July is almost upon us. Which means training camps are just weeks away from happening. With that in mind, this is a prime opportunity to look at some of the biggest fantasy football questions heading into training camp. Eight divisions, 32 teams, 32 questions. Every team has something intriguing to think about heading into training camp and also fantasy draft season. Let’s dive into them and start with the AFC North.
One Big Fantasy Question – AFC North Edition
Cincinnati Bengals – How will this offense look with Zac Taylor at the helm?
This is the first time that the Bengals have an offensive-minded head coach since Bruce Coslet, close to two decades ago. This team is a bit of a question mark when it comes to its offensive identity. In comes a young head coach in Taylor who is expected to bring this offense to the next level, similar to his former boss, Sean McVay.
The Cincinnati offense does have the weapons that Taylor was used to back in Los Angeles, but not to the same level of ability. Andy Dalton enjoyed a good start to the season under former offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor. In typical Dalton fashion, he couldn’t be consistent and ultimately added another average fantasy season to his career. If Taylor can work with Dalton the way he worked with Jared Goff in Los Angeles and Ryan Tannehill back in his Miami days, Taylor can turn this offense around quickly.
Dalton will get A.J. Green back into the receiving corps after he dealt with a torn toe ligament that kept him out of seven games last season. Green may not be the same player he once was, however. He has missed 15 of his last 48 regular season games but could benefit from the breakout of Tyler Boyd opposite of him. This passing offense also re-signed Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah who are great threats at the tight end position. The lynchpin in this offense though is Joe Mixon. If he plays well, this whole offense can play well.
Mixon will be the Todd Gurley in Taylor’s offense and he can do it all similar to Gurley. With the exception of getting hurt in a couple of games last year, Mixon enjoyed a great fantasy year. Coming into year three, Mixon will look to continue an upward trend when it comes to performance. Throw in Giovani Bernard and rookie Trayveon Williams to spell him every so often and Mixon can go on to have a fantastic 2019 fantasy season.
So overall this offense has nowhere to go but up with Taylor calling the shots. This offense ranked 17th in points and 26th in total yards last year. Expect for Mixon to have a possible top-5 RB type of season and the rest of the offense to supplement him. Dalton will be a serviceable option at quarterback, but not someone you can rely on every week. Similarly, the tight end group will be a very week-by-week sort of performing unit. Green and Boyd are great options at wide receiver, as they will help each other get more targets because the defense will need to gameplan for both options.
Projected Draft Rounds:
Andy Dalton – Undrafted
Joe Mixon – 1st
A.J. Green – 3rd
Tyler Boyd – 4th
Tyler Eifert – 14th
C.J. Uzomah – 14th
Baltimore Ravens – What can we expect from Lamar Jackson in year two?
Joe Flacco is no longer the sheriff in Baltimore’s offense. That job has been handed to Jackson after Flacco was dealt to the Denver Broncos during the offseason. Jackson comes into his second year with a lot of optimism, but there are some questions as well. He had 1,670 total yards and eight total touchdowns in his seven regular season starts, as a rookie. Doesn’t sound as bad as you think, right? If you look at the per game average, those numbers are 159.1 passing yards and 79.4 rushing yards, which combines to 238.5 average total yards.
His rushing ability definitely made this team more dangerous, but he could be a victim of becoming one-dimensional. Look at a player like Colin Kaepernick. His ability as an athlete was without a doubt one of the best in the league, during his time in the NFL. The problem became when defenses forced him to become a passer and his lack of ability as a thrower were put on display. Let’s also point out that Kaepernick was a better passer than Jackson currently is.
This Ravens offense is going to operate through Jackson, no question. The thing that can make this offense dangerous is if Jackson can become a legitimate dual-threat quarterback. Giving him weapons like Mark Ingram in the backfield and drafting a dynamic receiver like Marquise Brown to complement a bevy of tight ends, Jackson can become a better passer and player overall. He is a sure-fire selection in any fantasy draft because he is a threat with the ball in his hands. Let’s just see the adjustments he makes to make him as dangerous a thrower, as he is a runner.
Projected Draft Round: 9th
Cleveland Browns – How does Kareem Hunt fit into this offense?
