the Ravens. The rest of the O-Line simply cannot replace these two, and a unit that already allowed to many D’s to get to Andy Dalton might let more opposing units do the same in 2017. This is certainly not an ideal situation for a rookie runner to be behind.
As for the rest of the team, I’m pretty happy either way when we discuss A.J. Green (ADP: 11th overall) and Tyler Eifert (ADP: 76th overall), and you don’t need me to tell you that both prospects are great for fantasy. John Ross is an interesting candidate, but I would be more comfortable taking him in a 14 or 16 team league, but definitely not a 10 or 12 team league. As for Dalton himself, I don’t mid him as a low end QB1 in deeper leagues, or as a nice backup to another elite option. And if you are interested in Mixon and want a backup, I would rather have Jeremy Hill over Gio.
The Ravens are an interesting team heading into 2017, and one that is tough to read. One the defensive side of the ball, they have an excellent unit with quite possibly the best secondary in the game with Eric Weddle, FA pickup Tony Jefferson, and Jimmy Smith. Their defensive front is a bit weak, as we only have Suggs and C.J. Mosely. Their sack total was way down in 2016 than the previous year, and I can only see it staying around 31 sacks, maybe even going a bit lower. Unless your league heavily counts sack totals in D/ST scoring, this isn’t the worst defense to take a 15th round pick on.
On the offensive side of things, there has been a some news that has come out that has changed the way we view this offense. First off, it’s certain that Kenneth Dixon will be out for the entire season after getting his medial meniscus repaired in surgery. Because of this, we only have Terrence West and Danny Woodhead. We already know that Woodhead is a great PPR selection, but as for West, we now know that he’ll be the primary runner on non-passing downs. His ADP is currently at 139th overall back, which is the 49th back off the board, and should skyrocket now with the news, however he still should come at a nice value when considering you’re getting a starting back in the late rounds. The Ravens’ O-Line isn’t the greatest in the world, but if he’s getting the opportunities, he’ll make the best of it, and as your potential 4th or 5th back, that’s all you can wish for.
Another interesting piece of news is that Joe Flacco could miss 3-6 weeks with a back injury, and reports that have come out in the days immediately after suggest that the team is currently interested in Colin Kaepernick as a potential backup/training camp hero. If Flacco misses only three weeks, we obviously shouldn’t change our minds about the passing game, and the same can be said about if he misses 6 weeks. If he misses any more time, I think it’s smart to bump down Jeremy Maclin, Danny Woodhead and Mike Wallace a bit, as they would miss crucial training camp snaps with their QB1, but I don’t think we should overreact to it too much. And in general, I don’t really want to target Flacco at all.
The biggest piece of offseason news though was the acquisition of Jeremy Maclin earlier in the summer. Anything that could be said about this move has already been said by the man, the myth, the legend Matthew Bowe, who’s article about the move can be found here. Long story short, MB and I pretty much agree on that fact that Maclin should have an active role in this offense, and with an ADP of 103, the 41st receiver off the board, he comes at a really nice value. With the injuries/departures of Steve Smith, Kenneth Dixon and Crocket Gillmore, the Ravens now have 394 overall targets up for grabs, and it’s safe to say that Maclin will be the biggest beneficiary of it. As for Mike Wallace, the main deap threat (unless Breshad Perriman finally takes it from him), he’s a fine choice as a WR5 or 6 with an ADP of 130th overall, as he’s a bit boom-or-bust to be drafted any higher.
And then we have the Browns. Heading into 2017, the Browns have no place to go but up after a 1-15 record, but this year could be a huge step forward for the franchise. Thanks to a somewhat successful string of offseason moves and NFL Draft selections over the years, the Browns have a talented young and up-and-coming defense headed by Myles Garrett, Jabril Peppers, Danny Shelton, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Jamie Collins, paired with veterans Joe Haden and Jason McCourty . And while I may not convince you that you should be drafting this D/ST in drafts, it’s important to notice that this team is getting better on the defensive side of things. If this defense actually steps up and plays to their talent, the Browns will probably no longer see themselves down by 35 to start the second half, which means that they won’t have to rely on their passing game like they’ve been forced to do in year’s past. Aside from their defense this year, we could probably already predict that the Browns won’t be that pass-heavy just based now on their talent pool in their wideouts. First we had Travis Benjamin, who then left, then Terrelle Pryor, who left, and now we have Corey Coleman, who could break out in 2017, but it isn’t likely at all given that he’ll likely be receiving passes from Brock Osweiler or DeShone Kizer.
And because the offense will most likely not be going through the air, we can confidently predict that the offense will go through Isaiah Crowell on the ground. And like I mentioned earlier this month in my preview of the position, I’m pretty high on Crowell heading into the year. The Browns have a pretty solid offensive line, bringing in Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter from Cincinnati and Green Bay over the offseason to complement Joe Thomas and a now-healthy Joel Bitonio. Crowell’s ADP is currently at 33rd overall, which is the 15th back off the board. He’s currently behind other backs such as Lamar Miller, Christian McCaffrey, Carlos Hyde. I would take Crowell over these guys in a heartbeat. As a firm RB2 with plenty of upside in addition to a reasonable floor, Crowell is a value to be had in this range, and if you could start off your team with a stud receiver and back, then roll with Crowell in the 3rd round, your team is sitting very pretty.
As for the rest of the team, like I mentioned above, I’m not really interested at all in their receivers or Quarterback, whoever it turns out to be. I’m perfectly happy with Crowell and (possibly) their D/ST, and an argument could be made about Duke Johnson in the 13th round as a PPR flier/handcuff, but aside from these three options, I’ll pass on everyone else.
Alright guys, thank you so much for sticking around through another post in our Razzball division previews. Stay tuned for more player profiles and position analysis! And as always, if you have a question or comment about the article itself, don’t hesitate to leave one below! Thanks guys.
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @razzball_zach.