With the Summer Sleeper series at its conclusion and the preseason underway, it’s time to review what we’ve learned since the beginning of camp and take a closer look at position battles, emerging players or roster surprises. With that in mind, we’re going to fire up the DLF RV and go division-by-division with some news and notes. While we won’t mention every single player (we have our player news feed for important news), we’ll take some time to run down some important dynasty information for each team. If you have a question on a particular player, ask below and I’ll do my best to answer it as well. If you missed a previous report, just click on it below.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Training Camp Update: NFC East
Dynasty Fantasy Football Training Camp Update: NFC West
Dynasty Fantasy Football Training Camp Update: NFC North
Dynasty Fantasy Football Training Camp Update: NFC South
We continue with the AFC North.
After flirting with retirement (kind of), Ben Roethlisberger returns to the helm of one of the most powerful offenses in football. Roethlisberger enters season #15 (isn’t that crazy?) with a great supporting cast while looking as healthy as he has in a while. In fact, most reports have him looking at least ten pounds leaner after he changed his diet this off-season by cutting out sugar and carbs, which seems like no fun at all. The Steelers may have their quarterback of the future in the form of Mason Rudolph, who will look to leapfrog the unimpressive duo of Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs for the right to hold a clipboard. He’s on the deep rookie draft radar for sure, though expectations need to be held in check.
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The failed contract negotiations for Le’Veon Bell have opened the door for players to step up and James Conner has clearly done just that. One of the easiest players to root for in the NFL has returned from a torn MCL reportedly looking like a completely different player and person. Look, he’s not Le’Veon Bell (few are) but Conner is apparently making the Steelers wonder if they have an in-house replacement in case Bell walks after the season. Conner has been completely dedicated to re-shaping his body and preparing himself for the grind of a complete season. His camp performance thus far has been reportedly night and day compared to last year. If Conner is available in your league, he’s worth grabbing to see just what he has this preseason. The next most intriguing name on the depth chart is Jaylen Samuels, who was surprisingly listed as sixth on the initial Steelers depth chart. There’s no need to panic here but he has some ground to make up.
The offense is going to revolve around Antonio Brown, who is nursing a minor injury in camp but nothing that merits any real concern. JuJu Smith-Schuster will look to build on a very successful rookie year as the “Robin” to Brown’s “Batman.” Pittsburgh is suddenly flush with talent at the position and the team that tends to develop their receivers better than anyone is going to have some tough roster decisions to make. The star of camp (outside of Conner) has been James Washington, who certainly has immense talent but also doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional receiver. So far, the Steelers look like they may have hit it big (again) at the receiver position in the draft with Washington, though. The rest of the depth chart consists of Darrius Hayward-Bey, Trey Griffey (his Dad was decent at baseball), Tevin Jones, Justin Hunter, Marcus Tucker and Justin Thomas, among others. One other name to file away is none other than Damoun Patterson, who has really shown up in practice thus far. This camp battle is going to be very fun to watch as Pittsburgh has a whole host of players vying for very few spots. Chances are a few of these players will be auditioning for their future teams over the next few weeks.
The Steelers look to be giving Vance McDonald the starting job and he’s being underrated in many dynasty leagues. If you don’t have an elite option, you could do much worse than McDonald, who is starting to run away with the job in camp.
Editor’s Note: Everyone is going to have their favorite sleeper from Hard Knocks, so I’m focusing more on the well-known group here.
Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback and that’s been written in blood, etched in stone and shouted from the rooftops. Expect the question to still be asked every day, especially if Baker Mayfield shows well in the preseason. For the record, I think Taylor is one of the most disrespected and underrated quarterbacks in the league over the past decade. He’s never been given an amazing supporting cast, yet still produces at a very efficient rate. Unfortunately, that’s only resulted in him constantly looking over his shoulder.
I’m very interested in how this whole thing shakes out. We know Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson are all going to play. Johnson’s role as a pass catcher is secure, so the battle here is clearly between Hyde and Chubb. While Chubb is undoubtedly the future here, Hyde isn’t interested in handing him the starting job. This is a battle that will rage deep into the preseason.
