Fantasy Football Outlook: AFC North Pre-Draft

 It is never too early to start game planning for the next fantasy football season. That being said, the NFL Draft is less than 3 days away, so now is the perfect time to start analyzing the fantasy-relevant needs of teams across the NFL. We will continue with the AFC North. 

Baltimore Ravens

2023 Draft Picks- 1.22, 3.86, 4.124, 5.157, and 6.199 

    I had tried to put off writing about the Ravens for as long as possible, in the hopes that they would have figured out the situation with Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately, they have not been able to come to a conclusion on the situation. That being said, I will pretend that Lamar Jackson is the starting QB for the Ravens come September and that he is going to play. The truth of the matter is that Jackson could very well be on another team by September or could refuse to play on the Franchise tag. If Jackson is back and playing like usual, he can be expected to be a QB1 once again. The Ravens should be adding at least one playmaker in the draft or in free agency that should make an immediate impact. Even if they don’t, Jackson still offers immense upside with his legs and arm. Jackson is my QB6 as of right now. The running back group for the Ravens is about the same as it was at the end of last season. It consists of JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill. Dobbins is the clear-cut RB1 in that group. He offers the most upside out of any of the RBs and should be the one to own in 2023. The Ravens could certainly add another running back in the draft but I do not expect it to be with their 1st round pick. Dobbins is a mid-tier RB2 as of right now. Edwards is a top-tier backup and Hill should just be left on the waiver wire in redraft. The WR position is the one offensive position where I could see the Ravens spending their 1st round pick. They have a definite need at the WR position, even though they just signed Odell Beckham Jr.. If the Ravens were to draft one of the top 4 WRs in this draft, they would have solid value in what is a shallow WR group. That is as long as Jackson is the QB for the team. OBJ should be viewed as a high-end flex with an upside. As long as Bateman is healthy coming into the season, he can be viewed as a mid-tier flex/WR3. The TE is the only position on the Ravens that doesn’t have any question marks surrounding it. Mark Andrews will once again be the TE1 for the Ravens. No matter who his QB ends up being, he should continue to be a high-end TE1 mainly because of how unreliable the TE position is. Andrews is currently my TE4. 

Cincinnati Bengals

 2023 Draft Picks- 1.28, 2.60, 3.92, 4.131, 5.163, 6.206, and 7.246 

    The Bengals are luckily one of those teams that don’t need a ton of help on either side of the ball. They have an elite offense and a decent defense heading into the 2023 season. The QB position for the Bengals is solidified for the future, as Joe Burrow should be on the team for years to come. Burrow is not known to utilize his legs like other top-tier fantasy quarterbacks, but that does not mean he does not offer top-tier upside. Burrow has all the skills and talent surrounding him to succeed.  Burrow should be drafted as a high-end QB1 this season. He is currently my QB5. The running back position for the Bengals is a little less clear as there is some speculation that Joe Mixon could be released/traded this offseason. The running back group behind Mixon is nothing to write home about from a fantasy perspective. Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams would be the only running backs left in the backfield. If Mixon were to be released/traded, there would be a decent hole at the running back position. If Mixon were to stay, he would be a low-end RB2 heading into the season. The Bengals WR group can easily be said to be one of the best in the entire league. The main trio consists of Ja’mar Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. Not much has to be said about their group of wide receivers as we already know what they are capable of. Chase will continue to be a high-end WR1 and is currently my WR2 overall. Higgins will be a low-end WR1 with a high-end upside on a weekly basis. Boyd could be looked at as a flex value with a high upside if one of the other two receivers were to get injured. Lastly, the tight end position is more or less the main position that the Bengals need to address at some point in the draft. They did just sign Irv Smith Jr, but I am not overly optimistic about him as we have never seen him be able to stay healthy. If Irv were to be the only fantasy-relevant tight end on the roster, he would have a high-end TE2 upside heading into the year.  The Bengals certainly have the draft capital to be able to take a top-tier rookie in this year’s draft. If they were to take Mayer, Musgrave, Kincaid, Washington, or Laporta, I would be very excited about their upside with Burrow as their QB in 2023 and beyond. 

