2020 AFC North Fantasy Review
This division was very successful this year, boasting three playoff teams which no other division can claim but wasn’t overly productive for fantasy owners. Let’s get right to it and dive into the AFC North.
The fantasy darling of the 2019 season, Lamar Jackson was looking to build on his MVP campaign. On the surface it might not seem like a terrible year for Jackson, who averaged 22.79 points per game. But given the fact you had to spend a very high draft pick, often in the second-round range, to acquire Jackson, owners didn’t feel they got the proper return on investment. Jackson regressed in every category this season, finishing with 2,757 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and adding another 1,005 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. You can point to Lamar as the prime reason why you shouldn’t burn high draft picks on quarterbacks – especially ones coming off historical seasons.
Overall, Jackson wasn’t terrible but fell very short of the extremely high ADP needed to acquire him.
The Ravens were the poster child for Running Back by Committee in 2020. J.K Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram all got over 70 carries on the season, with Dobbins and Edwards both eclipsing 130. As the season got near the end, Ingram became a healthy scratch for several games, but anyone who owns a piece of this backfield knows how much of a headache it was. Dobbins was the best of the bunch, finishing as the RB24 with 805 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns to go with 18 catches and 120 yards through the air. Once the Ravens started leaning on Dobbins in a full-time role is when he really started to shine; he was the RB10 from Weeks 11-17 to close out the year. Gus Edwards was a solid FLEX type play all year long finishing as the RB37. He didn’t offer much ceiling but was able to give managers eight or more points 9 times this season. As the season wore on, Mark Ingram became less and less a factor, ending up a healthy scratch for the last few games of the year leading to his release yesterday. He was virtually unusable this season.
Overall, a solid RB2 finish from the rookie Dobbins and a FLEX level season from Edwards makes this one of the better backfields in the NFL. It was hard to be confident in either option on a weekly basis knowing all three guys plus Lamar got carries at times, but you were rewarded more often than not.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was a major sleeper candidate coming into 2020 and had a tale of two seasons. From Weeks 1-11 Brown only eclipsed double digits 3 times in 11 weeks, ranking as the WR54 over that time. From Weeks 12-17 Brown found a second gear and went on a major tear, scoring 12+ points in each game, and ranking as the WR13. The problem with Brown and the overall Ravens’ WR corp. wasn’t the talent, but the volume. QB Lamar Jackson only passed for 183 yards per game this season, so hard to provide elite numbers when the pie is so small. Brown finished with 769 yards and 8 touchdowns, the WR36 on the year. Outside of Brown there wasn’t much to talk about. If your #1 WR is being held back by a low volume passing game, then you imagine the #2 and #3 options would have an even tougher time. Willie Snead and Miles Boykin both finished outside the top 80 and neither one exceeded 450 yards.
Overall, Hollywood Brown was a bright spot for the last few weeks of the year, but otherwise the Ravens’ WR group didn’t give owners anything useful. Considering the high ADP on Brown, this season stung a bit.
At a tough position, Mark Andrews was a bright spot yet again, finishing as the TE6 on the season and the TE4 in points per game. Andrews was typically the third or fourth tight end off the board in fantasy drafts, so owners were pretty happy with his production this season. He finished the year with 58 receptions for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Overall, Andrews wasn’t as dominant as in 2019 but overall provided solid production and return on investment for owners.
Back for his 16th season, Ben Roethlisberger shook off an injury plagued 2019 to finish right on the cusp of QB1 territory in 2020. He averaged 18.48 points per game which would make him the QB12 amongst QBs who played 15 or more games. The Steelers had a difficult time running the ball, forcing Roethlisberger to pass the ball 608 times, tied for the second most attempts in his career. He turned that into 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. While the volume was there to give Roethlisberger a decent floor, he was very inefficient with his attempts. He finished with 6.3 yards per attempt, the lowest mark of his career (excluding 2019) and 29th in the NFL last season. It’s up in the air if Roethlisberger will return next season.
Overall, Roethlisberger had tons of volume which helped along his fantasy output but was extremely inefficient along the way.
