The Fantasy Points staff recently welcomed NFL Insider Adam Caplan to talk about the AFC North as part of our Virtual Town Hall Series. We highly encourage you to check out the entire conversation by accessing our Fantasy Points YouTube page and the Fantasy Points podcast feed.
Adam joined John Hansen and company to break down the AFC North from front to back to help us get a deeper understanding of every roster heading into the summer. John has been holding these closed-door meetings with Adam for the last 15+ years. The Fantasy Points staff is proud to let the public peek behind the curtain during these exclusive meetings! Here are the notes we compiled from the AFC North conversation.
Brett Whitefield (BW): Todd Monken is a phenomenal fit. His play designs should get Lamar Jackson easier throws and help to get the ball downfield. Lamar has receivers who are going to help him. The Ravens are getting to a point where they have to ask themselves how much they want Lamar to run after getting his big contract. His contract could be at a detriment to him running the ball.
Graham Barfield (GB): They finally have a three-WR set that’s functional, and they have three TEs. Monken will have a lot of formational diversity.
BW: I’m a little lower on Zay Flowers than others. He reminded me of Golden Tate coming into the league. He won’t be the downfield factor that he was at Boston College, and he left some yards on the field. Rashod Bateman has all the tools and a complete skill set to be the best receiver here, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
Adam Caplan (AC): Bateman had the worst of the Lisfranc injuries, but he’s running now. I was told Odell Beckham’s workout was phenomenal. This offense could actually be more forward-thinking than they were under Greg Roman. They’re going to play more no-huddle, and they’re loaded at WR and TE.
GB: I was completely out on J.K. Dobbins last year, and he wasn’t himself early on last season. He was close to all the way back at the end of last year. He’s a lock for me as an RB2 target if they don’t bring in another back.
AC: Dobbins would get rolling late in the year and Roman would pull him, which frustrated him. They could still bring in someone behind Dobbins and Gus Edwards. This is a make-or-break year for Dobbins in the last year of his contract.
AC: They’re going to be super-heavy 11 personnel with just Irv Smith at TE. They actually have some O-line depth. They go about nine deep now, and this should be the best group they’ve had in front of Joe Burrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chase Brown can win the #2 RB job. He’s not ready to take over for Joe Mixon just yet, but he could get touches in a great offense.
BW: Brown is rocked up. He looks like a track star, which he was. His landing spot was going to be important for him, and he found a good one. He can run the outside zone at a high level, which Mixon was unable to do as well last season.
GB: Mixon has been a great fantasy backup until last year. He could be this year’s Ezekiel Elliott, grabbing goal-line work and early-down work. Mixon could still be fine overall for fantasy because of his goal-line opportunities in a good offense. Chris Evans could get some passing-down work with Samaje Perine out of the picture. Mixon can’t pass protect, and Perine excelled in that area. This could be a committee with Trayveon Williams also getting talked up.
GB: Deshaun Watson’s struggles can be explained away. He didn’t play football for two years, and he was adjusting to an entirely new offense and personnel. He was a top-five quarterback before he left Houston. He may not get back to that status, but he’s set up for success this year with how loaded Cleveland’s offense is across the board.
BW: Jacoby Brissett was significantly better than Watson last year. He has to get it back. They’re all in on him.
AC: The Carson Wentz situation was completely different when he lost it. Watson’s attempts per game should rise after throwing fewer than 30 times per game last year. You don’t spend all this money on Watson to run the ball. Cedric Tillman will start opposite Amari Cooper by at least 2024. This isn’t in Kevin Stefanski’s DNA, but this should be more of a fast-break offense.
GB: Allen Robinson is just a red-zone threat at this point. On paper, these receivers all fit together well.
AC: Robinson still has outstanding short-area quickness. They want to get a look at Calvin Austin this year after a wasted year. Robinson is the taller slot, and Austin is the smaller slot. This could be a top-seven offense with a better offensive coordinator.
GB: My problem is Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator. That’s part of the reason why Kenny Pickett’s efficiency was terrible. George Pickens not getting targets for quarters at a time is unacceptable.
BW: Pickett doesn’t play within the structure of the offense very well. The whole goal for Robinson is to get him on schedule, which should help him overall.
BW: Najee Harris started the season with a foot injury but slowly got back to himself as the year went on. The talent was there last year, but his O-line also struggled. Canada finally started using more zone concepts later in the year, which fit the strengths of the personnel they brought in last off-season.
GB: Najee had a Lisfranc injury that he was dealing with early in the year. Any loss of juice is huge for bigger backs. We’re getting an injury discount on him this year. He’s a borderline blue-chip prospect at the position.