2023 Dynasty Division Outlook: AFC North IDP

Justin Taylor

This year, we’re bringing you a new series covering each NFL division’s dynasty fantasy football outlook. We’ll bring you an overview of each team, highlight the best and worst positional groups, and make some cool predictions for the division as a whole. Let’s jump into it!

AFC NORTH IDP OUTLOOK:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

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The Bengals have steadily improved on defense and have some noteworthy IDP players. The Bengals defense is led by its’ Edge Rushers, Sam Hubbard (32 tackles, six tackles for loss, 24 QB hits, eight sacks, and three forced fumbles in 2022) and Trey Hendrickson (60 tackles, 11 TFL, 22 QB hits, 6.5 sacks and one FF in 2022). Cincinnati also added some depth when they selected Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. On the defensive line, the Bengals are led by defensive tackle B.J. Hill with DJ Reader plugging things up at nose tackle.

Logan Wilson continues to be a solid, yet underrated IDP contributor at linebacker. He had 123 tackles, three TFL, seven QB hits, four passes defended, and an interception. His LB mate Germaine Pratt had 99 tackles, six TFL, 10 PD, and two interceptions.

The Bengals went through some changes in the secondary. They had to replace both safeties as Jesse Bates and Von Bell left in the offseason. Last year’s top draft pick Dax Hill out of Michigan is expected to take a big step forward this season. Two newcomers will fight it out for the other starting safety spot. Nick Scott was signed away from the Los Angeles Rams, while Alabama product Jordan Battle was taken in the third round of the 2023 draft. Mike Hilton is a dynamic nickelback, who can cover, tackle and rush the passer. The Bengals weakest link is cornerback where Cam Taylor-Britt will be pressed for time by second-round rookie DJ Turner II out of Michigan. Chidobe Awuzie only played in eight games last season and didn’t have a takeaway.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

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The Ravens have been known for their stout defense for most of their existence. Last season was a different story. Once the Ravens traded for star linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears, they improved. But it was a down year for this group that is undergoing some big changes. They got solid output from the front seven last year, but their secondary was abysmal.

On the defensive line, DT Broderick Washington and NT Michael Pierce are in the middle. They are decent players who don’t offer much. On the edge, Baltimore has three youngsters they are really excited about: Justin Madubuike, Odafe Oweh, and David Ojabo. Madubuike had 42 tackles, eight TFL, 9 QB Hits, and 5.5 sacks in 17 games. Oweh played in all 17 games, but only started six in his second season. He amassed 43 tackles, seven TFL, 11 QB Hits, and three sacks. Ojabo missed all but two games last season after tearing his Achilles during the 2022 NFL Combine but is looking to make an impact this season.

Roquan Smith is arguably the best inside linebacker in football. The Ravens traded for him during the season and signed him to a large extension, making him the league’s highest-paid LB. Patrick Queen had been the man in the middle before the trade for Smith. But that move made Queen expendable. The Ravens declined his fifth-year option and then drafted Clemson stud Trenton Simpson in the third round, which seems like they are setting up to replace him.

Cornerback was not great, to say the least. Marlon Humphrey was a standout, making the Pro Bowl after collecting 71 tackles, three interceptions, three TFL, and seven PD. Rock Ya-Sin was signed away from Las Vegas and Brandon Stephens mans the nickelback spot.

Former first-round pick Kyle Hamilton looks to take the next step in his second pro season. He should see a significant uptick in IDP production. He has a new running mate with Marcus Williams replacing Chuck Clark, who was a tackling machine in the secondary.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

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The Steelers are starting to get their swagger back on defense. They aren’t the old Steel Curtain, but they should be vastly improved this season after some very good offseason additions.

Defensive Tackle Cam Heyward doesn’t look to be slowing down even at the age of 33. He has made six straight Pro Bowls with three First-Team Associated Press All-Pro Selections. His 74 tackles, 14 TFL, 23 QB Hits, and 10.5 sacks in 2022 were elite numbers for a DT. He is joined up front by Larry Ogunjobi and 2023 second-round pick Keeanu Benton out of Wisconsin.

The Steelers were hurt big-time when T.J. Watt was injured in the season-opener against Cincinnati, after a masterful performance. He missed seven games, and the Steelers weren’t the same without their best player. When healthy Watt, who had a NFL-record 22.5 sacks in 2021, is arguably the pre-eminent pass rusher in the league and a game-changer. His presence also helps Alex Highsmith perform at his peak. Highsmith had the best year of his young career with 63 tackles, 12 TFL, 20 QB Hits, five forced fumbles, and 14.5 sacks. But he only had 3 sacks in the seven games when T.J. Watt was injured.