Once considered an elite unit, the Steelers’ running game essentially vanished in 2020. James Conner only finished with 721 yards and 6 touchdowns as the Steelers finished at the bottom of the league in rushing attempts and rushing yards. What stings even worse is the fact Conner had an ADP of RB17 which cost you about a 3rd round pick and finished as the RB27. Back-up Benny Snell was looking like he was taking over in Week 1 but failed to get going the rest of the season. Even in games Conner missed, Snell had horrible performances and didn’t cash in on any opportunity. Rookie Anthony McFarland had a few splash plays throughout the year but was overall irrelevant this season.
Overall, Conner got hurt and failed to deliver on his ADP and even the back-ups stunk when Conner was out. This was the worst rushing offense in the NFL this season.
With incredibly low running volume, the Steelers’ wide receivers benefited from the uptick in passing attempts. Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool all finished inside the top 24 wide receivers. Juju finished with 831 yards and 9 touchdowns to cap off a successful, but somewhat inconsistent season. He put up some duds like Weeks 5, 6, 11 and 15, but was overall productive for fantasy owners. Diontae broke-out in his second season, leading the Steelers with 144 targets, 88 catches for 923 yards and 7 touchdowns. Anyone who owned Johnson this season knows just how frustrating it was. There were 4 separate games earlier in the season that Johnson got hurt and had to leave early, leaving owners with a horrible output in their line-up. But he showed the tremendous upside when he played a full game, hitting 20+ points seven times this year. If he wasn’t getting hurt or dropping the ball, Diontae was a PPR machine. Claypool exploded on the scene in Week 5 against Philly with his 4-touchdown game and finished the season with 873 yards and 9 touchdowns, serving as the deep-threat in the Pittsburgh offense. With Juju set to become a free agent this off-season, I imagine Claypool will be a massive sleeper favorite.
Overall, all three players finished in the top 24 and had good seasons, benefiting from the incredibly high passing volume. Hard to find a better group top to bottom.
In the black hole of the tight end position, owners could have done a lot worse than Eric Ebron this year. He finished as the TE12 in points per game with 558 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. Sadly, 500+ and 5 seems to be the benchmark to finish as a top 12 TE, even though those numbers don’t blow you out of the water. He eclipsed double digits in 8 games which is very solid for a tight end and with an ADP of TE17 he returned value for fantasy owners.
Overall, nothing crazy but a solid season for Ebron who finished as TE12 on the year.
After finishing 1-15 and securing the #1 overall pick, the Bengals selected Joe Burrow from LSU to become the future of the franchise. Burrow, coming off a historic season at LSU, was turning into everything the Bengals hoped for. He was averaging 17.87 points per game and had the Bengals competing all season. A gruesome knee injury Week 11 against Washington cut Burrow’s season short and we hope to see him bounce back next season. He showed inconsistency you would expect from a rookie – finishing above 20 points in three games but also below 15 points in three games as well. Heading into 2021 Burrow looks to have a solid set of receiving options in Higgins and Boyd and a pro-bowl RB in Joe Mixon. If Cincy can add a few more pieces around Burrow I like him to take a big step forward next season.
Overall, Burrow rewarded managers who drafted him late with a solid fantasy QB season until he unfortunately got hurt.
Expectations were high for Joe Mixon in 2020 but what transpired was arguably the biggest injury bust of the season. Throughout the first six weeks Mixon gave owners a 42-point explosion against Jacksonville and some modest consistency in other games. That explosion against Jacksonville helped Mixon to an RB9 ranking through the first six weeks, but after being consistently labeled “week-to-week” by the coaching staff, Mixon never returned to the field. The tough part for owners was burning a bench spot all season long as Mixon wasn’t officially put on IR until very late in the season and burning somewhere around the 10th overall pick on Mixon in drafts. Gio Bernard had flashes carrying the load while Mixon was out. Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams garnered some extra attention late in the season, but Bernard rewarded owners with an RB30 finish on the year. As usual, Gio provided extra value in the passing game hauling in 47 receptions for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns; he was the 12th most targeted RB on the season.
Overall, Mixon was solid until he was hurt and Gio provided FLEX level production with Mixon out.