Hunt was once the promising young star in the Kansas City Chiefs backfield. After video surfaced of him hitting and kicking a woman, he was swiftly cut by the Chiefs and then later signed by the Browns. Hunt is a dynamic player and will really help this already potent offense become that much more dangerous. The wrench in Freddie Kitchens’ plan to use him is the fact that he needs to serve an eight-game suspension to start the season.
While this may be troubling if he was still a Chief, the Browns already have a great runner in the backfield by the name of Nick Chubb. Chubb burst onto the scene and really took this offense to another level with his ability to bulldoze opposing defenses. Now while Chubb is a strong runner, he is very limited in the passing game. This is where Duke Johnson Jr. earns his paycheck. After reports have surfaced that Johnson has requested a trade, this acquisition of Hunt is putting an interesting question mark on a once strong position group for the Cleveland offense.
So how do we go about processing all this information? Well, Chubb is going to be used frequently in the first half of the season. He will be worthy of a first-round draft pick and he may fall into the early second. The real thing to understand is what Hunt brings to the table when he is eligible to return in week nine versus the Denver Broncos. Hunt will do his best to keep in football shape, but he will be eased into the offense. Once he gets used to the schemes and play-style, Hunt will be a factor on all three downs for the Browns offense. He couldn’t return any sooner as Cleveland will have five of their six divisional games in the back half of the season.
So while Chubb is a definite selection in your fantasy draft, Hunt should go undrafted. While the potential is there for him to turn it on once he returns from suspension, he is not worth a spot on your bench yet. He is a candidate to be added once the season is five or six weeks in. There is some risk in the fact that you might be too low on your waiver wire to add him later, but you can’t afford to waste a bench spot for a player that may or may not be the same guy that he was in Kansas City. The potential is certainly there and he has two years worth of proven play, but the Kansas City wide open offense is sure different than what Cleveland does. Draft Hunt on your own accord, but the best plan would be to let him go to the free agency pool and add him later.
Projected Draft Round:
Nick Chubb – First
Kareem Hunt – Undrafted
Pittsburgh Steelers – Who steps up in the wide receiver group, behind Juju Smith-Schuster?
104 receptions, 1,297 receiving yards, and 15 receiving touchdowns. This was Antonio Brown’s stat line from the 2018 season. He is now a member of the Oakland Raiders, which means this sort of production is up for grabs now. We all know that Smith-Schuster has assumed the primary role in the wide receiving unit, but who will step up and take that secondary role? The Steelers have been in this position before, with a star receiver leaving the team. Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace are all names of receivers that were depth players that grew into stars on the Pittsburgh Steelers. So now that Smith-Schuster is the main guy, who becomes the secondary burgeoning player to complement him?
The Steelers went out and signed Donte Moncrief who is a proven receiver in the league, but they have their share of young talent as well in Eli Rogers and James Washington. Let’s also not forget they used a third-round pick on a promising rookie out of Toledo, Dionte Johnson. Out of all these names, Moncrief has the first chance to grab that number two receiver role behind Smith-Schuster. As a free agent signing, Moncrief has enjoyed good seasons in the league but the big knock on him is that he has a pretty big drop rate. Catching less than 60% of his passes in the last three seasons, Moncrief may be talented but inconsistent. Of the top 100 leaders in receptions last year, only 14 had less than a 60% catch rate. This is troubling for a player trying to win a starting job in the Steelers offense.
The name to watch in this receiving unit is Washington. He is a second-round draft pick from a year ago and also won the Biletnikoff Award in his final season at Oklahoma State. Washington has the skills to become a solid number two receiver in this offense and possibly a number one down the road. He has the ability to win on the deep route and is great at making those contested catches. Heading into his second-year, Washington lost about 15 pounds to be faster and has improved his training regimen. He is putting in the work and there is a strong chance he gets to see the fruits of his labor when he earns a good amount targets week in and week out.
Looking at the unit overall, Smith-Schuster is a definite starter on your fantasy roster. Washington seems to have the most upside when it comes to being that number two receiver, but Moncrief has more of a track record in the NFL. The way things shape out, look for Moncrief to earn starts early in the season, but Washington’s play will make him the number two option long-term. This will then see Rogers, Johnson, and Ryan Switzer getting the scraps.
Projected Draft Round:
Juju Smith-Schuster – 1st
James Washington – 11th
Donte Moncrief – 10th
Eli Rogers – Undrafted
Dionte Johnson – Undrafted