2022 AFC North Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Drew DeLuca breaks down the AFC North from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 22.8 17th
Offensive Snaps 69.7 1st
2021 Record 8-9 T-16th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 9.5 T-12th

 

The story of the 2021 Baltimore Ravens was familiar to those who binge shows on streaming services. Well, those who watch M*A*S*H, Grey’s Anatomy,  Chicago Med, New Amsterdam, or House, anyway.

The Ravens suffered catastrophic losses in their backfield when J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill all succumbed to season-ending injuries prior to Week 1. The secondary suffered a similar blow, losing Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey during the course of the year, and key offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley went down as well. Remarkably, the Ravens managed to compile an 8-3 record through the first 12 weeks of the season before taking a nose dive down the standings, losing six in a row to close out the season.

Veterans Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray headlined a patchwork backfield; both have since sailed off into the Chesapeake sunset. Newcomer Mike Davis, recently released by the Atlanta Falcons, steps in to assume a depth role behind Dobbins and Edwards, both of whom are expected to play most and all of the season, respectively.

The most notable departure, however, was Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, who quietly approached team brass behind the scenes this offseason to request a trade. Big shoes are left behind by the newest member of the Arizona Cardinals. The battle for his vacant starting spot is one that fantasy football managers should be watching for late-round value.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 233 13th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.2 T-20th
Pass Attempts per Game 35.9 9th

 

Lamar Jackson, former Heisman Trophy winner and 2019 NFL MVP, can’t play quarterback, according to Twitter. He’s just a running back under center. To be fair, there’s something to that last part, as only Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook have posted more 1,000-yard rushing seasons since the 2019 season began.

However, as Twitter nerds are quick to point out, Jackson’s passing efficiency has declined each year during that span, and the loss of Brown isn’t going to help him right the ship. Nevertheless, we’re confident that a bounce-back season is in store in the form of a Top 6 finish, as long as injuries don’t once again scuttle the Ravens’ boat. Even his biggest detractors have to admit that few quarterbacks offer as much upside as Jackson in fantasy football circles.

The focal point of the passing game will once again be tight end Mark Andrews, who is widely (and rightfully) being drafted as the TE2 overall in drafts so far this year. The Ravens welcome back blocking specialist Nick Boyle from injury this year, and they re-signed fullback Patrick Ricard. This frees up Andrews to roam the field and gobble up targets, per usual. Newly-drafted Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely will battle for depth spots behind Andrews; we’re monitoring their camp battle so we’re prepared in the event of an injury to the Ravens’ star tight end.

The new alpha wide receiver in Charm City is undeniably Rashod Bateman, who returned midseason from an August core muscle injury that required surgery. There’s reason to believe Bateman, a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, will thrive in an alpha role:

 

 

While we expect Bateman to take off this year, we’re watching to see who’ll be playing most of the snaps in Brown’s absence. Returning youngsters Devin Duvernay and James Proche, both highly productive in college, know and understand the offense. Duvernay received a Pro Bowl nod as a special teamer for his proficiency in the return game, and Proche has been impressing team officials and beat writers with his sure hands so far this offseason. Neither is regularly drafted beyond the last round or two, but either makes a nice bench stash in deeper leagues.

We have high hopes for Dobbins to become a factor in the passing game this year, but we don’t have confidence that he’ll be one until midseason, as his Week 1 availability remains in doubt. Even though Dobbins took to Twitter to dismiss the report, whispers of this sort are concerning, even in July. We’re cautiously optimistic for Dobbins, but we can’t help but turn an eye towards rookie Tyler Badie, who makes a great late-round stash, especially in dynasty and keeper leagues.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yards per Game 145.8 3rd
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 1.1 T-10th
Rushing Plays per Game  30.4 3rd

 

For the fourth year in a row, Lamar Jackson should be the leading rusher for the Baltimore Ravens. We expect Edwards and Dobbins to limit each other’s touches as both are eased back into duty after recovering from knee surgeries. Dobbins can be expected to emerge down the stretch and finish strong as he gets his legs underneath him, much to the delight of fantasy managers who bought the dip this summer and meandered their way into their league playoffs. While we don’t expect much between the tackles from the aforementioned Badie, but those in PPR leagues should keep tabs on him as a late-round redraft option in case he emerges from the preseason with a meaningful role in the passing game.

 

Sleeper

 

Rashod Bateman (WR37, ADP 90)

After returning from core muscle surgery and a groin injury, Bateman drew six or more targets in 7 of 11 games between Weeks 6 and 16. Marquise Brown, who drew an astonishing 146 targets last year, was active for all but one of those contests.  Bateman’s catch rate in an injury-marred rookie season was 67.6%, and he averaged 7.57 yards per target, metrics that are more likely than not to see improvement. If we conservatively use these figures to create a projection based on target volume similar to what Brown received, we’re looking at 99 receptions for 1,105 yards. If that doesn’t grab your attention, it should offer a glimpse of the upside that Bateman has barely scratched the surface of so far.

The second-year player out of the University of Minnesota, going off the board as the WR37 in drafts on average, saw only five red zone targets last year. Expect the 6’2″, 212-pound budding star to see a much steadier diet of end zone looks in 2022.

 

Deep Sleeper

 

Tyler Badie (RB82, ADP 271)

The prevailing notion towards the Baltimore Ravens is that they’re a run-first team with a running quarterback who passes as a last resort. While that may be true to an extent, the Ravens led the NFL in offensive plays run in 2021, thereby generating a greater volume of pass plays than one might think. Therefore, it’s worth paying attention to whoever wins the WR2 job opposite Rashod Bateman. Either Duvernay WR123 (ADP 285) or Proche (barely drafted in any leagues) will take the field for the vast majority of the Ravens’ snaps this year.

However, we’re looking Badie’s way late unless (or until) the Ravens backfield situation settles itself. It’s not hard to envision the rookie out of Iowa playing a larger, more effective role than Ty’Son Williams, Devonta Freeman, or Latavius Murray did last year while Dobbins and Edwards round back into form.

 

Bust Candidate

 

J.K. Dobbins (RB25, ADP 51)

Dobbins recently called out Ian Rappaport for citing an unnamed source who claimed the Ohio State standout might not be ready to start the season. Should we take him at his word, or are we justified for harboring concerns about a running back coming off a torn ACL? If healthy, Dobbins is a game-breaking talent, although underutilized in the passing game. Yet, we worry about a capped touchdown volume, even in a perfect scenario, given Lamar Jackson’s propensity for vulturing rushing touchdowns. Edwards, who crossed the stripe six times during Dobbins’ rookie season, figures to see goal line looks, as well.

Add it up, and think Dobbins is more likely to disappoint as an early Round 5 pick in fantasy (ADP 51) than he is to hit. The opportunity cost of passing on a high-end wide receiver, stud tight end, or even another upside running back (Breece Hall or Travis Etienne) is just too great to roll the dice on Dobbins at or near his ADP.

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Larry Radloff, Frank Jansky, Andy Lewis + Ian Johnson / Icon Sportswire

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