OpinionSeptember 5, 2012

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Fantasy Preview: AFC North and AFC West

By Stever

Welcome to Fantasy Preview where we are taking a look at each team’s fantasy outlook. In this installment, we will tackle the AFC North and AFC West.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers
The addition of Todd Haley should improve the Steelers offense this season. In Kansas City, Haley used a two-back system (Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles,) which I think he will implement in Pittsburgh. Isaac Redman’s current seventh-round average draft position is too high for me. I would much rather take a chance of Jonathan Dwyer, who had an impressive preseason. Mendenhall is another late round option who could put up flex numbers during the second half of the season. The wide receiver group has solid fantasy potential. Mike Wallace may have a slow start to the season because of his holdout. I still expect him to be a top-15 wide receiver. Antonio Brown had a solid preseason and I think his success will continue. He is a good pickup in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. The quarterback of the offense, Ben Roethlisberger is a low end QB1 this season.

Baltimore Ravens
The 2011 AFC North Champions look to have a strong offense this season led by Ray Rice. If Ray Rice goes down to injury, look at Bernard Pierce to get the majority of carries. This season, the Ravens are moving towards a no-huddle offense, which helps Joe Flacco. He will never be an elite option but he is a steady QB2. The no-huddle offense helps the value of Torrey Smith. He is a strong breakout candidate this season due to his improved route running. I like him as a WR2 this season. Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson limit each other’s upside.

Cleveland Browns
The Browns added two first-round selections to their offense for the upcoming season. Brandon Weeden is not fantasy relevant but he is an improvement over Colt McCoy. Look at Greg Little to be a good fantasy bench receiver this upcoming season. Another wide receiver to keep an eye on is Josh Gordon. He is extremely raw but has plenty of potential. The other big addition is Trent Richardson, who was expected to get close to 300 touches this season before suffering a knee injury that figures to limit his early season workload. Expect RB2 production with RB1 upside in the second half of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green, the talented second year wide receiver, is the centerpiece of the Bengals offense. I expect him to be a WR1 this season, but his upside depends on the play of second-year quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton surprised many with his rookie campaign; however, consider him a QB2 entering this season. The talented tight end out of Oklahoma, Jermaine Gresham looks to be a high-end TE2 this season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s fourth-round average draft position is too high for him, considering his lack of talent.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs
The Matt Cassel-led offense has a key weapon back in Jamaal Charles. Many think that the addition of Peyton Hillis hurts Charles’s value. I disagree; Charles does not need 250 touches to be a top fantasy running back. He has a career average of 6.1 yards per carry. I still like Hillis as a strong flex play because he is the goal-line running back. In 2010, Thomas Jones saw 245 rushing attempts while Charles had 230 rushing attempts, so both Hills and Charles can be in the top 25. With Cassel fully healthy, Dwayne Bowe is a value pick in drafts. I expect him to get 80 receptions for 1,150 yards with nine touchdowns this season. Neither Cassel or tight end Tony Moeaki should be on fantasy radars.

Denver Broncos
The Broncos made the biggest free agent addition this offseason in Peyton Manning, who is a high-risk, high-reward quarterback at his current fifth round average draft position. There is a debate in fantasy circles on which receiver will score more fantasy points between Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Thomas has the higher ceiling, but Decker is the safer pick, and he has gone a full round later than Thomas. Other than Wes Welker, Decker has the best chance to reach 100 receptions this season, making him a strong PPR play. The only Bronco that is being undervalued right now is Willis McGahee. He will see the majority of the goal-line touches this season, which helps make him a good RB2. The tight end position is one to avoid. Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen cap each other’s upside, and both will lose targets to the wide receivers.

San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews looked to be a top-five running back, but a preseason injury has knocked him down fantasy football rankings. Even with Mathews missing the first two-to-three games, he still looks to be a top-10 running back. The loss of Vincent Jackson hurts Philip Rivers’s value. I expect him to be an average start in fantasy leagues. Robert Meachem was brought in to replace Jackson. A top-25 finish is likely for Meachem because Rivers likes to throw the deep ball. Look at Malcom Floyd as a late-round selection. Antonio Gates is a top-five tight end when fully healthy, but a foot injury slowed him down last season. He should be a top-five TE this season, but he comes with risk.

Oakland Raiders
The Raiders, led by Carson Palmer, have question marks surrounding their offense. Palmer had a rough preseason, with only one touchdown in 17 possessions. I expect him to be an average QB2 this season. The wide receiver group, led by Denarius Moore, should be avoided until the later rounds of fantasy drafts. I do not think any of the Raiders receivers will be consistent enough to be more than WR3s. Luckily, the Raiders have one of the top running backs in the league in Darren McFadden. He can miss a couple games and still would be a top-five running back this season. With Michael Bush in Chicago now, look for Taiwan Jones to step up if McFadden goes down to injury.

Stever is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Stever in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of 11stever11.
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