Editor’s Note: We asked Red Zone Rick to provide Fantasy Football AFC North Player Rankings for 2019. He’s taken on the challenge. You may have read his first look at the NFC North teams and players. And, there’s more to come.
Rick has taken an Olympic approach to his review with gold level candidates (best prospects relative to projected draft round), silver level, bronze level, and diamonds in the rough (high ceiling selections with potentially incredible value). Jump to the top of your fantasy league with insightful tips from Mr. Rick.
Fantasy Football AFC North Player Rankings 2019
Success in the AFC North for the past 10 years has gone through the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Raven. But, now, with some clever trades and draft picks that look promising, the Cleveland Brown appear to be no pushover. And, those up-and-down Bengals might be putting up more of a roar as well.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR)
He isn’t Antonio Brown but he’s now shown that his impressive rookie campaign was no fluke. JuJu is for real. He’s young, fast, and has the competitive spirit that makes him more valuable to the franchise than the talented but egotistical likes of Brown or Le’Veon Bell.
The biggest factor that makes JuJu enticing? He hasn’t plateaued or reached his peak yet, so the upside is there, and the floor is high.
JuJu Going Back To Prom Video
James Connor (RB)
No Le’Veon; No problem. James Connor proved he was a perfect replacement for the AWOL RB. Which begs the question: how much of Bell’s success was due to Mike Tomlin’s style of offense and the Pittsburgh offensive line?
Connor could see a little more trouble in the box now that opposing resources won’t be diverted to contain Antonio Brown, but I wouldn’t let that scare you away from going for him early in the draft. He was undoubtedly the steal (I’ll save you from an ill-humored “stealers” pun here) of the draft last year and wont come anywhere near as cheap this year, but he’s worth the hefty tag.
Vance McDonald (TE)
He didn’t exactly shine like he was expected to last season, but injuries will do that to any player regardless of their talent level. I wouldn’t assume that McDonald will be the answer to all your tight end woes, but if he is healthy he might be a good bet. And because he’s a bit of a wishy-washy selection, the price should be pretty affordable (which is always factored into these rankings).
Ben Roethlisberger (QB)
He practically invented Huck’um-Chuck’um football. Big Ben stands and delivers. He’s getting older, he’s getting slower, but he just keeps going. He probably won’t be vintage Ben in 2019, but I’m sure he will still be a good QB that is probably going to slide in drafts.
Jaylen Samuels (RB/TE)
Samuels can play double duty as a RB or TE, so if either Connor or McDonald get hurt (as they have in the past), Samuels instantly becomes an intriguing piece to plug and play from your bench.
Ryan Switzer (WR)
The Steelers are redefining themselves this year and nobody knows what that is going to look like when all is said and done. Switzer can play. If he makes the most of his chances he’ll garner some fantasy appreciation.
The Diamond in the Rough
James Washington (WR)
Don’t believe me? Watch a highlight reel on this guy and tell me he doesn’t start to jump off the tape. This dude is an athlete. With Antonio Brown gone, there will be more opportunities. Expect Washington to capitalize on them.
Odell Beckham Jr. (WR)
Currently the owner of the biggest wide receiver contract in the NFL, the Browns weren’t shy when it came to shelling out the big bucks for a big name. OBJ is set to receive a massive workload for his new team and owning him will be fantasy gold this season.
Although the Giants will disagree (publicly) with the idea that Eli is a slumping shadow of his former self, the truth is Baker Mayfield’s swag will play into OBJ’s game brilliantly.
Jarvis Landry (WR)
And speaking of playing into Beckham’s game, how about his former LSU teammate and self-proclaimed brother, Jarvis Landry. For years, the duo worked masterfully together in college, teaming-up to terrorize defenses with their elite quickness and game breaking big play ability.
But how is his stand-alone value? Well, pretty good, he has over 480 catches his first 5 years in the league, which is another way of saying he holds the all-time record for most catches by a player in the first 5 years of their career. And if money talks, the Browns made Landry the highest paid slot receiver after he signed a new contract with them last year. Big money for two big-time receivers with big results when they play together. Gold.
