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AFC North Pressing Fantasy Football Questions

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris seems like the ideal fit for the Steelers. However, QB play and a suspect line could limit his Year 1 potential. Are you buying the rookie as a top-10 RB, or do you think he’ll disappoint managers who draft him aggressively?

Scott: I'd be over the moon for Harris if the Steelers also upgraded the offensive line, the weakness of the team. But with the OL still a problem, optimism for Harris has to be somewhat muted. You could consider him in the Top 15-18 overall picks, but I'd rather look for him around the turn or in the third round, and if I miss him, I miss him.

Dalton: I'm buying Harris as a top-10 RB right away. He enters the league with an impressive college resume and an immediate workhorse role in a Pittsburgh backfield with zero competition. There’s concern regarding the team’s offensive line, and there’s a chance Ben Roethlisberger is finished (defenses cheated and jammed the line of scrimmage toward the end of last season), but three-down backs are so rare these days. Just one year younger than Joe Mixon, Harris should immediately be among the league leaders in touches as a rookie.

Matt: There’s no doubt the Steelers come with some questions this season. The offensive line has holes and it’s extremely difficult to have any kind of confidence in Ben Roethlisberger at this stage. So Harris could be the center of the offensive universe for a team slightly lost at sea. With that said, this is a situation where we need to just close our eyes and trust the volume. Harris could legitimately push to touch the ball 330 times this year. You just can’t often find that kind of volume intersecting with a talented back outside of Round 1 in fantasy. He’s a fringe RB1 for me.

Cincinnati Bengals: Expected to ready in Week 1 coming off a gruesome knee injury, Joe Burrow is our 13th ranked fantasy QB. What needs to happen for him to break into the top 10, maybe even the top five finishers at the position?

Liz: Relative to the game’s elite dual-threats, Burrow’s lack of mobility (3.7 carries/gm, QB16) slightly caps his ceiling. But with pinpoint accuracy, Burrow’s arm can produce for fantasy managers. He may not have a cannon, but as last year’s 7.6 accuracy rating (QB9) and 65.3% completion percentage demonstrated, he can move the ball. In fact, he moved it enough to make history, breaking the NFL rookie record for number of completed passes (221) by midseason.

Averaging over 40 attempts per game, Burrow also managed nearly 270 passing yards per contest. Yet, his YPA was only 6.7. That’s because he struggled downfield, posting a deep-ball completion percentage of 20 (QB36). With an improved offensive line that provides more time for him to plant his feet, and the addition of former college teammate (and ace ball tracker) Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow’s passing numbers should get a boost. Cracking the top-five would require an alignment of all the planets, but if he shakes off rust early he could smoothly roll into the top-10.

Andy: Burrow simply needs to play a full season and the Bengals' offense needs to operate largely as it did with him at the controls in 2020. He averaged 40.4 pass attempts per game as a rookie, which would get him awfully close to 700 total attempts in a 17-game season. Also, Cincinnati's offense averaged 70.7 plays per game in his ten starts, the third-highest in the league. So we're talking about an extremely high-volume passing attack in a fast-paced offense with a deep, young, and hyper-talented receiving corps. Burrow is a capable rusher as well (or at least, he was pre-injury), so it's not outrageous to forecast 300 yards on the ground with 4-6 TDs. If the team's O-line takes a step forward and Burrow himself remains healthy, a top-five positional finish isn't out of the question.

Scott: Burrow obviously needs to play a full season, probably keep some of his willingness to run, and have his young, talented wideouts play up to the press clippings. It's certainly all plausible. The Bengals haven't looked this frisky in a while.

Baltimore Ravens: Andy, you have Lamar Jackson as the overall QB1 (something you correctly called in 2019). Liz and Scott, you have Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen ahead of him. Make the case for why you’re right and the other is wrong.

Andy: We're talking about a player in Lamar Jackson who, at age 22, produced the best per-game fantasy scoring season in the history of his position. Lots of analysts tend to discuss Jackson as if he's somehow already peaked, but the man won't even turn 25 until January. He's an ascending talent, a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher who averages 6.0 YPC, and his receiving corps improved in a big way in the offseason (hello, Rashod Bateman.) Considering his otherworldly running ability, it's not crazy to expect a double-digit rushing TD season at some point.

I don't consider Jackson to be a tier-of-his-own quarterback, just to be clear. I think Mahomes and Allen should be drafted in the same neighborhood. But no one else at this spot has the sort of rushing upside that Jackson brings to the party, and he's set up for a high-yield passing season as well.

Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson
A premier passing season could be in the works for Lamar Jackson. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Liz: It’s not that Andy is wrong. The points he makes above are thoughtful, cogent, and smart — signature Behrens. It is by no means impossible that Lamar could return to QB1 status ... but the lack of offensive balance constricts Lamar’s avenue to production. Mahomes, Allen, and Kyler Murray are all dual-threat QBs who exist on pass-friendly squads that also regularly utilize them as rushers.

Last year Jackson was the QB1 in total carries (159) but he was also the QB32 in pass plays per game (27.4). Meanwhile, the three QBs I have ranked ahead of Jackson were all at least top-17 in pace and additionally top-14 in carries per game. Furthermore, they each averaged around 4.5 deep ball attempts per contest (which was significantly higher than Jackson’s 3.1/gm). The Ravens have been trying for seasons to provide Jackson with more receiving talent (where you at, Miles Boykin?) but, as of yet it hasn’t clicked … and forgive me for not believing Sammy Watkins is the answer.

Scott: Allen and Murray can match Jackson's rushing chops, but they have more help in the passing game (and Allen is a better passer, anyway). As for Mahomes, he has the highest floor of everyone here, not to mention the insulation of Andy Reid, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. I'm not dug in on the idea that Jackson belongs at the bottom of this tier; it's a clustered group, and any theoretical ordering would be defendable. And I'm unlikely to make a Home Run pick at quarterback anyway; I'd like to see if I can find a Top 5 quarterback without having to shell out significant ADP capital.

Cleveland Browns: If you’ve watched any Nick Chubb highlights, you know he’s one of the best pure runners in the game. That said, Kareem Hunt remains in this potent backfield, and Chubb is our 6th-ranked RB for 2021. Is it more likely Chubb delivers a top-five finish this season, or falls outside the top-10 rushers?

Matt: More likely to be a top-five player at the position. Nick Chubb checks the three major boxes you want out of a possible elite RB1. He is verifiably great at the game. The Browns are set to be one of the best offenses in the NFL with Kevin Stefanski at the controls. And lastly, Chubb gets a beefy workload — averaging 17 touches per game in 2020. Not to mention, everyone talks about the injury upside for Kareem Hunt if Chubb were to go down. The same ceiling exists for Chubb if Hunt misses time. In that scenario, he might just be the most valuable back in fantasy.

Andy: Considering the setup in Cleveland — particularly the offensive approach and O-line — all we really need from Chubb is a healthy season and he's clearly going to challenge for a top-5 finish. He's averaged 106.8 yards from scrimmage over the past two years and he's coming off a season in which he gained 5.9 yards per touch. Chubb is simply a monster. It's not unrealistic to expect 1,800 total yards and another dozen (or more) TDs, assuming he plays at least 15 games.

Dalton: Chubb has an argument as the league’s best runner coming off a season in which he led the NFL in Juke Rate, EPA, and yards created per touch despite spraining his MCL. The Browns have PFF’s best offensive line entering 2021 and one of the easiest projected fantasy schedules for running backs. Chubb would benefit from more targets, but there’s a better chance he’s a top-five back than outside the top-10. There’s a clear path to finishing as the No. 1 fantasy back should Hunt go down.