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2021 Pow-Wow Notes: AFC North

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2021 Pow-Wow Notes: AFC North

The Fantasy Points staff recently welcomed NFL Films legend Greg Cosell and NFL Insider Adam Caplan to talk about the AFC North as part of our Virtual Pow-wow Series. I highly encourage you to check out the entire conversation by accessing our Livestream archives.

Greg and 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 Greg and Adam for the last 15+ years. The Fantasy Points staff is proud to let the public peek behind the curtain during these exclusive Livestreams! Here are the notes I compiled from the AFC North meeting, and I included my biggest fantasy takeaways for each team.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Adam said the Ravens wanted to expand their passing game last season but the lack of an off-season crushed them in 2020. Greg called this a big off-season for Lamar Jackson and the entire Ravens’ passing game. Opposing teams want to get them out of their comfort zone by jumping out to leads and forcing Baltimore to pass. Greg said receivers go to Baltimore to die right now and it has to change some this season. The Ravens have to become a better passing team to advance deeper in the playoffs.

  • Graham thinks Lamar has overall QB1 potential if they increase their passing rate this season, and he notes that Lamar owns an 8.0% TD rate over the last two seasons.

  • Adam said J.K. Dobbins will be the main option in this backfield if he does his job, and he should get 15+ touches per game. Both Dobbins and Gus Edwards are in great spots because the running game is the foundation of this offense, and the backfield has been thinned out a bit with Mark Ingram heading to Houston.

  • Baltimore’s offensive line took a hit when they traded Orlando Brown to Kansas City, but they added OG Kevin Zeitler and OT Ali Villanueva. They’ll also get blocking TE Nick Boyle back after he missed the final two months of last season.

Brolley’s Fantasy Takeaways

  • I’m looking at Lamar Jackson a little differently than Graham is when it comes to his fantasy potential if the Ravens lean more toward the pass this season. Lamar’s fantasy production has been carried by his unique ability as a runner, and I’m slightly concerned if his designed runs will be cut down this season. He became the first QB to run for 1000+ yards in 2019-20, and he averaged 12.3 carries per game and 6.1 YPC in his first 31 starts. The Ravens went more pass-heavy before their Week 7 bye last season, and he was the QB11 with 21.5 FPG in the first six weeks while averaging 27.0 pass attempts and 8.3 carries per game. Lamar was the QB7 with 24.1 FPG out of their bye when he averaged 23.8 pass attempts and 12.1 carries per game the rest of the season. Lamar is an elite option either way but I’d prefer the status quo with the Ravens’ attack if I’m drafting him in the fifth/sixth round.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • The biggest question heading into the season is if the Bengals have done enough on the offensive line to protect Joe Burrow. They added Riley Reiff, who is an upgrade over Bobby Hart at right tackle, and they drafted Jackson Carman to play guard right out of the gates. The interior of their offensive line was terrible last season with Joe Mixon constantly running into a brick wall at the line of scrimmage.

  • Greg said he has it on good authority that Burrow has increased his arm strength this off-season, and video proof came out from practice shortly after our meeting. Adam said Burrow will play in Week 1 if he’s taking the practice reps in training camp.

  • Graham said the Bengals were one of the most pass-heavy offenses last season regardless of the situation last year. Joe Mixon could be ready to bust out since he should get more opportunities in passing situations with Gio Bernard leaving this off-season. Mixon is also the cheapest he’s been in recent years and his situation is the best it’s been with no Bernard, Joe Burrow at quarterback, and a slowly improving offensive line.

  • Greg said that Mixon is an excellent receiver too and Adam added that you don’t see players at Mixon’s size who can move the way he does.

Brolley’s Fantasy Takeaways

  • I’m a bit underweight on Joe Mixon at his rising ADP of 20.2 over the last month mainly because he’s burned many times at this point, which isn’t the best reason to be looking elsewhere. I’ve also been actively targeting prospects like Najee Harris and Antonio Gibson, who are being drafted in the same neighborhood as Mixon or after him. I’m going to change that going forward because this is the best situation he’s been in to start his career with Giovani Bernard out of the picture.

  • I went in hard on Joe Burrow last season as a rookie but I don’t love his current ADP of 105.9 (QB12) over the last month. I’m still a bit skeptical about his health early in the season, and I could see Zac Taylor trying to protect his franchise quarterback more after nearly getting him killed last season with their pass-heavy attack. I do like that he got a significant upgrade going from a washed-up A.J. Green to a future superstar in Ja’Marr Chase, but I’m not going to have many shares of Burrow with the way his ADP is shaping up.