Nick Chubb (RB)
When you have two epic wide receivers, it opens up the run game. Beyond that, Chubb showed real flashes of greatness last year and made it obvious why he was the Browns’ top draft pick of the second round.
If you’re worried about Kareem Hunt, I hear you, just remember Hunt will be out for half of the season and then will have to work his way into the line-up mid-season with his new team after almost a year-removed from the game. If Chubb produces in those initial games, which he will, it will be very hard for any self-respecting offensive coordinator to take the ball out of his hands.
Kareem Hunt (RB)
Although the starting job will belong to Chubb, Hunt is the best RB on this team right now. That might change once Chubb gets another half of a season under his belt – or it might not. But what you can count on is Hunt coming with a massive discount in fantasy drafts.
That price alone makes him worthy of a silver rating – any time a first-round fantasy draft pick slides significantly by the next year’s draft, he’s worth consideration.
David Njoku (TE)
Successfully filling your fantasy team’s tight end position can be a finicky task. There are only ever a couple guaranteed TE’s, and they will cost you. Then there are those TE’s you pay handsomely for and they royally disappoint (enter Jimmy Graham).
Finding a cheap TE that can perform at a high level isn’t easy – but Njoku is the exception. He has command of the TE1 position in Cleveland as they charge into what seems to be an epic season in 2019. Opposing defenses will have their hands full covering the Cleveland wide receivers and also stopping the run, which points to more opportunities for Njoku who already looked pretty good last year.
Duke Johnson (RB)
Duke has never really taken off, but also never really looked bad either. He is a great combo back and makes the most out of his touches and catches. In PPR, he could really be a serious asset through the first half of the season – but ultimately he has an expiration date named Kareem Hunt.
Given that he won’t be viable all season, lots of fantasy managers will choose to pass on him in the draft, and if your patient you might just be able to scoop him up for a price you can’t refuse. When was the last time that having a viable fantasy RB through the first half of the season was a bad thing?
Antonio Callaway (WR)
He’s the odd-man-out on this loaded offense. If he steps up this year, given that defenses will be spread-thin trying to handle all the other weapons in cleveland, he could be the straw that breaks the camel’s (bengals’/ ravens’/ steelers’/ etc) back. If he doesn’t step up, he will disappear behind all the other playmakers.
The Diamond in the Rough
Baker Mayfield (QB)
Baker looked good last year and made it obvious why the Browns selected him Number 1 overall, so some of you may be wondering why he’s considered a Diamond in the Rough; that’s because this year is different.
Last year he was a viable starting QB – this year, with new weapons and a full year’s experience, we could be seeing someone approaching next-level good. For all fantasy purposes, I’m talking Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes level good. Possibly.
Justin Tucker (K)
J.T. is the best kicker in the league. He can bomb field goals from 50 yards out with extreme accuracy and with the Ravens being a lockdown defensive team, field goals have become a key strategy in how they win football games.
The Ravens Defense
They may have said goodbye to more than a few key veterans this offseason, but the Ravens D has never been about individuals; the Ravens defense is an identity. This is how this club defines itself.
The Ravens don’t win games unless their defense makes some key plays. The Ravens made it to the playoffs and are expecting to build on that this year, so expect their defense to keep making plays.
Mark Ingram (RB)
If there’s one thing that mixes well with field goals and defense, it’s a strong presence in the ground game. The Ravens became the ultimate running team once Lamar Jackson took over the reins and they’re showing no sign of slowing down this year. Alex Collins (aka the River Dancer) was supposed to be the guy on the ground last year. He’s already gone.
The Ravens have always liked to run the ball, control the clock, and stifle their opponents with a strong defense. Ingram fits perfectly into that scheme because he can run up the gut, catch balls out of the backfield, and has been a proven workhorse in the past. Plus, who are they going to throw to? Well…
Willie Snead (WR)
That’s who they are going to throw to. He’s never been THE guy, but he can be a pretty good receiver when given the chances. With Michael Crabtree leaving for free agency and John Brown going to Buffalo, Snead is clearly the top option until further notice. He looked good at times last year, and looked even better before that in New Orleans, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll produce some decent numbers.
