Who makes the cut in a division loaded with offensive weapons
One of the biggest keys to being a successful fantasy football manager is being unbiased as possible when it comes to your fandom of your favorite team and your ill will towards their rivals. Of course there is nothing wrong with drafting Ravens players, as I for one try and get a couple on my team every year. Fantasy football is supposed to be fun, and watching Lamar Jackson break-off a long touchdown run for the Ravens and my fantasy team is double the fun.
On the flip side, rooting for a Brown, Steeler, or Bengal is a tough pill to swallow — especially with some fans of those teams still doubting the talents of Ravens players. But it would be very foolish to miss out on the Ravens’ rival players as there are some big-time fantasy studs across the board in the AFC North.
Looking past the jersey and appreciating the talent of the player is important. If you can do that, there are an abundance of AFC North players who can lead the way to fantasy glory. Here is the ultimate fantasy football roster made up of only Ravens, Steelers, Browns, and Bengals players.
QB1: Lamar Jackson
Lamar is the clear QB1 from the AFC North as he is the definition of a fantasy cheat-code. He has amassed 62 touchdown passes the past two years while being only one of five rushers to have over 1,000 yards on the ground in back to back seasons. The Ravens upgraded his weapons and offensive line this off-season, giving Jackson all he needs to take the next step as a passer.
His consensus ADP according to FantasyPros (average draft position) right now is QB4 off the board. That is a slight discount for a guy who can easily be the top fantasy scorer in the league once again. Target Lamar in the 5th round of drafts, break out that #8 jersey and watch the former MVP lead the Ravens and your fantasy squad to glory.
RB1 & RB2: Nick Chubb & Joe Mixon
The AFC North might have the most stacked running back group in the whole NFL with all 4 teams having a top-tier fantasy running back. While the Ravens and Browns have two of the best backups as well.
The clear top back in the division is the Browns’ Nick Chubb. Chubb has a claim of being the best pure rusher in the league. In just 12 games last season he went over 1,000 yards, averaged 5.6 per carry, and scored 12 touchdowns. Chubb is Derrick Henry-lite, where he doesn’t give you much in terms of pass-catching ability, but a healthy Chubb has a shot to lead the league in rushing yards and/or touchdowns. In most leagues he’ll cost you a Top-12 pick, and he is certainly worth the price as a safe RB1 on fantasy rosters.
As a fantasy manager who was burned by Joe Mixon last year, putting him as the RB2 here pains me but I need to be as unbiased as possible. Mixon’s talent is evident but he just hasn’t put it all together for a whole season. 2021 could be the year he joins the elite running back group in the NFL. In just 6 games last year Mixon had 140 touches (119 carries / 21 receptions). A healthy Mixon with that type of volume in what should be an improved Bengals offense, makes him a very interesting pick at the 2nd/3rd round-turn in fantasy drafts.
WR1 & WR2: Diontae Johnson & Tee Higgins
Seeing two of the Ravens biggest rivals draft and develop stud wide receivers year after year is not fun. The Steelers and Bengals just continue to hoard receiver talent as each of them have 3 viable fantasy wide receiver options.
To me, the top fantasy wide receiver option in the division is the Steelers’ Diontae Johnson. He might have a bad rap because of his drops, but Johnson is a very underrated receiver in the league who is a target monster. He finished 6th in the league last year with 144 targets despite essentially playing in only 14 games. If he improves on his drops, a 100-catch & 1,000 yard season is certainly in the cards for Johnson (88 grabs for 923 yards in 2020). Johnson is a safer WR2 on fantasy rosters but he has upside to finish in the Top-12 at the position.
A sophomore receiver who looks prime for a second year breakout is the Bengals Tee Higgins. He built quite the rapport with Joe Burrow in the 7 weeks where they were both in the starting lineup, per FantasyPros Higgins was the WR11 during those weeks. Higgins still performed great down the stretch even with a back-up quarterback. Posting a 67-908-6 stat-line as a rookie and finished at WR28 in fantasy. With Burrow returning from injury, there is enough passing-game volume where Higgins should improve on all of his rookie receiving numbers. Making him a top-24 fantasy WR in 2021 with room for more upside if can turn into a double-digit touchdown threat like he was at Clemson.
TE1: Mark Andrews
The other very obvious position choice in the AFC North is at tight end, where the Ravens’ Mark Andrews is the clear top dog in the division. In terms of fantasy football and real football, Andrews is the consensus TE4 across the board. Only Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller that should be going ahead of Andrews in fantasy drafts. Touchdowns are never a sure-bet in fantasy, but Andrews is as close as guarantee you can get for touchdown production across all positions. His 17 scores since 2019 are the most by a tight end, and only seven wide receivers have scored more. He may not put up 1,400 yards like Kelce or 100 receptions like Waller, but Andrews is still a top-tier option at a weak position in fantasy. Grab “Mandrews” in the fifth or sixth round and watch his smash games provide that week-winning boast.
