When you talk about the best divisions in football, it’s hard not to mention the AFC North. In 2014, three of four teams went to the playoffs. The only team missing was the Cleveland Browns, who finished with a 7-9 record (just as good as the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers).
With the division being so competitive, it’s no surprise they are going to challenge themselves and have some questions that need to be answered. Our 32 teams, 32 questions continue as we explore the AFC North.
With Martavis Bryant suspended, who gets the boost in fantasy production?
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
Bryant finished the 2014 season with 26 receptions for 549 yards and eight touchdowns. The receptions and yards might not really pop out. However, the eight touchdowns is huge, granted he is only suspended for four games. Bryant will miss the opener against the New England Patriots and other players missing from that game will include Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Tom Brady (most likely), who will all sit out with suspensions.
Someone needs to pick up the slack with Bryant being suspended. The obvious choice would be Markus Wheaton. He finished with 53 catches for 644 yards and two touchdowns last season. The yards between Bryant and Wheaton are fairly similar with just 95 yards being the difference. What will hurt the Steelers is Bryant finished with 26 receptions compared to Wheaton’s 53 catches. Wheaton also played 760 snaps compared to Bryant’s 306, thus proving the big play ability of Bryant.
If Wheaton was not nearly as effective as Bryant, who is going to pick up the slack if he fails to do so? One player who could get an increase in red zone targets is Heath Miller. So, to be fair, Bryant’s fantasy production will be spread around a little bit. I can see Wheaton getting a majority of the looks, but not being nearly as effective.
Who will lead the Browns in carries?
The Browns are going to run the ball a lot this year. In fact, it would not surprise many if they rushed more than any NFL team as they try to run down the clock and keep games close. ESPN’s Adam Caplan expects Duke Johnson to lead the Browns backfield in touches if healthy. That’s a pretty bold statement to put out there with as many backs as the Browns have. I could see Johnson getting somewhere around 325 total snaps, but it’s difficult to forecast.
To figure out questions in fantasy football, you really need to dig into stats. In 2014, Isaiah Crowell had 391 offensive snaps while missing two games. Terrance West had 416 and missed three games. Terrance West led the Browns in rushing and also had more receptions than then any other running back on the team. I think West is going to be a steal in fantasy drafts. The Browns will most likely have a running back by committee. Realistically, I believe West is going to be primary back, Crowell will be the goal line runner and Johnson will be the receiving and third down back. These roles could change depending on who has the hot hand, but this committee promises to be a hot mess for a while.
Is A.J. Green still worth the rich fantasy investment with Andy Dalton at the helm?
For the most part, the answer to this question will be speculation and trying to predict the future and we all know that is beyond impossible. That’s what is fun about the sport, all the speculation, crazy opinions and hot takes.
Andy Dalton just plain stunk last season. There is no sugar coating that. I live around the Cincinnati area and the whole off-season surrounded around people believing AJ McCarron should be under center in 2015. I laughed every time it was mentioned, but the fans are tired of Dalton and want to win a playoff game. When you hear crazy things like this, you know the organization hears what the fans want. Ultimately, the owners and managers want to win the big one – this all relies on the arm of Dalton.
Last year, Dalton posted games that featured him throwing for 169, 126, 86, 176, 117, 146 and 155 yards – that just isn’t going to cut it. You have a player like AJ Green and you have nearly half the games with fewer than 200 yards passing? This makes no sense.
The Bengals have a young team with Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. AJ Green is a free agent and will have a decision to make moving forward now that Julio Jones has signed his monster contract. AJ Green would be a star with any NFL franchise and the Bengals need to lock him up before doing something crazier than starting AJ McCarron.
Can Justin Forsett duplicate what he did in 2014?
Every time a fantasy analyst tries to describe Forsett, they label him as a journeyman. This is a correct statement he has played on four teams in four years. I get it, that doesn’t mean he can’t produce, though. Sometimes players bounce around from team-to-team until it clicks or they land in the right offense – this seems to be exactly what happened with Forsett after he posted his career year last season.
The Ravens have a new offensive coordinator in Marc Trestman who loves to get his running backs involved in the passing game. Remember, Matt Forte caught 100 balls in the backfield last year and he will have a significant decrease because Trestman isn’t there this season. Forsett should be in line for a lot of those short passes in Baltimore.
It would come to no surprise to me to see Forsett finish this season with similar stats to last year in rushing. He finished with 1,266 rushing yards and that is totally achievable again this season under Trestman if he can stay healthy and hold off the backs behind him on the depth chart. What we should really be excited about are the potential reception totals. He should finish with around 60-70 catches, making him a perfect trade target for a contending team.