Fantasy Football: J.K. Dobbins, Bengals star WRs and more AFC North questions

One of the most common ways to get started on your fantasy football preparation for the season ahead is to not only look at positional rankings but also at the state of each NFL team's offense.

Which teams are most set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Which of those expected bottom-feeder teams have latent fantasy talent to mine from? Which of those top teams could actually disappoint fantasy managers?

Over the coming weeks, fantasy football analyst Liz Loza will sift through every division and highlight the biggest fantasy issues facing each team within. Next up, the AFC North.

Will J.K. Dobbins finally become a fantasy factor in 2022?

Of course. How much a fantasy factor is the real question.

By a narrow margin, Yahoo Fantasy followers believe that Dobbins will ROI on his fourth-round ADP and reward investors with a top-15 finish.

Ironically, the Ravens’ RB presented with an overall ADP of 28.28 heading into last fall. Obviously, that was before tearing his ACL (in late August) and prior to the team drafting passing downs specialist Tyler Badie, adding Mike Davis to the backfield, and the healthy returns of Justice Hill (achilles) as well as Gus Edwards (ACL).

At first glance, the backfield looks crowded. But that could be a good thing for Dobbins, because it gives us an idea of Baltimore’s offensive plan for 2022. After being snake-bit by injuries, the Ravens were forced to put the ball in the air, recording the ninth most pass attempts in 2021. Baltimore still ran the ball plenty, but after trading Marquise Brown and drafting two tight ends (instead of any WRs), it seems as though the Ravens are planning a vintage approach to the upcoming season (and ensuring their ability to do it).

Given Dobbins’ pass-catching chops (71 grabs for 645 yards over his three years at Ohio State) in combination with his powerful running style, he’s the team’s most formidable three-down option. Hill and Badie remain unproven. Davis plodded his way to 3.6 YPC last year. And Edwards is 27-years-old (four years older than Dobbins) and coming off of an ACL tear.

There’s no way Dobbins is coming off the field. Even if his TD rate is lowered because of Lamar Jackson’s vulturing ways, Dobbins is still in a position to touch the ball 16-18 times per game. He’s my RB20 on the season.

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Can Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins both finish inside the top-12 fantasy WRs?

Ja’Marr Chase was the WR5 overall in fantasy last year. Tee Higgins closed out 2021 as WR23. Upon closer inspection, however, Chase averaged the fifth most fantasy points per game (15.5) among regular starters while Higgins managed just under 13 fantasy points per contest (WR14). The discrepancy in overall numbers can be attributed to the three games that Higgins missed due to injury.

On a per game basis, Higgins actually averaged more targets (7.9) and receptions (5.3) than Chase (7.5 tgt/gm and 4.8 rec/gm). Interestingly, both receivers drew nearly the same number of red zone targets (13 for Higgins and 12 for Chase). But Chase’s YAC (550, WR5) and TD rate (13, WR4) lifted his production to an elite level. The rookie’s breakaway speed (4.39) and clutch connection with Joe Burrow propel him into top-three territory. Given a full season could Higgins join his teammate inside the top-12, though?

It’s close, but I’m going to take the under.

Coming off of shoulder surgery, Higgins is already dealing with a durability concern. He would have to best his per game averages in order to clear a 90-1,324-7 stat line. C.J. Uzomah’s exit frees up some red zone opportunities, so an increase in TDs is certainly possible. Yet Burrow is primed for a TD regression, given that he tossed 36 scores (QB7) despite averaging just 32.5 attempts per contest (QB15).

The necessary investment in Cincy’s offensive line should help Joey B. stay ultra-efficient (8.9 YPA), but he’s also playing in a division that contains three top-15 defensive units. Last year, Pittsburgh held Burrow under 200 passing yards in each of their meetings, Cleveland stopped him from throwing a single TD (Burrow DNP in Week 18 during the teams’ second meeting), and Baltimore was decimated by injuries.

Higgins remains a fantastic third-round target. And an 85-1,100-8 stat line is well within his range of probable outcomes. But I’m more confident in Keenan Allen and A.J. Brown, which positions Higgins as my WR13.

Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have a great set up with Joe Burrow leading the offense, but can both receivers finish as WR1s in fantasy football? (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have a great set up with Joe Burrow leading the offense, but can both receivers finish as WR1s in fantasy football? (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Which Browns player will make the biggest fantasy splash in 2022?

New isn’t always better. But in Cleveland’s case it can’t be worse.

From an fantasy POV, Nick Chubb is the only returning cast member. Rebooting a franchise creates considerable chaos, but it also makes way for breakout performances. The obvious names are, of course, DeShaun Watson, Amari Cooper, and even the recently extended David Njoku.

But who wants to be obvious? The sneaky play is David Bell.

The Purdue standout and Biletnikoff Award finalist is a physical player with fight after the catch. It’s admittedly trite to say he plays “tough,” but that’s the truth of it. What he lacks in sky-high measurables he makes up for it in grit and effort, as evidenced by the 41 contested catches he’s recorded since 2019. In constant motion — effectively utilizing head fakes, stutter steps, and stiff arms — Bell efforts his way into regular production, breaking arm tackles and side-stepping ankle tackles along with way.

His style of play is on-brand for this latest iteration of the Browns.

Given Kevin Stefanski’s commitment to fixing the passing game and unabashed enthusiasm for Bell, the 21-year-old is in a prime spot to emerge as the team’s No. 2 WR. Plus, the exits of Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper have vacated over 220 looks in Cleveland. That means a 70-80 target campaign is within the rookie’s sturdy grasp … which is pretty good for a player being drafted outside of the top-80 at his position.

Can Kenny Pickett save the Steelers?

The hometown headlines write themselves. Pickett staying in Pittsburgh is the sort of narrative editors get weak-kneed over. Everyone wants Pickett to work out in the Steel City. Everyone, that is, except Mitchell Trubisky.

The Steelers didn’t waste any time securing Trubisky, signing the former first-round pick to a two-year deal immediately after the legal tampering window opened on March 14th. The alacrity of the Trubisky acquisition is noteworthy. Either it was part of some elaborate and expensive smokescreen … or there are concerns Pickett might need a bridge.

Nearly 30 percent of the Fantasy Faithful think Pickett will win the job outright and start Week 1.

As discussed on a recent episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Forecast, the Steelers’ schedule is likely to require a veteran presence at the onset. Pittsburgh opens the season as +6.5 underdogs at Cincinnati. The schedule doesn’t ease up much over the next five weeks, with matchups versus the Patriots', Browns', Bills’ and Bucs’ top-15 ranked defenses. That’s a tall order for any QB … let alone a rookie.

I believe we’ll see Pickett, but noting his first-round draft capital and a bottom-12 strength of schedule (QB21), it would be prudent for the Steelers to protect their newest investment. Trubisky figures to start through at least mid-October.

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