Despite the fact that there are many NFL and fantasy football fans who pick over offseason news with a fine-tooth comb, we understand that there are still a lot of you out there who simply don't have time to keep up with player movements or the happenings of each team. That's why yours truly is here to give you the lowdown on the recent 2014 news of each team, both AFC and NFC and how it impacts your fantasy football league/team.
Here is Part Two of my Eight Part Series: the AFC North. Make sure to check back for Part Three-Eight as I cover the details of all 32 teams over the course of the next several days. Also check out Part One: the AFC East.
Assault charges, stemming from an incident where Ray Rice was caught on tape dragging his girlfriend out of a casino, are expected to be dropped once Rice completes a pretrial-intervention program. However, the NFL could suspend Rice despite the dropped charges due to Rice's incident being on camera. Even without the off-field drama, Rice's fantasy value has dropped over the past 3 seasons. He's gone from a 4.7 ypc average in 2011 to 3.1 last season and his rushing touchdown totals have gone from 9 to 4 to 1 in the same span. Rice should no longer be viewed as a legit RB1 going forward. Interestingly enough, Browns rookie RB Terrance West revealed the Ravens texted him, saying they were going to draft him at No. 99 before the Browns traded up to No. 94. The Ravens ended up settling for Coastal Carolina RB Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round. Taliaferro could wind up seeing action as soon as this season, but he's better off as a dynasty prospect than a flier in redraft leagues. Bernard Pierce is expected to be ready by training camp after undergoing shoulder surgery.
To take some pressure off WR Torrey Smith, the Ravens signed former Panthers WR Steve Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract. Despite Smith getting up there in age, he should still be viewed as a safe WR3. The Ravens also added to their tight end corps by signing TE Owen Daniels to a one-year deal. Daniels reunites with old Texans HC Gary Kubiak, who took over offensive coordinator duties. I don't expect Daniels to have much of an impact on Dennis Pitta's fantasy football value. The Ravens are expected to use a lot of two-tight end formations in 2014. So Pitta remains a low TE1.
The Bengals have been fairly quiet in terms of fantasy noise this offseason.
Andy Dalton is still expected to remain the starter. The team drafted Alabama QB A.J. McCarron in the fourth round. Per Adam Schefter, McCarron's draft stock dropped due to him rubbing NFL teams the wrong way during pre-draft interviews. He won't make a dent in Dalton's fantasy value. He'll likely be the third-string quarterback behind Dalton and Jason Campbell, who was signed to a one-year deal in March. Dalton remains a low-end QB2.
The backfield, aside from Giovani Bernard, remains a mystery. The Bengals used a second-round pick on LSU RB Jeremy Hill. Hill, 6'/233, was the featured back in college, totaling 2,156 yards and 28 TDs off just 345 carries (6.25 ypc). Hill makes lethargic BenJarvus Green-Ellis' future murky. The team can save $2.5 million by releasing him. But during an interview on ESPN's NFL Insiders, Adam Schefter revealed that the Bengals plan to keep "Law Firm" as Hill's tutor. If/when BGE does stay, Hill's value is nothing more than a dynasty prospect and a waiver option if Green-Ellis misses games. Bernard is the only back who holds true fantasy value, especially in PPR leagues. He could climb up to RB2 status by the end of the summer.
There isn't much to say about the Bengals' receiving corps. The team took a hit after failing to match the Browns' offer of a four-year, $13.6 million contract for Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins has talent, but he's not worth that much. A.J. Green figures to be a fantasy beast once again. OC Jay Gruden is out (Redskins HC) and OC Hue Jackson is in, which could mean good things for Marvin Jones, who clearly outplayed Mohamed Sanu last season. Jones projects to be the team's every-down No. 2 receiver in the new offense, meaning he could be worthy of a late-round pick in all redraft leagues. This could be his breakout year.
The Browns made the most noise of all the teams in the AFC North.
