Dodgers and Sleepers – AFC North



Over the next few weeks, I and @DFF_MattK will bring you our “Dodgers” and our “Sleepers” for every team in the NFL.

My focus is on the AFC. Matt will concentrate on the NFC.

We will be starting the series in the AFC North. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Division we review.

Pittsburgh Steelers

I started with Pittsburgh as I wanted a challenge. Martavis Bryant. Okay, so he isn’t your stereotypical ‘Sleeper’ pick. As of this writing, Bryant is awaiting his reinstatement to the NFL. He already has over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns in the NFL, but this is the season where I feel Bryant will come back and make a huge statement.

While easy to believe that a leopard won’t change its spots, based on the work that Bryant has been putting in, it’s also plausible that this time he is going to take his NFL career more seriously. He finished the 2015 season as the 33rd highest scoring receiver with 120.20 points. When you consider Bryant is the WR2 behind Antonio Brown (who that season put up a league leading 242.20), 2015 was a strong showing. Provided he gets reinstated, he should be looked at as a WR2 on your roster.

Avoid Sammie Coates. With the arrival of Justin Hunter and the return of Bryant, I can’t see where he realistically fits into this offense. I am of the opinion that Pittsburgh will also be taking a WR in the draft. All these factors lead me to believe that his time in Pittsburgh is coming to an end. Last season, Coates was ineffectual in Pittsburgh’s dominant offense, putting up only 56.90 points. Coates wasn’t efficient (check out the efficiency metrics on the link provided) with his targets last season. Now with those targets ready to dwindle, I would fully expect his production to drop even further next season.

Turning to Pittsburgh’s defense, I am going to put my faith in 23-year-old Sean Davis. He looks comfortable when playing in the nickel and playing at safety. He is a reliable tackler and is excellent at breaking up short passes. Davis reads the game well, and I think he will be scoring some points in IDP leagues this year. In standard defensive scoring, Sean Davis put up 88.50 points, however suggesting Pittsburgh give him some help in the secondary, his sophomore season could improve significantly. My only concern with him would be that his two biggest fantasy scoring games last season (Buffalo [Week 14] and Cleveland [Week 17]) were both against weak offenses. In deeper leagues, he is worth a pickup.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens made a terrific pick up this offseason in Danny Woodhead. He is one of the better pass-catching backs in the league and when healthy is fantasy gold. He missed the majority of last season due to a torn ACL, so this pick is based entirely on the hope that he is over that injury. Assuming he is healthy, he should be able to get back to scoring fantasy points both on the ground and through the air.

Back in 2015, Woodhead put up 163.10 fantasy points (standard scoring), making him the 11th highest scoring running back of the season. Looking at his scoring production the last few seasons (excluding injuries), he has improved every year. 116.70 points in 2012, 147.40 in 2013, 7.20 in 2014 (due to injury) then 163.10 in 2015. He could be a real candidate for comeback player of the year in the Ravens offense.

I am a strong believer that Breshad Perriman is never going to live up to the promise he showed during his time at UCF. I understand that there is a sense of irony that his injury issues scare me, but ultimately Perriman is a receiver that struggles to catch the ball. While his main selling point is being a deep threat receiver, if I am Joe Flacco, I am looking for Mike Wallace before I am looking for Perriman. He missed his rookie season for Baltimore due to a knee injury and put up 68.10 points last season only missing one game against Dallas (Week 11). Last season, he played like a WR3 in the Baltimore offense. With Steve Smith Sr. out of the picture Perriman is higher up the depth chart but in my opinion, lacks the talent to be significant in fantasy football.

On the defensive side of the ball, I am going to look to another offseason signing in Tony Jefferson. He is a solid open-field tackler and can read plays brilliantly. He is fine in both man-to-man and zone coverage and has good hands for a defensive player so he should be contributing to an IDP team in your league. As a free safety, he has put up consecutive 100 point fantasy seasons (102.70 in 2015, 123.70 in 2016) so is trending in the right direction. I expect him to have an even better season in Baltimore’s secondary and to improve upon last season’s numbers.

