By Leo Paciga ( @FFHoudini )
Last week we spent some time taking a closer look at the AFC West. Today we’re going to focus on the AFC North and see just what opportunities the off season could present for dynasty owners.
Ok…so let’s get started with the main course, the AFC North……
The Guy to Sell
Anquan Boldin, WR - Boldin turns the ripe old age of 33 this October and is owed 6 million in 2013 – the final year of his contract. He could easily find himself a “cap casualty” this off season or, at the very least, he and his agent could be burning the midnight oil restructuring that current contract. The only thing “quick” about Boldin’s current game is the speed at which his skills are deteriorating. Gaining separation off the line of scrimmage has never been one of Boldin’s strengths, but lately he accelerates with the speed of a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The one thing Boldin can still do well, however, is catch the football (even from an erratic QB like Flacco) and he’s having a strong finish to the season with 11 receptions for 216 yards and 1 TD in his last 2 playoff games. If there is an owner in your league who likes to acquire veteran depth, or there’s a team primed for a title run that needs a WR – start sending out offers and get whatever value you can before the wheels fall off completely.
The Guy to Buy
Torrey Smith, WR - Ok, full disclosure – Torrey Smith is one of my favorite players whether we’re talking strictly from an NFL standpoint or from a fantasy football perspective. Anyone who watched Saturday’s play-off game against the Broncos saw Smith’s vertical speed and his leaping ability on display as he torched CB Champ Bailey for 2 touchdowns in the Ravens upset victory. All season long I’ve watched Smith sharpen his skills as a receiver and while he didn’t make the leap to a dominating WR #1, he did show enough improvement that I believe his breakout season is right around the corner. Smith has always shown the vertical speed to get behind opposing defenses, but he’s learning how to use his exceptional balance and his ability to change direction without sacrificing speed to become a threat all over the field. He also ran a fairly limited route tree while at Maryland and he’s finally getting comfortable with the precise patterns an NFL WR must run in order to be effective. Torrey Smith is one of my top off season targets and with any consistency from QB Joe Flacco, Smith will reward his dynasty owners very nicely in year 3.
The Guy to Stash on Your Roster
Bernard Pierce, RB – I really felt Bernard Pierce was overrated coming out of Temple and I had very low expectations on what his contributions would be at the next level. I thought he was below average in pass protection and that he was extremely stiff as a runner with very poor receiving skills. It appears the Baltimore Ravens saw more than I did in Pierce and it looks like they were right. All season long Pierce has run hard with a powerful downhill style that, by all accounts, has impressed the Ravens’ coaching staff and front office. Saturday Ray Rice reminded us all just how very talented he is, but prior to the game at Mile High, Bernard Pierce had been the Ravens top rusher for 3 straight games – 123 yards against the Giants, 89 yards against the Bengals and 103 yards against the Colts. Pierce is a player that has made the most of his situation and has certainly looked impressive enough to keep a spot on your roster, even with a guy like Ray Rice in front of him.
The Guy to Sell
Greg Little, WR - I’ve read some write ups and had some discussions with folks in the fantasy football community over the past few weeks that project Greg Little as a “buy” or a player to target this off season. To his credit, Little exhibited some flashes of consistency down the stretch in Cleveland and when you factor in his athletic ability, I can see how some folks envision a breakout season somewhere in the near future for Little. I’m sorry, but I’m just not a believer. I think Little showed just enough promise and improvement down the stretch to give his current owners a window of opportunity to trade him away and actually get something of value in return. Dynasty owners can capitalize on the positive impressions Little left over the last 5 weeks of the season, visions of an athletically powerful WR with explosive leaping ability. That’s a much better picture than the inconsistent WR with alligator arms, hands of stone and a lack of concentration that seems to be magnified by his unfocused intensity.
The Guy to Buy
Josh Gordon, WR, - While I may be down on the value of Greg Little, I couldn’t be more impressed with the other starting WR for Cleveland, Josh Gordon. After spending the 2011 season out of football, Gordon’s improvement during the 2012 season was pretty remarkable. Gordon stands 6’3″ weighs 225 lbs. and turns 22 years old in April….and he’s yet to have his first full NFL training camp. What I love about Gordon is his combination of size and speed and the effortless way he strides down-field. Gordon has that long, open stride – similar to Randy Moss – and that makes his impressive top end speed seem deceivingly slower than it really is. Gordon also seems very comfortable running routes over the middle and running over smaller defensive backs. When you factor in Gordan’s leaping ability and knack for snatching the ball away from opposing defenders, it all adds up to the total package when you’re talking about a prototypical WR #1 in the NFL. Gordon seems to have put his off field issues (a failed marijuana test in 2011) behind him and his 50 catch, 805 yard rookie season is just the beginning of a very bright NFL future.
