IDP Pre-Season Preview: AFC North
Steve Gallo
August 19, 2013
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Every year there are new faces in new places – not just players, but coaches too.  With those changes come scheme changes, and value changes with regard to fantasy football.  Which is why drafting off stats from the previous year isn’t a wise thing to do. However, reading each divisional preseason update would be a wise thing to do. If you have any additional questions please feel free to email me at or find me on twitter @SteveGalloNFL.

Baltimore Ravens

HC: John Harbaugh
DC:  Dean Pees
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4
Scheme Change: No

Defensive Line
In years past – at least for MFL leagues – you could count on Terrell Suggs to be a top option at DL. That’s not the case this year – MFL has reclassified Mr. Suggs as a LB. That means that Haloti Ngata is really the only fantasy relevant player on the Ravens DL for 2013. In DT mandatory leagues, I still like Ngata as a top-5 option.  In combined leagues, he’s more of a high DL2 that has some upside.

The Ravens linebackers look nothing like they have in the past – not for fantasy or NFL wise. Terrell Suggs, and newly acquired Elvis Dumervil will man outside LB spots in the Ravens 3-4. Fantasy wise that’s not a good thing. That is unless you are in a big-play league or in a best-ball format. Both can get after the QB with the best of them, which is why they have value in big-play leagues. Inconsistency and a lack of tackles is what pushes them way down the list in tackle heavy/neutral formats, however, if you are in a best-ball format they both make much better plays since you won’t have to guess when to play them. The other big change for the Ravens is that Ray Lewis has finally rode off into the sunset – albeit with another Super Bowl championship. The Ravens – namely Ozzie Newsome – made some nice moves to help replace the departed Lewis, and also the departed Dannell Ellerbe. For starters they had Arthur Brown fall into their lap in the draft, and then additionally they signed Daryl Smith – a solid vet that will help to ease the loss of Lewis. Both should prove to have fantasy value this year. I think that Brown has the most upside but he still needs to lockdown the starting job and a 3-down role. Draft wise, for the most part, you can get both very late in drafts. Brown shows up as LB28 in ADP reports but much of that value comes from rookie only drafts. If you back those drafts out he doesn’t even show up on an ADP report.

Ray Lewis isn’t the only big name not with the Ravens for 2013 – future Hall of Famer, Ed Reed is gone too. Reed moved on to play with the Houston Texans. That is if he can get back on the field from injury. Bernard Pollard, who started along side of Reed last year, is also no longer with the Ravens. One move the Ravens made was to select safety Matt Elam in the 2013 NFL Draft. Elam has an ADP of DB29. Considering he’ll start and not come off the field he makes an excellent value in drafts. Top-10 numbers wouldn’t surprise me but considering where you get him the risk is mitigated if he doesn’t end up that high.

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Cincinnati Bengals

HC: Marvin Lewis
DC:  Mike Zimmer
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Defensive Line
The Bengals don’t get much love from people but they quietly have assembled one of the better defensive lines in the league. Anchoring that line is a massively talented DT named Geno Atkins. Atkins is clearly a DT1 in DT mandatory leagues, in combined leagues I don’t like relying on DTs but Atkins clearly has DL1 upside. Off the edges the Bengals have some very nice pass rushing options too. Carlos Dunlap has immense talent but he needs to stay healthy so that he can produce. The fact that the Bengals paid him well this offseason just goes to show how much talent they think he has. Michael Johnson didn’t get paid, but he’s a very good pass rusher too. Both are being drafted DL2. That doesn’t make them much of value in drafts, but each has DL1 upside – especially Dunlap. With that said, I don’t think you should slough the position and try to make either your DL1 – draft them as a DL2 and reap the rewards if they are there, don’t get cute and try to draft them needing DL1 production.

