AFC/NFC North First Thoughts: FF Mastermind

Written by Will Spencer on May 28, 2012


Fantasy Football Mastermind, one of our partner sites, provides year-round fantasy football coverage. This week, Michael Nazarek is taking a look at the AFC and NFC North teams. For more great fantasy football information, check out Fantasy Football Mastermind.

It’s time to take a closer look at the North Division teams to see how they are shaping up in May. Let’s get right to it…

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens had another successful season in 2010, but failed to make it to the big game. QB Joe Flacco returns as the starter, but has yet to reach that elite level as a fantasy starter or a Super Bowl champion. In fantasy terms, he’s still a solid fantasy backup in most leagues. I don’t see that changing much in 2012. The sportsbook review indicates that the backup position at QB is shaky with QB Curtis Painter signed this offseason. The Ravens better hope that Flacco stays healthy and continues to mature. Of course, the running game remains the primary focus of this offense, as RB Ray Rice returns as an elite starter in the NFL as well as the fantasy world. The team franchised him, and continue to work towards getting him signed to a new long-term deal, although it’s been a slow process. Rice isn’t going anywhere, at least not in 2012. Veteran RB Ricky Williams retired, leaving third-round draft pick RB Bernard Pierce slotted in as the backup. Veteran RB Anthony Allen will also provide depth. In the passing game, veteran WR Anquan Boldin returns, but second-year WR Torrey Smith seems primed to take over as the #1 WR scoring threat. Yes, that means I’d draft Smith ahead of Boldin in most fantasy scoring systems this summer. Veteran WR Jacoby Jones was signed to fill the #3 WR role after the team chose to release injury-prone WR Lee Evans. Jones has flashed on occasion, but consistency has never been his strong-suit. Second-year WR Tandon Doss and WR David Reed return for depth. At tight end, TE Ed Dickson and TE Dennis Pitta return to provide a solid 1-2 punch for the team, although the time-share makes it tough to consider either of these players a top 10 fantasy TE. Veteran PK Billy Cundiff will battle rookie PK Justin Tucker for the starting job later this summer. Cundiff missed a potential game-winning FGA in the playoffs last year, so the Ravens have less patience with him now. Quick Draft Summary: Beyond Pierce, the Ravens drafted WR Tommy Streeter in round #6, along with six OL/defensive players in the April draft. Streeter is seen as a developmental player for depth.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals made the playoffs in 2011, and promptly lost to the Texans. With the loss of veteran QB Carson Palmer to a “retirement” and later a trade, the Bengals could have folded their tent, but rookie QB Andy Dalton surprised with poised play and a strong and accurate arm. He returns as the starter, looking to grow on a rookie season that made him a solid fantasy backup, one with great potential to move into a fantasy starting role, provided the Bengals beef up their WR corps. That is still in question, but the team did choose to move on from RB Cedric Benson, to sign veteran RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis in free agency. The Law Firm has never fumbled and is a reliable runner. He should be a solid replacement for Benson in the running game. RB Bernard Scott returns as the quick change of pace back, but one whose injury history makes him a longshot for any type of consistent fantasy success. RB Brian Leonard also returns for depth. In the passing game, second-year WR A.J. Green returns as the class of the corps, but he can’t do it all by himself. Veteran WR Jerome Simpson wasn’t re-signed, while WR Jordan Shipley and WR Andrew Hawkins return in questionable roles. The team did draft WR Mohamed Sanu (3rd round) and WR Marvin Jones (5th round) to beef up the corps, but this unit is definitely one of the youngest in the league. In most cases, that is not a good thing. This situation should mean more looks for veteran TE Jermaine Gresham, whom returns as the starting tight end. Veteran TE Donald Lee was re-signed, but is more known for his blocking in recent years than his pass-catching. TE Orson Charles was drafted in the 4th round to provide depth. PK Mike Nugent signed his franchise tender and returns to kick for the Bengals. He’s one of the better kickers in the league, and should remain a top 10 fantasy kicker, unless the Bengals offense takes a step back in 2012. Quick Draft Summary: The other players drafted in April consisted of offensive linemen and defensive players with the exception of 6th-rounder RB Dan Herron, drafted for depth.

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Will Spencer

Will is the founder and President of Draft Breakdown & has been scouting draft prospects since 2002. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including the USA Today Draft Preview Magazine, the official website of the Baltimore Ravens, Ravens Insider and The Orange and Brown Report. Will has previous playing experience as a defensive end in the AFA, is currently a member of the Football Writers Association of America and graduated from the SMWW Football Scouting course in 2009. See all posts by Will Spencer.