Inside Linebacker was a problem last year. Devin Bush continued to struggle, so Pittsburgh let him walk in the offseason. Myles Jack and his big salary hit were cut. The Steelers replaced them with Cole Holcomb, who was been very good during his four years in Washington. He only played in seven games last season because of injury, but he is a tackling machine. The Steelers also added former Miami LB Elandon Roberts. These two should be a massive upgrade over last season’s crew that struggled to help against the running game.

The Steelers had a major overhaul at Cornerback in offseason, signing the former great Patrick Peterson, who was resurgent the last two seasons in Minnesota. Peterson had a career-high in tackles (66) with his second-best season total in PD (15) and INTs (5). Then in the second-round Pittsburgh drafted Joey Porter Jr out of Penn St and later got a steal with Purdue’s Cory Trice Jr in the seventh round to go with starter Levi Wallace.

Minkah Fitzpatrick continues to redefine the Free Safety position. He makes plays all over the field and can be a fantastic fantasy commodity at a position that is hard to predict. Keanu Neal comes over after one year in Tampa Bay to take over as strong safety for the departed Terrell Edmonds. Neal has had some fantastic seasons in his career, but most of those were in Atlanta before injuries stole most of back-to-back seasons.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

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The Browns’ defense did what it could to keep them in games last season, but injuries slowed them and they barely finished as a top 15 unit. Jim Schwartz was brought in to take over as Defensive Coordinator. The defensive line added Dalvin Tomlinson from Minnesota to play alongside Jordan Elliott. They also drafted run-stuffing NT Siaki Ika from Baylor in the third-round of the 2023 Draft.

The Browns Edge Rushers could be one of the best tandems in football with Myles Garrett and newly acquired Za’Darius Smith (Minnesota Vikings). Garrett has 32 sacks the past two seasons, and Smith had 10 sacks last year coming off an entire season missed with an injury.

If Anthony Walker Jr. can come back from a left quadricep injury last season, this will be a much-improved group. Walker has had triple-digit tackles in three of his last four seasons before getting injured in Week 3 last season. His experience will help to continue the development of third-year LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Sione Takitaki had his best season as a pro in 2022, but he is below average starter.

The Browns have a talented group of Cornerbacks who will be tested this season. Denzel Ward and Greg Newsom II are former first-round picks and lead a secondary that the Browns need to become elite. At Strong Safety Greg Delpit should be solid again after piling up 105 tackles and four INTs last season. Juan Thornhill comes over from Kansas City and hopes to add to his career-high tackles (71) and interceptions (3) in 2022.

POSITIONAL GROUP RANKINGS:

DEFENSIVE LINE:

  1. Steelers: A
  2. Bengals: B
  3. Browns: C+
  4. Ravens: C

Most of these teams use their big guys up front as run stuffers or gap protectors. The Steelers easily have the best group here because they have the best player. Heyward was a stud as a DE, but with the new myfantasyleague.com defensive designations for this season, Heyward is eligible at DT or DL, making him a top-five IDP interior lineman. I also love Benson’s upside learning under Heyward as his eventual replacement. The Bengals Hill is probably the only other playable IDP guy in this DL group.

Cameron Heyward career stats:

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EDGE: DEFENSIVE END/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

  1. Steelers: A+
  2. Browns: A+
  3. Bengals: A
  4. Ravens: B

The AFC North is stacked with elite edge rushers. The Steelers combination of Watt and Highsmith has the ability to combine for a 35+ sack season. Last year they were considered LBs for fantasy, but they qualify as DEs this season, which absolutely increases their already high value. The Browns have the second-best pass-rush duo in the division, but they also might be the second-best in the entire league. We know Garrett is elite and a top-five IDP asset. Adding Smith to the other side of the line just helps Garrett. This duo could combine for 25-30 sacks this season. The Bengals combination of Hendricks, Hubbard, and Murphy should be a dynamic rotation that keeps QBs looking over their shoulders. The Ravens group is young and talented, but they have not produced fantasy numbers to match their potential talent level. Keep an eye on Madubuike, Oweh, and Ojabo. They should all be IDP contributors, but a big season from one or more of them could be in the works.

