AFC North Preview
Looking at offseason changes
Now that camps are opening and we have finished our rookie rankings, we thought it was a good time to start rolling out our team reports, which are being released by division. Old Rotobahn readers know the drill, but for you newbies, the goal here is to get you back up to fantasy speed. If you’ve been eating, breathing and sleeping baseball, we’re here for you. Let’s play a little catch-up. The key things on the docket are coaching changes, rookies and key free agent moves.
No coaching changes of note for the Steelers, but that lack of buzz around Pittsburgh is almost palpable. The draft, which is almost always the source of skill talent for the Steelers, was very good. We are very big fans of RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Markus Wheaton, but in typical Steelers fashion, the hits didn’t stop in the early rounds. Pittsburgh, in our opinion, stole QB Landry Jones in the 4th round. Sure, Jones has disappointed some of his fans and emboldened all of his critics with his lack of progression at Oklahoma, but if you don’t think his skill set is a steal in the 4th round, you need to go watch his tape. This kid has pure NFL ability. With all the talk about Mike Glennon’s and Tyler Bray’sarms, people seem to have forgotten that Jones throws a better deep ball than either one of them. The Jones pick was theft. Plain and simple. This is how the smart teams to do it. The Steelers also nabbed WR Justin Brown out of Penn Sate in the 6th. As usual, the shelves get re-stocked and too few seem to notice.
The Steelers were also frugal yet effective in free agency, where they added QB Bruce Gradkowski, who is underrated and can hold the fort for a year as the backup QB thus giving Jones the time he may need to learn. Also imported was tailback La’Rod Stephens-Howling, who could end up being an exciting change of pace to the hulking Bell. This will be year two of OC Todd Haley's offense and we think things get better in year two.
Misfortune seems to be raining down on the Ravens since they held the Lombardi amidst the falling confetti. It’s almost as if they made a deal with you know who to keep that flag in the ref’s back pocket. Gone is Anquan Boldin, a move that was puzzling on its face, but now, with the devastating injury (hip) to TE Dennis Pitta, the Ravens are in a state of flux at some very key positions. At TE, you can count on Ed Dickson stepping up and making some plays. In fact, Dickson is a bigger downfield threat than Pitta, but he’s not the secure route runner and security blanket that Pitta had become for Joe Flacco. Pitta is Flacco’s roommate and BFF. That smarts after losing Boldin, who was his other security blanket.
So, the Ravens have some searching to do over the next month or so. Boldin and Pitta must be replaced. Here are the names to keep an eye on.
- TE, Ed Dickson
- TE, Visanthe Shiancoe
- RB/TE, Kyle Juszczyk (rookie)
- WR, Jacoby Jones
- WR, Tommy Streeter
- WR, Deonte Thompson
- WR, Aaron Mellette (rookie)
- WR, Tandon Doss
- WR, David Reed
Yeah, I know, Torrey Smith had better be able to handle the double team. Dickson is a lock for a role increase. Jacoby Jones was already getting one and now must find a way to stay healthy with increased snaps. Jones is a serious upside option right now. The big question is who among the others can grow up fast? The Ravens, I’m sure, would love one of the talented youngsters like Mellette or Streeter to take a big step, but that’s a 50/50 proposition at best. Doss has some talent and plays with fire. He’s a medium talent, but he’s versatile, knows the system, and could be a sleeper. Then there’s Deonte Thompson, who could really help the Ravens by having a good year. Thompson has the ability to do damage opposite Smith or in the slot with Jones and Smith on the wings. Right now, he’s the guy that, to me, is most likely to step up. The Ravens are a team to watch in August, because there’s fantasy gold somewhere on the roster. We just have to sift a bit and find it.
The Ravens’ draft was very heavy on defense, which makes sense with the departure of Ray Lewis (ESPN) and Ed Reed (the Texans), the two long time staples of the Ravens historic defensive run. Mellette and Juszczyk were the lone skill players and Juszczyk is a fullback from the Ivy League, Harvard specifically. He’s a smart kid, obviously, and he’s versatile, but he’s not explosive. He may become a solid player, but I’d bet my lunch money that they’d switch that pick to Kenny Stills or Alan Bonner or even Denard Robinson. Can I hear a Theo Riddick? That said, Juszczyk is now a guy to watch because he has the versatility to do a lot of things and the Raven need a lot things.
The backfield stays the same with Ray Rice leading the way and Bernard Pierce moving into an expanded role, at least in theory. The losses in the receiving corps could make Rice harder to take out of the game, even on early downs. I still view Pierce more as a high-quality handcuff than a flex option, but the kid does run very hard. No doubt about that.
New HC Rob Chudzinski was a gutsy hire. We were less than impressed with the way he handled the Carolina offense last year but he did improve things some down the stretch and he has a solid track record. Where we are giving Chudzinski some immediate credit is with the hiring of OC Norv Turner. There’s a lot of teaching to be done in Cleveland and they have some very good coaches on the ground now. Turner is better as an OC than as a HC. This should work out well for the offense and it’s offense we care about. On the defensive side, Ray Horton replaces Dick Jauron as coordinator.
The new faces in Cleveland are not very exciting. The draft featured no skill talent at all and the most compelling free agent additions are WR Davone Bess, WR David Nelson and WR Dion Lewis. At the QB position, both Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell were brought in to "compete" with Brandon Weeden, though Weeden is fully expected to be the guy. Due credit to new GM for creating better depth and more competition at the skill positions. The one position that lost some ground was tight end as Ben Watson left for New Orleans. It’s no problem if Jordan Cameron steps up, but that remains to be seen. Kellen “iron mitts” Davis was brought in for blocking and depth.
This sure looks like a team on the rise. The Bengals had another solid draft, adding serious skill talent in tailback Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert. Both will be fantasy factors at some point this year or next, but they will make the Bengals better right out of the box. The Bengals also added RB Rex Burkhead from Nebraska, who is a very solid talent. They also added receiving depth by taking Cobi Hamilton out of Arkansas in sound six. Hamilton will have plenty of time to develop with all the receiving depth in Cincy.
The Bengals also landed one of our favorite defensive prospects in DE Margus Hunt from SMU. The Estonian sensation has a chance to be a dominating pass rusher and set an NCAA record for blocked field goals. The Bengals have some really good eyes in their personnel department. Kudos are in order.
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