Cleveland Browns

2023 Draft Picks- 3.74, 3.98, 4.111, 4.126, 5.142, 5.144, 6.190, and 7.229

    The Browns offer plenty of fantasy upside throughout their roster and should be a better overall offense in 2023. The AFC North is pretty much Cincinnati’s to lose, but the 2nd spot behind them is pretty wide open in the division. The QB position is filled for the future with Deshaun Watson, especially after what they paid him and traded away for him just one year ago. I expect Watson to get better and shake off the “rust” from the time that he hadn’t been playing. I do not expect Watson to be the high-end QB1 that we knew from the past though. Watson has enough talent surrounding him to succeed and could be viewed as one of the top options in the later rounds of your fantasy drafts. Watson is my QB12 heading into the season. The running back position for the Browns is much more simple to read than in previous years. Nick Chubb is the clear-cut RB1 for the Browns heading into the season. The Browns no longer have Kareem Hunt or D’ernest Johnson on the team, which means that there is no threat to Chubb’s production currently on the Browns. The Browns may draft a rookie but I wouldn’t expect them to draft one with either of their 3rd round picks, as they have needs. Chubb should once again be a low-end RB1 heading into 2023. He is currently my RB10. The wide receiver position for the Browns is finally looking up after the addition of Elijah Moore this offseason. The fantasy-relevant options on the team are Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Cooper should retain the WR1 position for the Browns, especially after the solid year he had in 2022. Cooper is a low-end WR2 with an upside in 2023. Moore is an exciting prospect who was utilized properly by the Jets last year for some reason. I expect him to bounce back this year as the Browns #2 option in the passing game. Moore should be a solid flex option in 2023 with the skills to be able to outproduce his current ADP. DPJ figures to be a low-end flex with an upside in full PPR leagues. The tight end position for the Browns is good but not great heading into 2023. We have had our dreams of David Njoku being a top-tier TE1 demolished time and time again. Njoku is certainly the best tight end on the team and offers the most upside at the position. If he stays healthy, I could see him getting a solid target share as the #2 / 3 target on the team. The Browns as a whole have plenty of fantasy producers who should offer value throughout your draft this year. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

2023 Draft Picks- 1.17, 2.32, 2.49, 3.80, 4.120, 7.234, and 7.241

    As I said above, the number 2 spot for the AFC North is wide open and could certainly be claimed by the Steelers in 2023. They have an up-and-coming offense and a top-tier defense heading into 2023. I am not personally excited about Kenny Pickett from a fantasy perspective, but he is clearly the starting QB for the Steelers in the near future. He is not a top-tier talent and I don’t believe he will ever offer that kind of upside. I believe we have seen his floor in his rookie year and his ceiling is mid to high QB2. He may have QB1 fantasy days as any QB can but it will be hard to judge when that is going to be. I don’t see them coming at a consistent rate though. Pickett is a low-end QB2 heading into 2023. He is my QB21 as of right now. The RB position is definitely easy to read, as Najee Harris is the clear-cut RB1 for the team. There were those who worried about Najee’s ability heading into last season, it is evident that we should not worry about him heading into 2023 though. Over the last half of last season, Najee was the RB7 and showed that he could handle a heavy workload. Najee is a high-end RB2 with true RB1 upside if the Steelers can get their offense going as they had done at the end of last season. The WR position for the Steelers is filled nicely by Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Calvin Austin III. I could see the Steelers adding a day 2 / 3 receiver that would automatically have fantasy value due to the overall makeup of the Steelers offense. The Steelers have also been known to find value throughout the middle rounds of the draft, especially at the WR position. But for now, I have Pickens and Johnson as high-end flexes. Austin is a low-end flex with upside, as long as they don’t add someone that could compete with him in the draft. The TE position is also another clear-cut position for the Steelers. Pat Freiermuth is the TE1 for the Steelers and he is my TE7 heading into the season. Freiermuth is one of my favorite TEs heading into the year. I think he will continue to carve out a larger target share and will be a consistent option in 2023.

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