AFC North Roster Holes: Optimal Landing Spots for the 2020 Rookie Class

Kevin Taylor breaks down the fantasy opportunity in the AFC North ahead of the 2020 draft.

With the NFL Draft approaching on April 23, it’s time to take stock of NFL rosters to find prime opportunities for the incoming rookie class. Even the most talented rookie can get buried on a depth chart in the NFL, while a fourth-round pick could break out in year one if drafted into the right situation.

This series of articles will search each NFL roster for glaring holes in the depth chart, focusing on the fantasy football positions of quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. If a talented rookie is drafted to fill one of the following roster holes, we could have the formula in place for a fantasy football difference-maker.

 

Baltimore Ravens: WR2

 

The Ravens have five picks in the top-three rounds and already boast one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the league. At quarterback, they return Lamar Jackson fresh off of an MVP in 2019. At running back, the Ravens return their top three rushers from a year ago including young second-year back Justice Hill who will look to have an expanded role in year two. At receiver and tight end they bring back their top-four players in targets, losing number three receiver Seth Roberts to free agency and number three tight end Hayden Hurst to a trade. They have a premier pass-catching tight end in Mark Andrews, a young speedy receiver in Marquise Brown, and a dependable slot receiver in Willie Snead returning.

Ravens have some more pressing needs than number two receiver but with this wide receiver class being so deep they will be sure to grab one or two throughout the draft. They have Brown and Snead who will for sure play prominent roles. Then they have second-year receiver Miles Boykin who has all the potential in the world. Just check out his player profile scores. The Ravens with Jackson under center threw the ball less than every other team in the league and ran the ball more than anyone else. The number two receiver that they draft will be someone to note but they may not pay dividends immediately.

 

Cincinnati Bengals: QB

 

With the number one overall pick in the draft, there is little doubt as to who or what position the QB needy Bengals are going to pick. They still have veteran Andy Dalton under contract but he has fallen out of favor in Cincy as he was benched in the middle of their horrible 2019, even though most of their losing wasn’t his fault. At running back, the Bengals return their duo of Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard. Mixon has distanced himself from Bernard and was a workhorse for the Bengals down the stretch last year. He surprisingly out-produced Bernard in the passing game in 2019. He out-produced Bernard in targets, receptions, catch percentage, yards per reception, and touchdown receptions. I believe the Bengals have a strong core at receiver with A.J. Green coming back from an injury, slot-man Tyler Boyd, and speedster John Ross who finally produced some results in 2019. Even number four receiver Auden Tate had some good games in 2019. The Bengals hope 2019’s second-round pick Drew Sample takes a step forward at tight end. He only had nine targets in nine games played a year ago. C.J. Uzomah remains as a solid, but unspectacular option at tight end as well.

It is time for the Bengals to draft their next franchise quarterback with the number one overall pick. They upgraded right guard in the off-season and get their starting left tackle back from injury this year so the offensive line should be in better shape heading into the 2020 season. I would look for them to make more improvements along the line throughout the draft and pick up some depth pieces at wide receiver with Green a free agent after this year. It is also worth noting Mixon is entering the final year of his contract. I believe the Bengals will try and extend him moving forward but they may pick up some running back depth in case they lose him to free agency next year.

 

Cleveland Browns: WR depth

 

The Browns have four picks in the top three rounds including the number 10 overall pick. They don’t have any big-time holes in the fantasy positions. At quarterback, they have third-year man Baker Mayfield, who hopes to take a step forward behind what should be an improved offensive line. Cleveland brought in right tackle Jack Conklin from Tennessee and will likely draft a left tackle (maybe at pick 10). At running back they return the one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt who played well together in Hunt’s eight games in 2019. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry return as the one/two punch in Cleveland’s receiving corps. They both had 130 + targets and the number three receiver Damien Ratley had 24 last year. The Browns will likely run a lot of “12” personnel (2 tight ends) as they signed breakout tight end Austin Hooper to a multi-year deal this offseason. He will be lined up with former first-round pick David Njoku, who only managed four games in 2019 due to injuries.

The Browns are stacked at their skill positions. Everyone except Hunt is signed through at least 2021. With the signing of Hooper, it makes the wide receiver depth less important when everyone is healthy. However, injuries and poor performance happen, so wide receiver depth is something the Browns should look for in this wide receiver-deep draft. They picked up Taywan Taylor from the Titans this offseason, but he has yet to establish himself after a couple of years in Tennessee. Whoever the Browns pick will have a tough time gaining fantasy relevancy in 2020.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: QB of future, RB2

 

The Steelers are in a tough position to acquire impact talent in the draft. They have one pick in the top-100 selections with pick 49. They will be getting long-time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back from injury in 2020. He is 38 and has contemplated retirement multiple times the last few offseasons. They return Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges as backups. At running back they return often injured starter James Conner as well as two-down grinder Benny Snell and pass-game specialist Jaylen Samuels. Juju SmithSchuster is coming off an injury-riddled year to headline the receiving corps. He is joined by former second-rounder James Washington and last year’s third-round pick Diontae Johnson. The Steelers bolstered their tight end group with the signing of Eric Ebron this offseason to go along with incumbent Vance McDonald.

The Steelers lack the draft capital necessary to get one of the more polished quarterbacks in the draft. I could see them drafting a project quarterback to learn under ‘Big Ben’ for 2020 and maybe 2021. Rudolph and Hodges showed that they are both not starters in this league as they combined for 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2019. One or both will likely be brought back as the backup to Roethlisberger.

Conner returns as the starting running back and was effective when he played. However, he played in only 10 games and was playing injured in more than that. He is a free agent after this year so he really needs a healthy, solid year to get the contract he desires. Samuels caught 47 of 57 targets in the passing game last year but managed a lowly 2.7 yards per attempt on the ground. Snell averaged a healthier 3.9 yards per attempt but only had four targets in 13 games. The Steelers could use another all-purpose running back behind Conner. When Snell and Samuels are in the game the defense can guess what the gameplan is going to be. Running backs have been devalued by the NFL recently so a decent all-purpose back could be had at the Steelers draft-range.

 

 

(Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)

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