TJ Watt career stats:

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LINEBACKER:

  1. Ravens: A+
  2. Steelers: A-
  3. Bengals: B+
  4. Browns: B-

Roquan Smith is the best off-the-ball LB in football, Queen has a very good start to his career and Simpson’s upside is immense making this Ravens group the top of the heap. The Steelers were the worst of this group last season, but Holcomb and Roberts are a massive upgrade at least on paper for IDP purposes. Wilson is my third favorite LB in this Division and plays well with Pratt. If Walker can make a full recovery for the Browns their grade will go up a couple of points. He has been a solid IDP player his entire career and if Owusu-Koramoah can take the next step this could be a pretty good group.

Roquan Smith career stats:

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CORNERBACK:

  1. Browns: B+
  2. Steelers: B
  3. Ravens: B-
  4. Bengals: C+

While the Browns’ Ward and the Ravens’ Humphrey fight it out for the title of best CB in this division, with Newson in the fold, Ward has more help than Humphrey has in the back end, giving Cleveland the edge. Peterson is hoping to be fantasy relevant for at least another season and the potential of Porter and Trice make this Steelers group very intriguing in real-life and in IDP leagues. The Bengals have drafted some talented players in the last few seasons but are they going to develop and become solid performers, that is yet to be determined.

Marlon Humphrey career stats:

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SAFETY:

  1. Steelers: A-
  2. Browns: B
  3. Ravens: B-
  4. Bengals: B-

This group has a lot of new faces across the division. Fitzpatrick’s play and ability to be a top-five fantasy DB gives him and the Steelers the clear nod here. If Neal and Damontae Kazee can reclaim some of their past glory this could be a dangerous group. Delpit has started to perform up to his potential and is an IDP starter. The Ravens rating is based on Hamilton taking the next step into a top-tier strong safety, but I’m not sure Williams isn’t a downgrade from Clark, especially for IDP. I like the Bengals talent, but I need to see it on the field and in the box score before I can suggest pushing Hill, Scott, or Battle in IDP.

Grant Delpit career stats:

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DIVISIONAL PREDICTIONS:

MVP: TJ Watt, DE PIT

The AFC North is an absolutely loaded division for IDP. So many players I could pick here, but I’m going with the Steelers TJ Watt. He looked good at the end of last season after returning from a pectoral injury. With an improved offense and a little less pressure on the defense to do everything, I could see Watt absolutely going off and challenging the sack record (22.5) he shares with the former New York Giants Michael Strahan.

NFL Single-Season Sack Leaders:

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LVP: Za’Darius Smith, DE CLE

Cleveland Defensive End Za’Darius Smith comes over from Minnesota with big expectations as he will lineup opposite Myles Garrett. Fans are expecting a wrecking crew, and I’m not sure Smith is going to come through. Depending on your league scoring system he scored right around 200 points and finished somewhere around 100th in defensive scoring. A majority of that production came in a two-week stretch in the middle of the season where he had 30% of his tackles, 40% of his TFL, and 50% of his sacks. I can see the disappointment coming.

MOST IMPROVED: Kyle Hamilton, S BAL

With Chuck Clark gone from the Ravens secondary, I think Kyle Hamilton takes a big fantasy step forward this season. He will be much more comfortable, and he will be the starter from the beginning of training camp. I can see him making a leap into the top 15 safeties.

Kyle Hamilton career stats:

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BIGGEST STEAL: David Ojabo, DE BAL

Ojabo was looking like a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft before his injury. Most fantasy players have probably forgotten about him in the wake of all the new talent entering the league, but he can be had at a discount. If he returns to form from his Michigan days, you got yourself a steal.

BIGGEST BUST: Odafe Oweh, DE BAL

This is super tough for IDP, as the division has a lot of high-end talent all around. Picking someone to bust is tough. If I have to pick someone I think won’t have as good of a season as people are expecting is Baltimore Defensive End Odafe Oweh. He has a lot of upside, but I’m just not sure he is going to be as big of an impact player as fantasy owners are hoping. He played in all 17 games last season, but only had three sacks. Owners are hoping he becomes a double-digit sack guy, but I don’t think it happens this season.

WAIT FOR IT: Trenton Simpson, LB BAL and Myles Murphy, DE CIN

Everyone loves to start the shiny new weapon they got in the rookie draft, but a lot of these guys take time to adjust to the pro game and thus make little fantasy impact their first year. For this segment I am going with two former Clemson players, the Ravens Trent Simpson and the Bengals Myles Murphy. Simpson won’t have a clear-cut role until Patrick Queen is gone after this season. Murphy will be a part of the Bengals rotation, but he most likely won’t see enough snaps to have a fantasy impact without an injury to Hendrickson or Hubbard. Wait until 2024 before starting these players.

justin taylor
2023 Dynasty Division Outlook: AFC North IDP