Friday, August 17, 2007

Top Fantasy Stars: AFC North Preview

Baltimore Ravens:

1. Willis McGahee-RB- McGahee replaces the older, slower Jamal Lewis as the Raven's primary backfield threat. He's overcome a variety of injuries, including his horrific knee injury while playing for The U., and has the potential to be a dominant runner. Look for him to easily eclipse the 990 yards and 6 touchdowns he produced last season with Buffalo. You'll need to grab him as a low-level RB1 or a high-end RB2 before the second round is done.

2. Todd Heap-TE- Picking a TE not named Gates or Gonzales can be a risky proposition, but Heap's numbers justify taking him sooner rather than later. He's bounced back from a dismal 2004 season, posting reception totals of 75 and 73 the last two years. The Ravens will use him plenty and he's worth going after before getting an unproven WR3. You'll have to target him around the late 5th or early 6th round if you want him as your starting TE.

3. Mark Clayton-WR- Clayton improved upon his rookie season and is poised to make a big jump this year as the starting WR for the Ravens. He is also entering that mythical Third Year when many wide receivers finally catch up to the speed the game is played at the pro level. Though his numbers may be limited by the Ravens Run-First attitude, he is a lower tier WR2 and an excellent WR3. He shouldn't last any later than the 8th round.

Bargain Bin: Baltimore Def-DEF- This comes with a qualifier. While I'm not in favor of reaching for a defense when there are so few that are distinctly better than the others, Baltimore's D is worth a slight stretch. I wouldn't take them any higher than the 7th round, but if they are still available after that, grab them and be confident that you will have one of the best D's in history.

Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Rudi Johnson-RB- If you like consistency and are unafraid to make a pick that will seen as less than sexy by your contemporaries, Johnson is your man. You can basically pencil him in for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns because he's reached those totals each season for the past three. Kenny Irons' injury makes him even more valuable as Irons was slated to steal carries from him this year. Johnson is a strong RB1 and needs to be taken no later than the early second round.

2. Chad Johnson-WR- Ocho Cinco has been ranked the #1 WR for this season by more than a few publications. While it remains to be seen whether or not he can achieve that lofty status, his skill level and his chemistry with Carson Palmer are otherworldly. It will also be interesting to see what new Celebratory dances he comes up with as well. Johnson is quite obviously a fine WR1 and will be off the board by the middle of the third round.

3. Carson Palmer-QB- His knee injury is far behind him now and Palmer is poised to once again be among the top three QB's in Fantasy Football. Though the loss of WR Chris Henry to an 8 game suspension will hurt (they hooked up for 9 touchdowns last season), he should approach the 30 td mark this season. Look for him to go over 4,000 yards again as well. After Manning is gone, Palmer will be the best choice for a starting QB available and will likely not be around after the middle of the 3rd round.

Bargain Bin: T.J Houshmandzadeh-WR- This pick also requires a qualifier. Well known to FF drafters, Housh is a rare animal: Technically a WR2, he produces like a WR1. For those who wish to load up on other positions with their first two picks, Housh will make a fine WR1 late in the third round.

Cleveland Browns:

1. Jamal Lewis-RB- Lewis is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal Cleveland offense. Though his career was thought to be on the wane, all reports coming out of training camp have described him as a rejuvenated player who is running with a chip on his shoulder. Lewis clearly feels he has something to prove and that is good news for Fantasy owners. He's not going to be your RB1, but he should be a steal in the 5th round as a minor RB2 or a strong RB3/Flex player.

2. Braylon Edwards- WR- Like Mark Clayton mentioned above, Edwards is now entering the "Magical" Third Year for a WR. He possesses an insane amount of talent and has prototypical NFL WR size (6'3, 212 lbs.) The only thing that will hold him back will be the revolving door that is the Cleveland QB system, a situation that will cost him valuable chemistry with any one passer. Even so, Edwards can be a low level WR2 or a strong WR3 and should end up on someones team before the sixth round is complete.

3. Kellen Winslow-TE- A self-described "Soldier", Winslow appears to finally be maturing and putting his childish antics behind him. His injury history is worrisome, especially for such a young player (he underwent the controversial Micro Fracture surgery on his knee this past offseason.) Even so, his talent and potential cannot be overlooked. He will make a fine TE1 by the end of the eighth round.

Bargain Bin: Brady Quinn-QB- Quinn did not do himself any favors by holding out. He could've taken over the starting position immediately on a team desperate for a franchise quarterback. Having said all that, he should be a starter no later than mid-season and that means he can be drafted as a Reserve in the later rounds.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

1. Willie Parker-RB- Fast Willie is a rising star in the Fantasy world and should be treated accordingly. He is the most important piece of the Steelers' running game and, if healthy, will receive the lion's share of the carries. Look for his receptions total to rise also as Big Ben will use him as a checkdown option. Parker will be one of the first ten RB's chosen and therefore must be nabbed in the first round.

2. Hines Ward-WR- A stalwart of the Pittsburgh offense for years, the ultra-athletic Ward has proven to be a relatively safe pick in the unstable Fantasy World. He won't ever be elite, but he is as dependable an option as you'll find. The promise that the Steelers plan to open up the passing game bodes well for him too. Take him as a low end WR1 or a great WR2 by the late fifth round.

3. Ben Roethlisberger-QB- Big Ben has survived his brush with death and should be poised for a bounce-back year. He possesses a strong arm and unflappable nature, key ingredients that you want in any quarterback. He has a number of options and will use them all with the new system. He is a steal as a backup QB in the ninth round after all the big names are gone.

Bargain Bin: Santonio Holmes-WR- A burner who will stretch the field, Holmes compliments Ward very well. He is having an excellent training camp thus far and should be a great option as a WR3/Flex player available in the later rounds.

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