My vow to you is that I will try to handle the AFC North with as little bias as I can manage.
I will attempt to be even-handed.
We freaking won!
Oh my goodness, the Cleveland Browns just won their first playoff game of the millennium!
Don’t laugh at me, a harrowed Browns fan: This is a big deal! And the icing on the cake is that it was against our constant tormentor Big Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It doesn’t matter that the whole of Browns’ fandom was teetering on the edge of the cliff in the 3rd quarter. No, a new day is finally dawning!
Whew. That feels good.
Now we can dispense with the juvenile jabs.
Meh. I’m only human. Let’s get into it.
Browns fans understandably dislike the Ravens as much as the Steelers, if not more. I mean, Art Modell was the worst, after all.
And yet, I must confess that the Ravens have some fun pieces in this offense. After a dismal offensive start to the season, the Ravens settled in and started putting up some great numbers carrying them into the playoffs.
Lamar Jackson proved that his haters were foolish last year with a scorched-earth campaign: He combined truly insane athleticism with impressive passing acumen. He was a top-10 running back with a ridiculous 1213 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns, who also happened to be an elite passer with his league-leading 36 touchdowns and True Passer Rating of 112.5 (No. 2).
He was understandably in discussion for the 1.01 in superflex leagues all off-season.
However, regression hit this year, and he took a step back as a passer. The elite rushing floor was there with 1005 rushing yards and 7 scores, but his passing efficiency went south with a 101.1 True Passer Rating (No. 15). The first half of the season was disconcerting to say the least as he went over 20 fantasy points just thrice. People were especially panicking after a horrific Week 5 against Cincinnati where he mustered three (3) rushing yards.
Fortunately, the second-half of the season was much better as Jackson went north of 20 fantasy points in all but one game.
He treated owners to some show-stopping performances like the one against Cleveland in Week 14 where he and Baker Mayfield went back-and-forth like two gamers just refusing to concede. It was great theatre, and reminded the fantasy world that even when Jackson isn’t throwing well, he can dominate a game on the ground, something that the poor Titans can attest to after their Wild Card defeat this past week.
Look, Jackson isn’t the elite passer he appeared to be last year but truthfully, that doesn’t matter much. In the fantasy mold of Cam Newton (I know, they run much differently in real life), Jackson will continue to throw the ball well enough — but you’re keeping him for his rushing ability (especially the floor that he provides week in and week out).
Don’t get cute: Jackson isn’t going anywhere.
Hopefully you had a chance to grab J.K. Dobbins earlier in the season. I think we can safely project that he will be quite expensive moving forward. Mark Ingram is dust. Gus Edwards is an RFA, so we’ll have to see what happens there. However, Dobbins has absolutely taken the lead in that backfield, and the 22-year old second-round pick out of Ohio State is primed to explode next year.
It feels like it took forever for Dobbins to crest 10 carries (and he finally hit the mark in Week 8), but once he did, Dobbins provided solid fantasy production despite sharing the load with Edwards. Most encouragingly, he demonstrated excellent efficiency while doing so. He was the home run hitter we all thought he could be with his 8.2-percent Breakaway Run Rate (No. 1) and he flashed impressive elusiveness with a 30.9-percent Juke Rate (No. 5). He was able to accomplish all of that despite facing 7.2 Average Defenders in the Box (No. 7). He even managed 9 touchdowns despite sharing opportunities with the aforemtnioned [Lamar] Jackson and Edwards.
With the expectation that the volume will increase, Dobbins’ arrow is pointing up. He looks the part of a building block running back for your dynasty rosters for years to come.
The Ravens have obviously put a premium on speed when it comes to their receivers: Slot receiver Willie Snead aside, Devin Duvernay clocked in at a 4.39 40-Yard Dash (95th), Miles Boykin came in with a 4.42 (89th) and while Marquise “Hollywood” Brown didn’t test, but we know he can fly, too.
The problem in Baltimore is that they just don’t throw much. Their 27.4 Pass Plays Per Game ranks dead last. And so for Duvernay and Boykins to become fantasy relevant, they need an uptick in overall pass volume, or they need something to happen to Brown and Mark Andrews, who commanded most of the available targets.
So, feel free to stash both at the end of your dynasty rosters, but it’s a two-man show in this passing game for the time being; unless Baltimore adds a receiver in the draft or free agency, Brown and Andrews are the two guys need to evaluate.
Brown, taken 1.25 in the 2019 draft, is a polarizing player for fantasy gamers. Anyone familiar with discussions centered around body mass index (BMI) know this. Standing at just 5-9, 166, “Hollywood” makes for a tough comparison; we just don’t have many receivers at that size, especially successful ones.
And yet, Brown seems to be a lock in Baltimore. This seems to be confirmed by the way he finished the season: 6 touchdowns over his last six weeks is impressive to say the least. He is a player to whom Jackson launches deep time and time again with his 25 Deep targets (No. 7). Unfortunately, he and Jackson left 794 Unrealized Air Yards (No. 7) on the table, otherwise his final numbers would’ve looked better. We can also point to his robust 25.2-percent Target Share (No. 12) to clue us in that the Ravens are, in fact, committed to Brown’s involvement in the offense.
So, the Ravens like him, but does that mean we should want him on our rosters, too?
This where I’m less convinced:
While he’s bringing in a decent share of the targets, the overall volume is putrid. He also barely out-targeted Andrews (99 to 89), leaving us with the impression that there is no clear-cut target hog in Baltimore.
His efficiency is also of concern. While Jackson is partly to blame, thanks to a 5.6 Target Quality Rating (No. 59), Brown’s True Catch Rate of 81.7-percent (No. 78) is less than inspiring. His +2.7 Production Premium (No. 37) isn’t moving the needle much either.
In the end, we are left with a field-stretcher, who isn’t terribly efficient, competing for targets with another solid receiver on a painfully low volume passing attack. I just don’t see the upside there.
Depth is always important in dynasty, but if you can move on from Brown thanks to his recent touchdown binge, I’d do it and hope you can land one of the many studs in the upcoming draft class.
After a brilliant 2019 campaign, [Mark] Andrews seemed to be on the cusp of joining the top-tier of tight ends in the league. Despite a laughably low 43.2-percent Snap Share (No. 67), Andrews led all tight ends in touchdowns (10), Deep Targets (20), Hog Rate (23.4-percent), aDOT (11.8), and Fantasy Points Per Pass Route (0.90). With just a slight uptick in opportunity, Andrews felt like a locked-in stud at the position. This naturally led to a high ADP, and lofty expectations.
2020 however, was just meh.
I mean, he was fine. He was still a top-5 player at the position with 12.2 Fantasy Points Per Game, and he did get an uptick in opportunity, seeing his Target Share rise to 67.1-percent (No. 26), but the seemingly inevitable rise to the ranks of Travis Kelce and George Kittle never quite materialized.
Now, it isn’t all bad for Andrews. He was still used downfield, even if it was slightly less so than last year, with an aDOT of 10.2 (No. 5). He was a constant scoring threat with 18 Red Zone Targets (No. 5) and as mentioned above Andrews and Brown are the 1a/1b in this offense as seen by his 27.6-percent Dominator Rating.(No. 4).
To make that leap into elite range, Andrews just needs more volume and opportunity. The problem is that it’s hard to predict that happening. The Ravens seem content to pound the rock, capping all receiving options on the team, and Andrews is regularly taken off the field for better blockers.
He’s a tight end, so you’re not unloading him most likely. The position is a dumpster fire after all (Kyle Pitts and the rest of this class can’t arrive soon enough). However, we should pump the brakes on the Andrews-hype train unless something drastically changes in Baltimore.
Recap: Jackson, Dobbins, and Andrews should continue to put up good numbers at their positions, hold ‘em if you got ‘em. Sell Hollywood.
The first half of the 2010’s were all about Marvin Lewis and the Bengals losing in the first-round of the playoffs (seriously, 0-5 from 2011-2015).
As the decade went on, the good-ish times had to end as Lewis and Andy Dalton were sent packing and A.J. Green’s body began breaking down. It was the end of an era.
And yet, in a ten game sample, Joe Burrow gave us a glimpse of the future — and there is reason for optimism!
Burrow is good.
If anyone is discounting him because of the injury or certain efficiency metrics, scoop him up.
I’m not worried at all: He can run well enough and showed off nice precision throwing the ball with a 7.6 Accuracy Rating (No. 7). With a somewhat normal offseason ahead (we can hope?) and another year learning the offense and building rapport with his receivers, he should be primed for a nice sophomore season.
Year after year, I get tricked into Joe Mixon.
He just isn’t the guy, my friends. The 2018 breakout was nice, yes. But 2019 was supposed to be special. Instead, we received an uneven season on a terrible team. He probably did his best, as seen in his 103 Evaded Tackles (No. 1) and 576 Yards Created (No. 2).
He’s talented. I agree. Sometimes the bad situation, especially bad run blocking, just hampers a talented player.
Additionally, the window is closing fast: He will be 25-years old at the beginning of next season, and he is on his second contract now (Cincy has a possible out after next season). Holding Mixon and praying for a great 2021 season isn’t out of the question. The offense could be good, but it’s a dangerous game as the cliff is ever-approaching. Outside of his Week 4 frenzy, he was awfully pedestrian, even though he had a favorable 59.7-percent Light Front Carry Rate (No. 7).
And yet, he still should have value right now despite the lost season. But for me, I’ve seen enough, and unless I have no other options at running back, I’ll take what I can get in the offseason and move along.
Evaluating the receivers in Cicinnati isn’t the easiest thing to do this season as they worked with Burrow for 10 games and the combination of Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley for the other 6. Unsurprisingly, the Bengals finished in the bottom-third of the league in passing yards and touchdowns.
With that context in mind, there is actually quite a bit of optimism moving into 2021: The return of Burrow should elevate the floor and ceiling for this receiving corps. We’ll see if [A.J.] Green is still there in 2021, but even if he is, he’s a roster-clogger, sadly.
Assuming the Bengals stay away from receiver in the draft, Auden Tate could become the third option.
But, much like Baltimore, this is a two-man show for 2021.
First, we have Tyler Boyd.
Since Boyd’s third-year breakout, he has established himself as a reliable slot man. He’s now logged three straight years with over 100 targets and at least 75 catches. Locked-up through the 2023 season, there’s no reason to fear for Boyd moving forward. He should continue to be a solid-if-unspectacular option for Burrow and fantasy gamers alike. While he won’t be a league-winner, he’s exactly the type of high-floor depth piece that fills out good rosters.
Buy with confidence, especially after a season with counting stats on the lower end.
If Boyd’s ceiling is capped, it’s because of the emergence of Tee Higgins as much as it is from Boyd’s own ability.
Higgins, a precocious performer at Clemson, underwhelmed at the Combine, perhaps pushing him down some draft boards.
However, THE BREAKOUT FINDER wasn’t thrown off the course, giving him a 51.3 Breakout Rating, thanks in large part to a hefty 43.3 Teammate Score, an elite 18.6 Breakout Age (96th), and gaudy 19.8 College YPR (93rd). The Bengals must’ve agreed, taking him at the top of the second to pair with Burrow, forming a dynamic tandem for years to come.
And Higgins did not disappoint.
His counting stats, despite suffering through 6 of those Allen and Finley games we mentioned earlier, were superb. He ranked third in catches (67), yards (908), and touchdowns (6). His efficiency numbers are solid too, highlighted by a +28.4-percent Target Premium (No. 7) and a 28.4-percent Dominator Rating (No. 11).
He has a few areas that need improvement like his 74.4-percent True Catch Rate (No. 101) and his 1.15 Target Separation (No. 99), but he’s consistently facing off against opposing shutdown corners and succeeding. The potential, especially with Burrow coming back, is sky-high. Honestly, how many rookie receivers are definitely ahead of him? Justin Jefferson? Yeah. CeeDee Lamb? Maybe. That’s it for me.
I’m trying to grab him everywhere I can, as his value will only increase.
I’m assuming that Drew Sample, 2019 second-round pick out of Washington, will hang on to the starting job heading into next season.
C.J. Uzomah doesn’t pose much of a threat; the Bengals could look for a tight end in the draft but have so many areas of concern that giving the athletic Sample another year makes the most sense to me.
Unfortunately, Sample doesn’t pose much of a threat to opposing defenses, either. He never really did anything at Washington. Similarly, in 16 games this year, Sample never really stood out despite running 408 routes (No. 11).
I’m happy to avoid this whole situation and focus on wide receiver.
Recap: Buy Burrow, Boyd and Higgins. Sell Mixon.
Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski should never have to buy a drink in the city of Cleveland again.
What they did in a weird and shortened offseason is remarkable.
All of the dysfunction of the John Dorsey-Freddie Kitchens era has been erased and the Browns finally look like a real professional football team. The bar is low, sure, but we are finally going places!
I was there: September 20th, 2018 at First Energy Stadium.
The Browns hadn’t won a game in 635 days. The first quarter was a mess. Tyrod Taylor was starting, so was Carlos Hyde for that matter (thanks, Hue Jackson). The Browns were down 14-0 to the Jets, but Mayfield was prowling on the sidelines like a lion.
It was fierce.
And then it happened.
Taylor went down with an injury (poor guy), and Number 6 put on his helmet. We all collectively freaked out. It’s hard to describe it, and I’ve been in attendance for three Duke-North Carolina basketball games.
We were the Factory of Sadness, so it was excitement mixed with the harrowing fear that he, too, would disappoint.
Then a quick completion to Jarvis Landry. We went nuts. You would’ve thought we beat the Steelers on the road in the playoffs (I can’t even help myself at this point).
From that point on it was Mayfield’s game. He didn’t even throw a touchdown (though he caught a two-point conversion from Landry), but he owned the game. He was cool, calm, and collected enroute to an efficient 17-for-23 for 201. We cheered until our voices were hoarse. And then we cheered more. We hollered in the streets of Cleveland afterwards as we found our cars. It was insane.
Mayfield then proceeded to break the rookie touchdown passing record in just 14 games (Justin Herbert topped that mark this year in his impressive rookie campaign) — and he did it despite a coaching change midway through the year.
Mayfield felt unstoppable.
And then 2019 happened.
Last year was truly painful. The Kitchens’ offense was a disaster. Newly-acquired Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t meshing with Mayfield, and Mayfield looked broken.
Cleveland finally became disillusioned with Dorsey and Kitchens, bringing in competency at last. And yet, Mayfield struggled to begin the season. He was making dumb mistakes and still didn’t look confident. After throwing a mind-numbingly bad pick against the Bengals in Week 7, with Beckham going down to boot, my buddies and I were seriously having conversations about whether or not Mayfield was worth a second contract. It was mystifying that Mayfield could regress so hard, could lose that swagger, but bad coaches break good players and this was Cleveland, after all.
And yet somehow, the talent rose to the top.
After that horrible pick against Cicinnati, and losing his WR1, something finally clicked. Maybe Mayfeidl just got more comfortable, maybe we could push-off the narrative that Mayfield/Beckham just don’t fit together for whatever reason. I don’t know, but something happened, and “old Mayfield” came back. He was slinging the ball.
From that point on, to the end of the season, Mayfield sported a TD-INT ratio of 16:1. He unfortunately slogged through some bad weather games, hampering his overall numbers, but he came to life playing smart and uncorking missiles.
While his final numbers aren’t eye-popping, the advanced numbers show us that Number 6 is here to stay: He finished 2nd in Money Throws this season with 39 and impressively had only 10 Interceptable passes (No. 35; the lower the number the better).
While the overall pass attempts per game ranked only 29th for the Browns, Mayfield pushed it downfield with confidence when he had the chance, logging 8.3 Air Yards Per Attempt (No. 9). He paired excellent accuracy with his cannon of an arm by notching top-10 marks in True Completion Percentage (80.9), Play Action Completion Percentage (69.5), and Deep Ball Completion Percentage (46.6). All of this resulted in an impressive 117.9 True Passer Rating (No. 5).
Mayfield should greatly improve his fantasy number next year, making him an obvious buy, unless you are in a league with Browns fans. We aren’t exactly level-headed about Mayfield.
Do you need me to tell you that Nick Chubb is the best runner in the league? Sorry Derrick Henry.
In 12 games, Chubb was second in the league in Breakaway Runs (14). He led the league in Juke Rate (37.9-percent), EPE (+33.5), and Yard Created Per Touch (3.15).