Cincinnati Bengals

This pick is more of a deep sleeper pick as it requires a couple of key absences for him to become fantasy relevant. Cody Core played second fiddle in college to Laquon Treadwell – and we know how much hype Treadwell entered the league with. He has great speed and is more than capable of Odell Beckham-esque circus catches. Having only received 27 targets in his rookie year, this season could be when Core announces himself to the NFL and potentially becomes very relevant in the world of fantasy football. If you have room to stash a receiver on your roster, Core is worth keeping an eye on. Take a look at his college highlight reel below.

For a couple of years now, I have looked at Cincinnati’s backfield and am still none the wiser as to who their starting RB is. Both Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard never seem to put enough fantasy points up for me to consider them as an RB1, as such I tend to avoid them. Hill will be going into his 4th season in the NFL this year and is yet to match his 183.90 point rookie season (having only managed 155.30 in both of the last two seasons).  

Bernard, on the other hand, has trended in the wrong direction ever since coming into the league. Granted he missed some time last season due to injury, but his numbers don’t amount to a fantasy relevant RB. With 132.20 points in all 16 games in 2015 take your chance on a rookie in your draft instead. This isn’t to say if one is available come the late rounds of your draft then you don’t take them. But be sure to not jump too early in drafting them as ultimately they are only worth using in deeper leagues as bye week cover.

As we all know, Vontaze Burfict is one idiotic tackle away from getting himself suspended again, so in my opinion, his backup – Nick Vigil is a player to keep an eye on. He reads routes well and is rangy enough to wrap up and tackle well. When blitzing, he gets himself into the backfield quickly and reads the play well. In deeper leagues, stash him on your roster and await the inevitable implosion from Vontaze Burfict.

Cleveland Browns

Picking a strong player in the Browns offense now that Terrelle Pryor has gone should have been tough. But it isn’t. Kenny Britt is a good receiver. There I said it. He managed to put up 128.20 points last season despite poor QB play in his time at the Rams. Suggesting the Browns get a franchise QB (and not a 30-something journeyman), Britt will still hold a lot of value in what looks to be becoming an improved offense, starting with the offensive line. Cleveland will be looking to Britt and Coleman to shine this season. I feel that Britt could go a bit under the radar as somebody who is going to have a huge breakout year in his new colours.

I am looking to avoid Gary Barnidge. His stats spiked in the 2015 season when a certain good time Johnny was throwing his way. I wanted to believe that Barnidge was the real deal, but I can’t. He seemed to be Manziels go to guy but has put up underwhelming numbers with every other QB that has come off the Cleveland QB travelator. When you consider he has been in the league since 2008 (spending four years at Carolina before moving to Cleveland in 2013), nobody noticed him until his numbers spiked in 2015. He only managed 75.20 points last season having played in all 16 games. Granted, Cleveland used 5 QB’s last year, so it’s hard as an offensive player to gain a rapport with the starting QB, but even so, I would not be looking to draft Barnidge this season.

Everyone loves a feel-good story, so the story of how Jamie Meder has become a starter in the NFL after going undrafted from Division 2, Ashland Eagles is quite unbelievable. He went undrafted back in 2014 and was originally picked up by the Ravens. After the Ravens waived him, the Browns picked him up, and Meder worked his way into a starting position. He can play competently at both DT and DE and will be looking to have a statistical breakout year this year.

Since last season was Meder’s first season as a starter, it is tough to look at his stats and consider them as viable in an IDP league. He managed just 49.80 points last season, but I am going to look at this as a ‘glass half full’ scenario. Those stats can only improve this year as he gets more comfortable in his starting role. I would be considering him as a viable defensive starter in a deeper league as I strongly feel that he will breakout this season.

So that’s the AFC North. Please feel free to leave any comments below if you agree or disagree with any of my picks, or be sure to get in touch with me on Twitter @DFF_JamesH to talk Football.

Thanks for reading!

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I work as an In-Play US Sports trader, father to Elijah, fan of Pittsburgh Steelers, recently started out playing the game as DT for Staffordshire Surge (Find them on Twitter @StaffsSurge). FSWA member. Follow me on Twitter @DFF_JamesH

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