Cleveland Browns

  • Baker Mayfield played well last year and Kevin Stefanski clearly had a much better plan for him, but Adam said they’re not in a hurry to lock him up to a long-term contract. Teams around the league are a bit more hesitant to lock up their young QBs after they saw how the Carson Wentz and Jared Goff situations played out.

  • Greg said Mayfield wasn’t comfortable in the offense early in 2020 but he got much better as the season went along. He’s a rhythm player who plays better in a structured environment and that’s what Stefanski’s offense does. He’s not the run-around, schoolyard quarterback he was perceived to be coming out of Oklahoma. Greg said Baker has a sneaky strong arm — more live than a power arm — and he throws it better than Kirk Cousins.

  • The Browns will primarily be a 12 personnel team but they have the personnel to do a bunch of different things. Adam was a little surprised they didn’t cut Njoku, and he thinks he could play more X receiver this year similar to how the Raiders use Darren Waller. They wanted to do it last season but it didn’t work out.

  • A big question for this offense is who will be the team’s third receiver. Rashard Higgins has been solid when he’s seen extended playing time and he has rapport with Mayfield. The Browns used a third-round pick on Anthony Schwartz and he can really move, while Donovan Peoples-Jones also moves well on the outside.

  • Joe and Graham said they’ve seen Nick Chubb sneaking into the top-eight picks in some best ball drafts, which is a bit high since Kareem Hunt is still involved here. Just not enough receiving production to justify it

Brolley’s Fantasy Takeaways

  • I don’t love picking in the 6-9 range in drafts so far this summer because I’m having a difficult time parsing through the likes of Jonathan Taylor, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Aaron Jones, and Ezekiel Elliott. I’m also starting to include Nick Chubb in this group since they could be playing in plenty of positive game scripts with Cleveland’s easy schedule, and we also started to see some positive trends with his passing-game involvement at the end of last season. Kevin Stefanski went out of his way to get Chubb more involved as a receiver in the second half of last season. He had 19 catches in his final eight games (playoffs included) after he caught three passes in his first seven games.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Adam expects the Steelers to stretch the field more now that Ben Roethlisberger will be two years removed from his elbow surgery. Pittsburgh’s offense was too predictable last season, and they’re going to make more of a commitment to the running game. They don’t want to be as pass-heavy as they have been in recent seasons with Big Ben at quarterback. They’d like to be just a little above league average in pass attempts.

  • Greg believes they’re going to be much more committed to the run after using their first two draft picks on RB Najee Harris and TE Pat Freiermuth. Najee is a volume back who is an excellent creator after contact. Big Ben isn’t a quarterback you want dropping back 40 times per game at this stage of his career. The big question is if Big Ben will be more receptive to playing under center than he has been in recent seasons. The Steelers should be able to take more schemed shot plays with more of a commitment to the running game.

  • Graham’s biggest concern for this offense is that Big Ben’s arm is shot and his arm strength is not going to get back to its pre-injury form. His average depth of target was at Drew Brees’ levels last season, which is good news for Najee. He’s one of the best receiving backs Graham’s charted, and he’s slippery after the catch.

  • Adam said they’ll have an open competition for the #2 role behind Harris between Anthony McFarland, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, and Jaylen Samuels. McFarland is the most intriguing secondary option but he’s more of a complementary back to Harris.

  • The offensive line has some serious question marks entering the season but Greg did like their third- and fourth-round selections in C Kendrick Green and OT Dan Moore. Greg was impressed by Moore’s ability to slow down SEC pass rushers and he thinks Moore has an outside shot at starting at left tackle this season.

Brolley’s Fantasy Takeaways

  • I’ve been loading up on Najee Harris in the mid- to late-second round of my drafts, and his ADP (21.9, RB15) is still lagging a bit behind where I think it will end up before the start of the season. The Steelers spent a first-round pick on Harris and all indications are that he’s on the fast track to one of the bigger workloads in the league right out of the gates.

  • I don’t have any strong feelings on the Steelers’ receivers since I think they’re all pretty appropriately priced. The Steelers have certainly emphasized improving their rushing attack, but this is still going to be one of the more pass-heavy attacks as long as Ben Roethlisberger is running the offense. Chase Claypool has been my biggest priority in this group since he should become more of a full-time player after playing 63% of the snaps. He could become a bigger part of the rushing attack after Matt Canada used him on jet sweeps last season, and he’d be the biggest beneficiary if Ben Roethlisberger’s arm strength is improved with an extra year removed from his elbow reconstruction surgery.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom is coming off his best season picking games against the spread, with his Best Bets winning at 61.5% in 2019.