2016 Fantasy Review: AFC North
February 7, 2017 | Justin Edwards
Sporting two of the most relevant fantasy players sharing the same real-life NFL team (Bell, Brown), the rest of the AFC North was a bit of a value pit for everyone not donning the Black and Yellow. Cincinnati’s offensive pieces took turns ending their seasons (Eifert, Green, Bernard), Cleveland’s inept quarterback carousel made moving the ball nearly impossible (30th in total yards, 31st in total points) and Baltimore spread the ball around so much it was hard to find someone to give you consistent production (Terrance West led backs with 774 yards, Mike Wallace led receivers with 1,017). Nonetheless there were solid, if not spectacular, names to go along with the stinkers that you could have benefited from if you picked your spots.
All-AFC North Fantasy Pro Bowl
(STD Fantasy points per game, PPR Fantasy points per game)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger (22.5 QB7)
RB: Le’Veon Bell (20.2 RB2, 26.5 RB1)
RB: Isaiah Crowell (10.5 RB25, 13.0 RB14)
WR: Antonio Brown (13.4 WR1, 20.5 WR1)
WR: A.J. Green (12.0 WR6, 18.6 WR5)
WR: Terrelle Pryor (8.3 WR29, 13.1 WR26)
TE: Tyler Eifert (8.7 TE3, 12.3 TE7)
D/ST: Steelers (4.3 DEF13)
Kicker: Justin Tucker (8.8 K2)
MVP: Le’Veon Bell (242.4 STD, 317.4 PPR)
From the onset of the season – straight out of his suspension – Le’Veon quite literally took the ball and ran with it. The most patient back in the league gifted his patient owners with 20+ fantasy points in nine of his twelve games played, even while apparently playing through a groin injury that ended up knocking him out of the AFC title game. Bell’s DFS price consistently topped five-figures while he continued to remain a value play unlike almost anyone else in the NFL.
Biggest Surprise: Dennis Pitta (84.9 STD, 170.9 PPR)
In a division without many surprises, it sure came as a shock that a 31-year-old Dennis Pitta – who hadn’t caught a pass since Week 3 of 2014 – came in and hopped over three other tight ends on the depth chart to lead the Baltimore Ravens in targets (121). As Joe Flacco’s safety valve Pitta averaged a modest 8.5 Y/R and only found the end zone twice but was very serviceable in PPR leagues where he finished as the TE8 and had 6 or more catches in eight games.
Biggest Disappointment: Jeremy Hill (155.3 STD, 176.3 PPR)
Injury notwithstanding, Hill converted heavy workloads into big fantasy games but they were few and far between. While his final numbers will go to show that he had a completely serviceable RB2 season, no more than a squint will show that he had a boom-or-bust season that made owning him on your fantasy team a stroke-inducing practice. Of his 839 rushing yards on the season a whopping 276 (33%) of them came in two games against the lowly Cleveland Browns. Of his 13 other games Jeremy ran for 563 yards on 188 carries (2.99 YPC). His third straight season of 9 or more scores buoyed his total output for the year but that may simply lend him to more of a Matt Asiata role with Cincinnati moving forward.
Best Draft Value: Isaiah Crowell (168.3 STD, 208.3 PPR), 8.05 as RB37
I for one believed Crowell would be an awful way to spend draft capital for the exact reason that Cleveland was so likely to finish as one of the worst offenses in the league. Well, they finished as possibly the worst offense in the league yet the Crow ate to the tune of RB15 on the year, gobbling up production while playing healthy across all 16 games. Duke Johnson played the sort of Giovani Bernard role as a pass-catcher out of the backfield as many of us had foreseen but handled only 21% of the team’s carries. If you were able to grab Isaiah at his 8th round ADP you bought yourself 4 or possibly 5 rounds worth of draft value.
Rookie of the Year: Tyler Boyd (72.1 STD, 126.1 PPR)
Almost as a default due to a lack of starting rookies in the division, this one goes to the Cincinnati ‘slot’ guy who was relatively thrust into a no. 2 role with injuries to the top three targets in the passing offense. Boyd finished 4th in the league among rookie wide outs with his 54 receptions but found the end zone only once with only 9 of his 81 targets coming inside the red zone. He has room to improve before becoming fantasy relevant as he managed more than 3 catches in only six games.
Biggest Injury Beneficiary: Terrelle Pryor (132.8 STD, 209.8 PPR)
Injuries in back-to-back weeks to their first two QBs on the depth chart forced Cleveland’s hand and set them up for a Week 3 gameplan that included Pryor running read-option plays, throwing the ball and being targeted 14 times as a receiver. It opened the playbook to the former quarterback and was the first of six double-digit target games. He ended up averaging a respectable 5-65 and 9 targets per game over his last 14 and showed that he could absolutely make the transition from signal caller to playmaker.
Old Man Watch: Ben Roethlisberger
Whether or not it’s just an aging diva trying to usurp the limelight after being exited from the playoffs, Big Ben has said “I’m gonna take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options, to consider health and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season — if there’s gonna be a next season” in an interview on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 radio station. While it’s certainly a possibility that a 35 year old with plenty in the bank would like to quit getting hit by large young men day in and day out I’m in the Hines Ward camp on this one; “…I just don’t see Ben walking away from the game right now.”
Sophomore Set to Take a Jump: Kenneth Dixon
A rookie season marred by injury and the absolute refusal to run the ball by the Baltimore Ravens – they ran the ball on 34% of their plays, dead last in the NFL – Dixon was simply not given a chance to showcase his playmaking ability. Once the rook got more assimilated with his team and the playbook in general he became an integral part of the passing game, garnering 4 or more targets in all but two weeks from games 9-16, 35 targets through the span. In comparison, Terrance West had 25 targets over those games while being on the field for 5, 10 or even 15 more snaps. West isn’t a terrible talent but his steadiness should ensure that Baltimore will stick with an RB tandem and we needn’t worry about Justin Forsett or Buck Allen or whoever else they might feel the need to pull out of the woodwork. 2017 could easily see the sophomore double his 118 touches from the ’16 campaign.