After adding Justin Gilbert to the secondary, the Browns ended all the "Johnny Football" commotion by taking Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick after trading up to the Eagles spot. The thinking on the Browns' coaching staff is to not force Manziel into the starting lineup as a rookie. HC Mike Pettine quickly made that point clear the day after the first round. According to GM Ray Farmer, incumbent QB Brian Hoyer is ahead of Manziel by a substantial margin, but that could easily change a few weeks before Week One. Hoyer has the tools to be a starter, but he doesn't have the athleticism like Manziel. Nor is he a duel threat with his arm and legs. Either way, neither player should be looked at in redraft leagues. Manziel is nothing more than a waiver-wire option if he gets something going during the season. But even then, he's better off as a grab in dynasty leagues.
After dealing with a retread like Willis McGahee in 2013, the Browns overhauled their running back position by signing former Texans RB Ben Tate to a two-year deal worth up to $7 million. Tate might be a starter on paper, but I wouldn't feel comfortable drafting him any higher than as a very low-end RB2, high-end RB3. He lost a lot of value after being injury prone in 2013. And the Browns currently don't have enough offensive power in their passing game to keep defenses from stacking the box. The Browns drafted Towson RB Terrance West with the No. 94 overall pick. West totaled 84 rushing scores at the college level, with a 6.05 ypc average. Cleveland is said to "absolutely love" West. And the fact that they traded ahead of Baltimore to take him could mean he will have a good shot at a lot of playing time in 2014. Both Tate and West could pile up yards with the Browns taking a conservative approach on offense. This means West could be a sleeper flier in redraft leagues and one of the top first-round options in dynasty leagues. The Browns also signed Alabama State RB Isaiah Crowell, whose draft stock fell due to off-field problems. He put up a 170/1,121/15 statline in 2013 and will be on the dynasty radar in later rounds.
For as much talent that the Browns added to their backfield, they took a huge hit in regards to their receivers. Josh Gordon, who has had a checkered past already, is expected to miss the entire season due to violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Gordon finished 2013 as one of the top fantasy receivers overall with 1646 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Dynasty owners should still have a stranglehold on Gordon, but it's not looking good for redraft owners. The Browns failed to draft a receiver, but did sign UDFA WR Chandler Jones out of San Jose State. Jones was productive at the college level, racking up school records in career receptions with 248 and touchdown catches with 29. While he has a chance to see the field in 2014, I wouldn't look his way in any format. The Browns also added WR Nate Burleson, who re-broke the same arm when he was with Detroit in the Browns' first minicamp and underwent surgery. They also signed Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Earl Bennett and Anthony Armstrong. I wouldn't draft any of these guys. All of them are waiver-wire fodder at best. The team also waived former breakout candidate Greg Little, who was picked up by the Raiders. For now, it looks as if TE Jordan Cameron is the best pass-catching option to draft for this year. Cameron, who fired his agent, is currently negotiating a new deal with one year left on his current contract.
Nothing appears imminent in regards to a new contract for QB Ben Roethlisberger. There really is no rush as the team has the money to pay Big Ben's $12.1 million in 2014. Plus he will still have one more year as his contract doesn't end until after 2015. A new deal should be ironed out by then. As usual, Big Ben remains a low-end QB1 for 2014. The team hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line, so one of the team's weak points could become a strength this season.
As I reported in my AFC East coverage, former Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount agreed to a two-year, $3.85 million contract at the end of March. Blount acted as the Pats' workhorse down the stretch, averaging 5.0 yards a carry, but the Steelers remain committed to Le'Veon Bell as their feature back. Blount is, at best, a low-end handcuff. But even that might be a stretch as he offers nothing in the passing game and has a history of fumbling. Bell is moving up to a low-to-mid tier RB1.
There was some movement at the receiving position after the team let Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) and Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers) walk in free agency. The Steelers reached a two-year deal with Lance Moore, but don't expect him to gain much fantasy value. He lost a lot of his speed down the stretch in New Orleans, who released him March 7th. He's nothing more than a possession receiver who will man the slot. The team also brought in Darrius Heyward-Bey. Do I really need to talk about what he doesn't bring to the table? (eye roll). Aside from Antonio Brown, the fantasy matchup to watch is between Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant for the No. 2 receiver job. This spot has been a haven for fantasy value, with Brown racking up 787 receiving yards in 13 games in 2012 and Sanders putting up 740 yards last season. Whichever player wins the spot could bring in low-end WR3 value with him.
If you are a fan of any of the above teams and feel there is something fantasy worthy I may have missed, pleased post in the comments section below.