Kenneth Dixon (RB)
Dixon has had buzz around his name a few times but it has never stuck. Mark Ingram is going to get the bulk of the totes, but it was clear in New Orleans that pairing Ingram with a shifty RB to share the load is not a bad idea.
Dixon likely will be the one that helps spell Ingram the most and with a run-heavy team like the Ravens, that could result in a respectable workload.
Diamond in the Rough
Lamar Jackson (QB)
Do you remember the hype surrounding this guy in college? There was a time when it seemed like everybody was talking about him. Then he comes in for an injured Joe Flacco and the Ravens make the playoffs. Coincidence? I think not.
The ONLY reason Jackson might not be the electric super-QB of 2019 is that scary word, “injury”, and the caution that might dictate how many carries and designed runs he has per game. The sky’s the limit for Jackson…oh, and his accuracy targeting receivers.
Lamar’s Rookie Mixtape Video
Joe Mixon (RB)
Mixon is an everything back. He’s exactly what everyone expected Jeremy Hill to become for the Bengals. There is no shortage of what he can do, and he’ll be cheaper than the other big-name backs.
AJ Green (WR)
It’s true, AJ Green hasn’t really been the strongest fantasy asset the last few seasons, but his skill level is still undeniable. There is no reason to bet against him this year just because of a few down years.
He is the Bengals’ best weapon on offense and now that the Marvin Lewis era is over, expect the coaching staff to start their new direction with finding ways to get the ball to Green more often.
Gio Bernard (RB)
Gio is just a slightly reduced version of Mixon. When Mixon got hurt last year, Gio stepped in and was a full blown starting running back. If you play PPR, he can almost make himself valuable even when Mixon is fully healthy.
If you get Mixon, Bernard is a must And if he slides, don’t be afraid to grab him and stash him for a rainy day. And, if you’re in a tight spot, he’s a decent desperation play even if Mixon is 100%. And if you have him, chances are someone else is going to want him. Owning a tradable player is never a bad idea.
Andy Dalton (QB)
I might kick myself for not placing Dalton in the bronze, but same could be said about not placing him in silver. The Red Rifle (or Red Ryder BB Gun as coined by JJ Watt) can be a bit of a punching bag at times, but he also has pretty good fundamentals.
He isn’t the most athletic, or the biggest arm, but he isn’t as bad as some of your league-mates might believe. But the Dalton hate is strong; so strong that chances are he goes undrafted. That’s why he’s in silver. And a new coaching scheme can sometimes jumpstart an idle QB.
CJ Uzomah/ Tyler Eifert (TEs)
It sure feels like a looong time ago when Eifert lit up the endzone with 13 touchdowns in 2015 (his career season.) And it sure feels commonplace for him to be on the injury report. It’s a tough fact of life: injuries are a bane of existence. And that rings doubly true in the NFL. So slide in Uzomah, who really didn’t impress much with his chances in a starting role last season. Personally I’d stay away from either but it’s a new year and they will be late selections in the draft (if they go at all). Buyer Beware.
Vontaze Burfict is off to Oakland. Pacman Jones is a free agent. The definition of this defense is no longer what it once was. But perhaps that can be a good thing – both those players were noticeably playing at reduced levels last season. Cincinnati was in desperate need of a wakeup call and is (somewhat) getting one this offseason.
The Diamond in the Rough
Tyler Boyd (WR)
Arguably last year’s best free agent pickup. Boyd completely leap-frogged John Ross on the depth chart and left him in the dust. Boyd is entering a contract year and exploded onto the scene at the end of 2017 and kept it up all through 2018.
It’s clear he is the guy to compliment Green. The best part is: he is still somewhat under the radar. But don’t wait too long to grab him in the draft, chances are someone else has their eye on him as well.
The Year Ahead
The AFC North rivalries always make this a fun division to watch. And, with the Browns and Ravens relying on promising young QB’s, this year should be no exception.
— Red Zone Rick
Red Zone Rick likes his fantasy football more than a Davanni’s hoagie. He is a long time fantasy football player, commissioner, and writer. When not searching for the next great sleeper pick, he can be found practicing judo, running, or reading.
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