If I was to tell you that no matter what anyone says or does, you could NOT hunt for unicorns because it’s forbidden and you’ve been in trouble for it before, would you find yourself secretly making plans to enter an enchanted forest in search of the horned beast because you just couldn’t help yourself? I know that sounds ridiculous but I just have to wonder what could possibly be going through the mind of Antonio Callaway. All you have to do is attend camp and not get into trouble and you will likely earn the starting job opposite Jarvis Landry. Just don’t get caught with that ONE thing or you’ll risk throwing away your entire future. Instead, you find yourself in a car at 2:59 AM with marijuana under the seat. For the record, I’m not making light of the seriousness of drug use or addiction but we’ve seen this kind of lost opportunity far too often throughout the years. Callaway was making real progress in Browns training camp but this throws major cold water on his value, despite the trade of Corey Coleman. He’s likely going to get a suspension from the NFL and the risk associated with Callaway has just gone up, as if that was even possible. Meanwhile, Josh Gordon still hasn’t reported and the Browns are down to one quality receiver in Landry. There’s a ton to shake out here and no determinations can be made on anything until we know more about what will happen with Callaway and Gordon, though Rashard Higgins will likely beneift the most at this point. The Browns have been connected with Dez Bryant and I’d expect they kick the tires on the recently released Brandon LaFell (more on him later) as well.
This is an area where the Browns really need to see improvement and David Njoku is clearly under the spotlight here. The Browns are going to expect a major second year leap and the dynasty community is hoping for the same.
The Bengals will roll out Andy Dalton for the eighth year in a row and he should be able to post yet another QB2 season. Dalton will continue to be a solid backup plan even though his dynasty ceiling is limited.
The dynasty community is very interested in seeing just what Joe Mixon may be able to do in 2018. Mixon should have every opportunity to reward dynasty owners who invested in him last year as he’s slated to be the bellcow for the Bengals this season. Giovani Bernard will have a great chance to re-coup some value if Mixon fails to impress, especially with Jeremy Hill gone. Mark Walton and Brian Hill will most likely round out the depth chart at running back. I was hoping to see more from Walton in camp thus far but it’s been pretty quiet on that front. The positive thing is he’ll have the entire preseason to make a positive impression. I’m not a huge Mixon fan (and this is based only on his on the field production), so I’m paying attention here.
This has been by far the strongest group of players in Bengals camp so far. The Bengals have been so impressed by the progress of John Ross and Tyler Boyd that they cut the aforementioned Brandon LaFell. This is obviously a huge year for Ross, who was an complete disaster last year. Boyd has been forgotten in many dynasty leagues but he’s making a strong case to earn starting duties opposite AJ Green and has had a very strong camp thus far as well. Josh Malone is also a player to watch, As it stands, the Bengals are looking at a starting trio of Green, Ross and Boyd. The biggest news is that they’re actually happy about that.
Tyler Kroft took over for Tyler Eifert last year and scored seven touchdowns, which was nice but still seemed pretty fluky. Eifert is one of the best performers in fantasy football but has only played in 24 of a possible 64 games the past four years due to a variety of injuries. He looks healthy again but I’m selling after one good game. As for Kroft, he’s a waiver wire add if and when Eifert gets hurt but I don’t see him as that much more. In short, I expect ten touchdowns from tight ends named Tyler in Cincinnati – good luck in figuring out how it shakes out.
Joe Flacco has responded to the Ravens trading up for Lamar Jackson by having what many believe to be his best training camp to date. He’ll start the season under center but this will be the first time someone is putting some real heat on him from the sidelines. As for Jackson, he’s been up and down as expected. There are going to be times where he amazes you and times where he’s going to look awful, which is going to really test his mental toughness. Meanwhile, RGIII is back but likely on the cut line as the Ravens typically keep only two quarterbacks. A good showing could put him at the top of lists for teams who have an injury at the position and are looking for someone to fail to get out of bounds on a regular basis.
This is a pivotal year for Alex Collins, who is only on a one-year contract, despite breaking out for nearly 1,000 rushing yards last season. The Ravens will also likely keep Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen, though Gus Edwards, De’Lance Turner and Mark Thompson will all have a chance to earn a spot. Collins could establish himself as the running back of the future for the Ravens. However, the team rarely relies on just one running back and that makes this group one of the least inspiring in terms of dynasty appeal.
The Ravens completely overhauled their wide receiver corps with Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead. They also added Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley in the draft. The spotlight is clearly on Breshad Perriman, who now finds himself on the roster bubble. I like Scott as the sleeper in this group and believe he may just be the one to push Perriman off the roster.
The Ravens have some tough choices here and the preseason is going to be key. You figure Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst make the team after being drafted in the first three rounds. Nick Boyle is also a strong bet to make the team and that’s going to make former dynasty darling Maxx Williams a roster casualty unless he performs well over the next month.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK