What To Watch For: AFC North (Fantasy Football)

As the regular season inches closer and closer, I wanted to start a new series for Club Fantasy. In our “What to Watch For” series, we will look at one thing that is worth keeping an eye on for each team entering the 2020 NFL season. Sometimes it will be a position battle to watch in training camp, other times it will be about a player’s fit in a certain scheme — but it will always be about fantasy football.

To get things started, I am diving into the AFC North. The Ravens, Steelers, Browns, and Bengals all come into this year from a completely different trajectory. The Ravens offense just had one of the most efficient seasons ever, while the Browns were the exact opposite. The Steelers couldn’t stay healthy, and the Bengals were just a mess. All in all, the division should look quite different in 2020, and here are the things I’m keeping an eye on.

Baltimore Ravens

Gus Edwards

Don’t Forget About Gus Edwards.

Last season, Gus Edwards averaged the second most yards-per-carry of any RB with over 100 carries. The Ravens rewarded him by drafting an RB in the 2nd Round of the NFL draft. As players, JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards could not be more different. Edwards is about 25 pounds heavier and will work between the tackles much more than Dobbins. He’s proven his worth already.

Edwards was ranked twenty-seventh in rushing yards last year, despite being firmly behind Mark Ingram on the depth chart. He finished as the RB52 in fantasy, but had six weeks where he finished as an RB3 or better. I’m not saying you should reach for the “Gus-Bus,” but with an ADP of RB93, you don’t have to– he’s practically free in fantasy drafts. Dobbins is going to get work, there is no doubt, but it would be foolish to assume that Edwards is going to disappear– Edwards may have done enough in 2019 to earn work again in 2020…and to lower the ceilings of both Ingram and Dobbins.

Pittsburgh Steelers

RB By Committee 2 - Steelers

Don’t Bank on an RBBC.

Ask any fantasy player which Pittsburgh RB they want, and you’ll get varied answers. James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Anthony McFarland, or “none” will likely be the most common responses. While “none” seems like the safest and most sensible answer, the multiple choices would lead you to believe that they will be running a “Running-Back-By-Committee” (RBBC) in 2020. While possible, this would go against every bit of Mike Tomlin’s history with RBs.

Tomlin took over as head coach for the Steelers in 2007. Since then, his lead backs typically took a huge chunk of the team’s RB carries market share.

YearPlayerCarriesMarket Share
2007Willie Parker32170%
2008Willie Parker24058%
2009Rashard Mendenhall24264%
2010Rashard Mendenhall32477%
2011Rashard Mendenhall22859%
2012Jonathan Dwyer15642%
2013Le'Veon Bell24468%
2014Le'Veon Bell29076%
2015DeAngelo Williams20059%
2016Le'Veon Bell26169%
2017Le'Veon Bell32181%
2018James Conner21571%
2019James Conner11633%

Basically, 2019 was very much the exception, not the rule, and projecting a Steelers starting RB for fewer than 200 carries and at least a 60% market share seems like a mistake.

If you’re looking for info on the Steelers WRs, check out Josh Hudson‘s piece on 2nd-year wideout, Diontae Johnson.

Cleveland Browns

Tiger Tandem

Can these WRs thrive with fewer passing attempts?

Putting it bluntly, I am all-too-happy to draft RBs, and no one else, from the Browns this year. We don’t know a lot about Kevin Stefanski, but what we saw from the Vikings with him as OC last year does not instill confidence for fantasy WRs.

The Vikings only threw the ball 466 times last season. In the last three years, no fantasy WR1 has been on a team with fewer than 500 attempts, and no Vikings WR averaged more than six targets per game last year. That could mean fewer than 100 targets for both former LSU Tigers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. While Beckham and Landry are more talented than their Minnesota counterparts, I don’t see Stefanski abandoning the system that got him the job in the first place.

Cincinnati Bengals

Green & Boyd

Wide Receivers 1a and 1b?

The most common rhetoric heading into 2019 was that Tyler Boyd plays better when AJ Green is on the field. Boyd had come into his own in 2018, with 108 targets turned into a 76/1028/7 stat line, while Green only played in seven games. The game-to-game stats showed that Boyd actually put up better numbers in those games that AJ played, so a full year with both on the field was exciting.

Unfortunately, we never got to see it. Green was hurt in the 2019 preseason and never played a snap. Boyd, for his part, finished with 90 receptions, 1046 yards, and five TDs. Much better overall numbers, but not nearly as efficient without Green. All signs point to Green being back in 2020, but there’s now a new QB and rookie WR to compete with –Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins respectively. With Green a year older and defenses having much more tape on Boyd, it may be a stretch for these two to regain the magic from 2018.