Sure, I wish they threw him more passes, because he’s a solid receiver. But his pure rushing ability is insane.
Even with Kareen Hunt on the team Chubb is going to produce. The one concern as a dynasty owner is that his contract is up after 2021, and it’s hard to know what happens after that.
Hunt is locked-up through 2022, so maybe Berry and Co. move on? Hard to say. But if you’re competing in 2021, Chubb is your guy. You can move on after that, but go get that ‘ship riding the former Georgia standout all the way.
The aforementioned Hunt also holds value. He could be staring at a situation without Chubb in 2022. Although that would be his age-27 season, so take that for what it’s worth. Hunt is talented in his own right, and especially thrives catching the ball out of the backfield. He tallied 8.0 YPR (No. 10) on 38 receptions (No. 16). Like Chubb, Hunt was electric in space, showing off a 31.4-percent Juke Rate (No. 4) and 1.71 Yards Created Per Touch (No. 7).
With Hunt, it comes down to expectations:
If you’re fine with a FLEX-play who can drop 25 one week and 5 the next, then Hunts your guy. He’s unfortunately stuck behind Chubb, but he gets enough opportunity to make playing him interesting. He did show that if Chubb goes down, he can perform well and handle the workload, which gives us hope for a possible 2022 boom year.
Still, I’d sell him to an overzealous Browns fan in a heartbeat. But if you’re short on those, I’m also happy holding him as the return likely isn’t great. You can then enjoy the possible 2022 season or sell him off as his value rises. Overall, not a bad player to hold.
I’ve really come around on [Jarvis] Landry.
When we signed him initially, I was skeptical. It felt like quite a bit of money for a guy that averaged less than 10 ypr in Miami the year before, but Jarvis has continued to be solid in Cleveland (even if he didn’t command as many targets as he did in Miami).
He’s fairly unspectacular, and his days as a top option are probably over, but you can definitely do worse if you’re looking for a cheap -and-safe floor possession receiver to fill out your roster.
Mayfield loves Rashard Higgins, and that is worth something, but he’ isn’t much more than depth for your dynasty rosters.
If you’re holding Beckham, you’re probably screwed. If you can get something for him at this point — congrats. He’s 28 now, and just hasn’t figured things out with Mayfield. It’s weird, a mystery on par with how the Egyptians built the pyramids.
What all of this means is that Cleveland could absolutely grab a receiver in the draft. It’s great class and Cleveland could be a blowup spot for whoever they take. Pay close attention this off-season.
As it stands now, the Browns have three good tight ends (I’m still a believer in David Njoku).
It certainly muddles things, and Stefanski seems to like utilizing all of them; Njoku could easily find a new home in the offseason and I’d buy him up in a second if it’s a starting gig, so maybe consider throwing cheap offers for him now. Harrison Bryant impressed in a weak class and might end up the best 2020 has to give to us. Austin Hooper sign a lucrative deal, tying him to Cleveland for the foreseeable future, and makes him the most interesting option here.
Hooper broke out in Atlanta earning him this payday. However, he failed to reach similar heights in Cleveland this year. There is reason for optimism moving forward, though.
As difficult as it is to find good tight end production, Hooper’s 18.9-percent Target Share (No. 8) gives us hope. While he’s no field-stretcher, as seen in his 4 Deep targets (No. 25), he seems to be gaining trust with Mayfield as he finished the season with three straight double digit games and also logged a strong showing in the Wild Card matchup in Pittsburgh.
If you’re desperate at the position or simply need depth, Hooper should be a cheap option.
Recap: Buy Mayfield; Buy low on Landry, Njoku, and Hooper. Hold Chubb, Hunt — and pray for a rookie receiver to land in Cleveland and erase the memory of Beckham.
The Steelers, despite having an excellent defense, might be in quite a bit of trouble. They are in a salary cap bind, and might not have a starting quarterback. It almost makes you want to cry.
Ben Roethlisberger has a big decision this offseason that could drastically impact the Steelers: To play or not to play.
I, for one, am hoping he toughs it out another year. He’s looking super-washed.
If not Big Ben then who? Mason Rudolph? Maybe. He hasn’t been amazing in his limited time as a signal-caller, but maybe year three shakes out differently. They could also turn to free agency or the draft. We will need more info regardless.
