Studs and Duds: AFC North preview

Luke Garza

Sports Blogger

@LukeAGarza

Baltimore Ravens

Stud: Kamar Aiken, wide receiver

I’m going out on a limb with this one. Torrey Smith is in San Francisco. Steve Smith is 37. Breshad Perriman has yet to play an NFL snap. Mike Wallace signed with the Ravens this offseason, but he’s a shell of his former self. Joe Flacco has to throw the ball to someone. Aiken caught at least five passes in each of the Ravens’ final nine games last season, and at 27-years-old, he still has his best NFL years ahead of him. Aiken’s not a lock to be a top wide receiver by any means, but could be worth a late-round selection in your draft.

Dud: Justin Forsett, running back

I don’t think Forsett is going to have a bad season. I do, however, think his best years are behind him. Forsett saw a meteoric rise to fantasy stardom in 2014, finishing eighth among running backs in fantasy points. He failed to follow that successful campaign in 2015, placing outside the top 40. Of course, some of that is because a broken arm sidelined him for the last six games of the season. Forsett will start splitting carries with Kenneth Dixon and Javorius Allen this season, further decreasing his value.

Cincinnati Bengals

Stud: Tyler Eifert, tight end

Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert could be a steal in your fantasy football draft. (Keith Allison, Flickr)
Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert could be a steal in your fantasy football draft.
(Keith Allison, Flickr)

The Bengals got off to a scorching 8-0 start last season that was largely fueled by Tyler Eifert. The third-year tight end raked in eight touchdowns in the first half of the season before finishing with 13 in as many games, good for the most among NFL tight ends. Eifert began the offseason on the physically unable to perform list and might not see the field until a few weeks into the season. This will cause Eifert’s draft-day value to fall in most leagues, making him a potential late-round steal for your team.

Dud: Gio Bernard, running back

There are players in the NFL who are more valuable in real football than they are in fantasy football. Gio Bernard is one of those players. He’s a shifty back who excels at catching passes out of the backfield, but his biggest obstacle is his competition. Fellow Bengal running back Jeremy Hill had an outstanding rookie campaign before falling apart last season. Despite Hill’s disappointing season, he’s still a workhorse back who will be heavily relied upon. Bernard has the talent, but he won’t get the amount of touches to justify using him as anything other than a flex option or a bye-week fill-in.

Cleveland Browns

Stud: Duke Johnson, running back

This is where it starts to get tough. In Cleveland, where offenses go to die, it’s hard to name a stud. So let’s go with second-year running back Duke Johnson. Johnson carried the ball only 106 times last season but saw 74 passes thrown his way, reeling in 61 of them. Johnson should see an uptick in touches this season and finish as a top 25 running back. Isaiah Crowell will compete for touches, but he isn’t nearly as versatile in the passing game, which will persuade the Browns to rely on Johnson.

Dud: Everyone else not named Josh Gordon

There are too many duds to choose from. It all starts with the quarterback, and it’s hard to invest confidence in Robert Griffin III, who hasn’t taken a regular season snap since Week 17 of the 2014 season. Cleveland’s first round pick, Corey Coleman, could impress early, but it’s far from a sure thing, given the fact that we don’t know what this RG3-led offense will look like. Early signs indicate that they’ll have a lot of dump-offs to Johnson as they simplify the playbook for RG3. The reason Gordon doesn’t belong with the duds is because he’s proven he can be among the best receivers in the league, even with a sub-par quarterback.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Stud: DeAngelo Williams, running back

Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first three games of the NFL season because he missed a drug test. Enter DeAngelo Williams. Williams flourished as the Steelers’ No. 2 running back last season, especially when starting in Bell’s place. Williams averaged 19.5 fantasy points a game in contests Bell did not play, finishing as fantasy football’s fourth-best running back last season. Williams will get plenty of touches in the first few weeks. Plus, Bell is becoming a bit of an injury risk, making Williams a potential steal in your draft.

Dud: Ladarius Green, tight end

Many fans haven’t heard of LaDarius Green, but the hype has been through the roof for the 6-6, 240-pound tight end. After playing in the shadows of future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates, Green recently signed a four-year contract with the Steelers. Antonio Brown will always get his touches, but with Martavis Bryant’s suspension, Green looked to be a go-to target for Big Ben in the red zone. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Green has been sitting out of practices because of headaches and ankle problems, leading some to think he’s closer to retirement than he is to playing an NFL game. I used to be high on Green, and had him stashed on the bench for three years in my dynasty league, but even I decided to drop him. The upside is there. His health is not.

ozone@ocolly.com

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