Flex 1 & Flex 2: J.K. Dobbins & Najee Harris
Perhaps the player who has the most upside out of everyone in the AFC North this year is the Ravens sophomore sensation running back, J’Kaylin “J.K.” Dobbins. I did a feature on what to expect from Dobbins back in May. The talent is undeniable with J.K., but his fantasy impact this year will all come down to what his volume will look like.
He had 152 (134 rush / 18 receptions) touches last year as a rookie who didn’t really get utilized until November & December. My projection for Dobbins this year is 200+ touches (180+ rush / 20+ receptions), 1,300 total yards, and 10 touchdowns. In PPR scoring formatting those numbers equal 210 fantasy points, which would have been good for the 11th ranked running back last year. That projection is pretty modest on the receptions and touchdowns. If Dobbins sees upwards of 30 receptions and/or over 10 scores (both very doable), he has all the upside to finish as a Top-10 fantasy running back. Grab Dobbins as your RB2 in the third round of your fantasy drafts and watch that young man breakout this season.
The AFC North is so loaded with talent I added-in an additional flex position and did without the kicker and defense/special teams. Unbiased and to no surprise, Justin Tucker and Ravens D/ST would have gotten the nods for what’s it worth.
However, the player who secures the last starting spot on this fantasy roster is Steelers’ rookie running back Najee Harris. Being the first running back taken in the NFL Draft and having immediate fantasy success as a rookie has been the case each of the last four seasons — highlighted by Saquon Barkley’s overall RB1 finish as a rookie in 2018. The other finishes were still solid; last year Clyde Edwards-Helaire was RB22, Josh Jacobs was RB21 in 2019, and back in 2017 Leonard Fournette was RB9. It will be difficult for Harris to replicate Barkley’s standout rookie year, but the Alabama product has the talent and potential workload to be a Top-12 running back as a rookie.
Pittsburgh’s offense always utilizes one workhorse back. No disrespect to James Conner but Harris is the best dual threat running back for the Steelers since Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers woes on the offensive line as really the only knock on what could be a special rookie season for Harris. Target Harris in the 3rd round on your fantasy drafts for a very safe RB2 with upside for a top-10 overall running back.
Kareem Hunt: The former elite fantasy running back in Kansas City showed last year he still has top-tier talent with his RB10 finish in 2020. Hunt gets enough work each week in the passing game where he is a weekly flex option. Plus as we saw last year, if Chubb were to miss time, Hunt becomes an instant weekly RB1 in lineups. He is an ideal 3rd running back on a fantasy rosters.
Chase Claypool: The second Steelers’ receiver to land on the squad is the guy who goes by “Mapletron” — big Chase Claypool. He was a waiver wire hero last year as he was went undrafted in almost all fantasy drafts but ended the season as the WR19 overall. Claypool is a little more boom-or-bust than his teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Claypool’s upside is far superior. If I had to bet on which wide receiver in the AFC North has the most touchdowns 2021, Claypool would be my pick.
Ja’marr Chase: Sticking with the upside approach for this roster, I grab the shiny new toy in the division with the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft, Ja’marr Chase. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd cap Chase’s ceiling a little bit, as a Justin Jefferson-type rookie year for Chase will be a tall task. But last time we have seen Chase catches passes from Joe Burrow, we saw magic happen at LSU. Chase is an immediate weekly flex play with all the upside in the world.
Joe Burrow: The Bengals have quite the showing on this all AFC-North fantasy team as the young gun at helm, Joe Burrow lands here at the clear QB2 in the division. There is obvious risk with his very serious knee injury but all of the weapons are in place for Burrow to emerge as a starting quality fantasy quarterback in 2021. If like to wait for a QB in your fantasy drafts, Burrow is a nice target in round 10 or later.
Rashod Bateman: For the last roster spot, I wanted to go with a sleeper fantasy asset rather than a proven vet like Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry. I wanted to highlight the big-time potential value pick that is Ravens’ rookie receiver Rashod Bateman.
By no means you should expect a Top-10 season from Bateman, but for the cost he is going for in drafts he can provide some decent fantasy value throughout the season. There is a path where Bateman can be the most targeted receiver on the Ravens this year. Combine that with his current ADP of the 59th wide receiver off the board, you are basically spending zero draft capital on a guy who looks prime to be a Day 1 contributor and the potential No. 1 wide receiver in Baltimore.