The receiving corp. went as Joe Burrow went and this was a very underrated group for fantasy owners until Burrow went down with his horrific injury. Standout rookie Tee Higgins was a favorite target of Burrow’s, averaging over 8 targets per game from Weeks 2-11. Higgins added some solid games after Burrow and finished the year as the WR28. If Burrow bounces back from injury expect Higgins to be a major breakout candidate in 2021. Tyler Boyd gave owners a productive year as well finishing right behind Higgins as the WR29, including two games essentially missed due to injury. Boyd showed his PPR consistency hauling in 79 passes for 841 yards and 4 touchdowns. The resurgence of AJ Green never seemed to materialize as he only finished with 523 yards and 2 touchdowns. Outside of essentially four games Green was better left on the bench, and odds are most owners didn’t have the confidence to put him in the line up when he had his decent games.
Overall, Higgins and Boyd had solid years and look to be rising young stars. AJ Green seems washed and will most likely be undraftable for fantasy next season.
As with most teams, the tight end position was irrelevant for the Bengals this season. The best performer was Drew Sample, who finished with 349 yards and 1 touchdown as the TE30. You most likely didn’t start any Bengals tight end at any point this year and for good reason.
Overall, this position was irrelevant.
The first overall pick in 2018, Mayfield was looking to bounce back after being freed from the shackles of Freddie Kitchens’ abysmal offense. New head coach Kevin Stefanski implemented a run-focused scheme coming from Minnesota and the change benefited Mayfield greatly. He was extremely up and down, but if you look closer it wasn’t all his fault. There was a chunk of games in the middle of the season where Baker and the Browns played in some of the most severe weather possible. Ideally this was a scenario you were able to avoid given the conditions, so you weren’t burned by the poor outings. Week 16 against the Jets was another predictable down week where the entire Browns’ WR corp. caught COVID and had to miss the game. So, while Baker finished under 10 points several times, I’m not holding it too much against him because they were predictable games that owners should have avoided. Under normal conditions, he performed much better, finishing above 15 points nine times this season. He finished with 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions on the year.
Overall, Baker played well outside of games in a hurricane or the Jets game without WRs.
Arguably the best running back duo in the NFL, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both provided fantasy owners with great seasons. Coming into the season Hunt was considered more of a “handcuff” for Chubb, but showed he had stand-alone value even with Chubb on the field. Of course, when Chubb went down against the Cowboys, Hunt became the sole ball-carrier and showed flashes of the old Kansas City Kareem hunt. Chubb finished as the RB11, even missing four games, and Hunt finished as the RB10. Chubb finished the season with 1,067 yards, 12 touchdowns and another 150 yards receiving. Hunt finished with 841 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground with an additional 304 and 8 through the air.
Overall, both running backs were startable assets all season long and proved to be one of the best tandems in the league.
A group that featured a pair of former LSU standouts had high expectations for 2021 and it seems neither option jumped off the page. Seems like a lifetime ago since Odell Beckham Jr. dominated the field and injury cut his season short this year. He went down for the season in Week 8 against the Raiders and unfortunately this seems to be becoming a habit. Beckham fought through injury to play in 16 games last season but has missed 25 games since 2017. Fantasy owners bought in on the Beckham resurgence as he was being drafted as the WR11 to be seemingly disappointed again. Times of OBJ WR1 seem to be in the rearview mirror. Jarvis Landry was his usual ho-hum self, catching 72 balls for 840 yards and 3 touchdowns. Typically, not a dynamic touchdown threat Landry exceeded 100 targets for the seventh time in seven years. His WR33 finish isn’t far from the WR28 draft cost it took to acquire Landry so owners weren’t elated with the pick but shouldn’t be disappointed either. Rashad Higgins seemed to be the new fill-in for OBJ when he went down in Week 7, but he finished as a somewhat decent streaming option by year end. Higgins gave owners a couple double digit games but also showed a scary low floor.
Overall, the group was nothing exciting as OBJ got hurt again, Landry finished slightly below expectation and Higgins was a boom/bust streamer.
Austin Hooper was a solid, yet unspectacular tight end option for owners. He was the TE21 on the season and the TE19 in points per game but less than a point per game separated Hooper and the TE12. That’s the typical outcome from the position – the guys from 10-20 all end up close. He seemed to be a somewhat favorite of Baker, finishing as the 12th most targeted tight end on the season.
Overall, Hooper gave you the same streaming opportunity as the other dozen tight ends in his range.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back tomorrow for the AFC East Fantasy Review. Stay true.
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