Until then, no one is feeling good about this situation.
This is another position the Steelers could address in the draft. Benny “Snail” Snell is a grinder. Anthony McFarland might have some juice, but was a non-factor this year and likely isn’t a long-term option.
James Conner has been the starter, but has suffered a slew of lower body injuries over the past few years, making him one of the most fragile players in the league. Even when he was healthy this year, he was not dynamic. He did manage 9 Breakaway Runs (No. 7), but in most other categories he’s middling at best. At this point, he’s an oft-injured, easily replaceable talent.
He reached greater heights than many ever imagined, so good for him (seriously, his story is one of the best), but he isn’t terribly exciting for fantasy purposes moving forward.
This is the most interesting position group on the team, by far. For quarterback and running back, we are hoping for new blood. For wide receiver, we’re hoping for clarity (and maybe someone to leave).
We know that Dionte Johnson and Chase Claypool are locked-in (more on them in a minute). JuJu Smith-Schuster looks like he will be moving on, freeing up James Washington to take over the third chair in this room. Smith-Schuster is a tough case to evaluate until we know where he will play, but he has only disappointed since Antonio Brown departed.
Johnson and Roethlisberger clearly have a connection, so for Johnson’s sake hopefully the quarterback stays.
Johnson already commanded 144 Targets (No. 6) this season, and had a ridiculous 20.7-percent Hog Rate (No. 1). As crazy as it sounds, he could vacuum up even more when/if Smith-Schuster leaves since both operated close to the line of scrimmage.
Johnson’s aDOT of 8.2 (No. 88) is laughably low, but he makes up for it with a solid 387 YAC (No. 15). He doesn’t have a crazy high-ceiling, but with that many targets and more to be vacated, Johnson seems safe for another WR2 season in fantasy. He isn’t as sexy as Chase Claypool, and his 11 drops (No. 1) are annoying, but it’s hard to believe that he will drop-off much moving forward.
I’m not convinced that he’s actually that good, as his efficiency metrics are pretty rough, but sometimes you just follow the volume. If Roethlisberger sticks around, grab Johnson in PPR and half-PPR leagues.
Claypool is the opposite image of Johnson in play-style and stature. While Smith-Schuster and Johnson scooped-up all the short targets, Claypool was the homerun-hitter.
On the rare occasions that Roethlisberger aired it out, it was Claypool on the receiving end: His 31 Deep Targets (No. 3) and 1448 Air Yards (No. 9) were impressive for the Combine superhero. Translating impressive athleticism into on-field production matters, and Claypool did it in style (just ask Philly after Claypool dropped four (4) touchdowns on them.
If Johnson is hoping for the status quo, Claypool is ready to shake it up with anyone else. Just looking at his 921 Unrealized Air Yards (No. 4) hurts and makes me wonder if any other passer could top the 5.6 Target Quality Rating (No. 58) that Claypool received. Beyond that, as Roethlisberger’s arm slowly rotteda away this season, and he started throwing more and more short passes, Claypool’s numbers took a dive. From Weeks 13 through 17, he only crested 10 fantasy points once — and that was with Rudolph at the helm.
If Roethlisberger is back again, I’d expect a down year from Claypool. That possibly opens up an interesting sell-high window if you think you can use Claypool to get up to a young stud running back like Cam Akers. You could also hold and eat a down year. If you don’t have him, I’d wait to see if Roethlisberger is around next year, and if he is, throw a cheap offer at Claypool when he inevitably struggles in Roethlisberger’s exciting 0 Air Yard offense.
Eric Ebron should be around next year to build on his solid 2020 campaign. He was busy in the Red Zone receiving 19 targets (No. 4) and even stretched the field from time-to-time drawing 9 Deep Targets (No. 7).
I’m not getting overly excited about Ebron, but you could do worse if you’re looking for a low-end TE1/high-end TE2. He’ll only be 28 next year, which is crazy since he’s been in the league for what feels like 20 years already, so feel free to add him on the cheap, especially in Tight End Premium leagues.
Recap: Get whatever you can for Roethlisberger and Connor as fresh blood will be here as quickly as this year. Wait and see on Smith-Schuster; sell high igh on Claypool. Buy Johnson and Ebron.