The Guys to Stash on Your Roster
Montario Hardesty, RB – Hardesty has finally looked healthy after battling a never ending string of injuries early on in his brief NFL career. He’s done a great job lately of running decisively – showcasing a decent burst and deft balance. Trent Richardson is certainly in no danger of losing his starting RB job, but if Hardesty can stay healthy, he could rejuvenate his career and draw some interest when he becomes a FA in 2014.
Jordan Cameron, TE – Cameron’s impressive athletic ability has yet to translate into actual production on the football field for the Cleveland Browns, but that doesn’t mean it won’t materialize eventually. Standing 6’5″ and weighing 250 Lbs, Jordan Cameron is built like a power forward and he’s one of those former basketball playing TE’s that draws so much attention from coaches across the NFL. Just to give you an example of Cameron’s well rounded athletic ability, in 2011 at the NFL combine Cameron had the 2nd fastest time in the 40-yard dash for TEs (4.59 seconds), the 2nd highest vertical leap for TEs (37.5 inches) and led all TEs in the 3 cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle and the 60-yard shuttle. He also ranked 5th in the bench press and 3rd in the broad jump – making Cameron the only TE prospect to finish in the top five of every drill at the 2011 combine. TE Ben Watson is a FA heading into 2013 and new HC Rob Chudzinski has a lot of experience coaching the TE position – so 2013 may just be the year we see Jordan Cameron take that next step.
The Guy to Sell
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, – Green-Ellis is coming off his second 1,000 yard season in the last 3 years, finishing 2012 with 1,094 yards and 6 TDs on the ground. Relying on Green-Ellis on a weekly basis for fantasy production is like kissing your cousin…and while that may be ok in West Virginia, it shouldn’t be ok for your fantasy squad. Reports out of Cincinnati are that OC Jay Gruden desperately wants to add a “game changing” RB to the Bengals roster to help compliment the “workman like” style of Green-Ellis. The Bengals realize it’s time to add some “flash” to their stable of RBs so use this off season to move the consistently bland Green-Ellis while he still holds some value.
The Guys to Buy
Mohamed Sanu / Marvin Jones, WRs – These two rookie WRs both displayed some impressive ability during their first NFL seasons. They both possess an exciting combination of size, strength and open field running skills. Jones may be the more polished and well rounded of the two rookies, but Sanu showed a knack for finding the end-zone and plays a little bigger than Jones. The question here is just how much will either player contribute moving forward? I believe that with a young offensive core made up of QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green and TE Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals will continue to rely on an improving passing attack and these two young WRs will play a significant role. That will be especially true as more and more teams try to take away A.J. Green, leaving room for both Jones and Sanu to contribute some decent fantasy numbers.
The Guy to Sell
Heath Miller, TE – At age 30, Heath Miller is coming off of a career year in which he totaled 71 receptions, 816 yards and 8 TDs. QB Ben Roethlisberger openly talked about trying to get Miller to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and he delivered by targeting his TE 101 times. Miller possesses adequate skills as a TE and has more athletic ability than some give him credit for, but his career year will be very difficult to duplicate. Miller’s value will never be higher than it is now and you should always take advantage anytime you can trade an average player coming off a career year for some type of value.
The Guy to Buy
Antonio Brown, WR – Mike Wallace will be a FA in 2013 and the chances of the Steelers using a franchise tag on Wallace seem very unlikely. Let’s face it, the Steelers are in a very difficult financial situation, $10 million over the projected 2013 salary cap. Franchising Wallace would most likely cost the Steelers a little more than 10 million dollars and that’s too steep a price to pay for a player unlikely to sign to a long-term extension. So that means Antonio Brown will be the unquestioned WR #1 for Pittsburgh in 2013. Antonio Brown ended 2011 as Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target, but he started off slowly in 2012 and found himself behind Mike Wallace in the pecking order. By mid season Brown found his stride and finished his second NFL season with 66 receptions, 787 yards and 5 TDs in 13 games for Pittsburgh and he’s more than capable of delivering high end production on a weekly basis. Take this off season to try and add Brown, the speedy WR that seems to have very little problem finding open spaces against opposing secondaries.