I really like Vontaze Burfict the player, but fantasy wise I just don’t like him at his current ADP of LB20. I do think he has the upside to be a top-15 to top-20 LB, but there is little to know value to be had with drafting him – unlike last year. Last year he was a player I was targeting – this year he’ll have to drop in drafts for me to target him. The real value at LB on the Bengals is Rey Maualuga who is going undrafted in many drafts, which of course contributes to him not even being listed on the ADP report. You won’t get much upside from Maualuga, but if you need a solid and safe LB to plug in at LB4/5 I think he fits the bill. In big play leagues you can take a look at James Harrison – yes, that James Harrision, the former Steelers LB.  Harrison won’t be a player you can plug in week in and week out but I’m sure there will be some prime matchups where he’ll explode for nice fantasy points.

Reggie Nelson has led the Bengals secondary in fantasy scoring each of the past two years. Last year he ranked a disappointing 49th—disappointing because in 2011 he ranked 14th. This year he will probably be drafted on name alone, just don’t be that guy. If there is a player to target in the Bengals secondary it is rookie Shawn Williams. Williams can most likely be had in the final couple of rounds of a draft and see him putting up DB3 type numbers.

Cleveland Browns

HC: Rob Chudzinski
DC:  Ray Horton
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4
Scheme Change: Yes

Defensive Line
The Browns, under new defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, are now playing a 3-4 base defense. Unlike many teams that make the transition due to a coaching change, the Browns have the players to easily make the transition. Unfortunately, for fantasy purposes it hurts the value of former DT and now converted DE Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin can play DE in the scheme but it will zap his fantasy value. The Browns also brought in Desmond Bryant to play one of the DE spots, but like Rubin, he won’t have much if any fantasy value. The one player that should keep some of his fantasy value is Phil Taylor – that is, only if you are in a DT mandatory league.

Last year, D’Qwell Jackson severely let down fantasy owners that drafted him to be the anchor for their fantasy squads. This year Jackson not only goes from being a MLB to an ILB in Horton’s 3-4, but also from ADP LB2 in 2012 to ADP LB15 in 2013. That is because people look at how Jackson performed last year and have let that impact his draft status. What they aren’t doing is factoring in the addition of Horton. With Horton’s aggressive scheme in place, I fully expect we see Jackson vault back into LB1 territory. He’s easily one of the reason why I’ll pass on the first 10 or so LBs and wait to nab Jackson as my LB1 if I can. As with most things, with good comes bad, and the bad fantasy wise is for those dynasty owners that owned Jabaal Sheard – I was one – because, while he fit nicely in Horton’s scheme too, fantasy wise he’ll be far too inconsistent to rely on. Same goes for Paul Kruger, the former Ravens LB that the Browns signed. Kruger will prove to be a valuable addition for the Browns – just not for fantasy owners.

As it stands as of this writing the Browns FS job is still up for grabs, but that’s OK, because fantasy wise there’s little to no value to be had. TJ Ward has an ADP of DB28, and if he can stay on the field and avoid the injury bug he should be able to outperform his ADP.

Pittsburgh Steelers

HC: Mike Tomlin
DC:  Dick LeBeau
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4
Scheme Change: No

Defensive Line
The Steelers 3-4 scheme means you can look for DE help elsewhere.

Lawrence Timmons currently has an ADP of LB16. Last year, Timmons finished as the 23rd highest scoring fantasy LB. That ADP is surely predicated on the upside that Timmons presents. What upside you ask? The upside he showed from week 12 thru week 16 last year where he put up more fantasy points then all but three other LBs. When you can get upside like that in the late teens to early 20s it really does defuse much if not all the risk a particular player holds. Gone is James Harrison – Harrison will now be lining up for the division rival Browns. That means that Lamar Woodley needs to be the man at OLB for the Steelers – fantasy wise don’t make him the man on your team, even if it’s a big play league. To help soften the loss of Harrison the Steelers added Jarvis Jones in the draft. Jones very well could turn into a nice player, but that this point he isn’t someone that should be rostered in fantasy leagues.

Neither Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark are showing up on ADP reports. As it stands, one shouldn’t and one should be. Clark is the one that should be. At the very least he makes a decent DB3/4.

Scoring system used for this article: solo tackle (2), assisted tackle (1), sack (3), forced or recovered fumble (3), interception (3) and pass defended (1).

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