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State of the Team by Fantasy Position - AFC North
David Dorey
July 22, 2008
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This series of analysis on the 32 NFL teams takes a look at where teams have been over the last three years for each position - where they have ranked in the most notable categories and the hard statistics produced. This is to give a view of each team heading into training camp and what they most likely need to improve on this season and where their strengths lie that likely won't need any changes. Ending each team review is a brief summation of what to watch in training camp in August to uncover those developing situations that you can take advantage. Combining where teams have come from and what they have done in free agency and the NFL draft gives you the very same thing that NFL coaches are looking at as they attempt to improve their team for 2007.
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Baltimore Ravens
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 45 158 1 559 335 60% 3381 10.1 17 21 19 24
2006 67 153 1 523 328 63% 3535 10.8 21 14 13 14
2007 41 175 1 556 341 61% 3308 9.7 13 14 24 28

Quarterback - The Ravens pass attack was unusually bad last year and the retirement of Steve McNair set off a three-way competition for starting quarterback (at least in theory). Kyle Boller has far more veteran experience but mostly only at proving he is not a long-term choice. Troy Smith doesn't have the experience but has more poise and makes fewer mistakes than Boller. And then there is the rookie Joe Flacco who is considered the future of the franchise. But the Ravens do not want to throw him into the fire too early. That may end up happening anyway and training camp will be central to making that decision.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 397 1414 3.6 3 113 88 78% 551 2 20 24 30
2006 401 1518 3.8 10 94 74 79% 503 2 23 20 17
2007 404 1623 4.0 10 102 85 83% 520 2 16 17 16

Running Backs - The Ravens added Willis McGahee last year and said their goodbye to Jamal Lewis but the results were almost identical. In fact McGahee had two less touchdowns than Lewis did in 2006. What was even worse was that the coaching staff felt that McGahee wasn't capable of being an every down back and there were questions about his conditioning. That all led the Ravens to draft Ray Rice with their second round pick. McGahee has already skipped some voluntary camps this year and now Rice has been impressive enough to merit more than mere relief work. McGahee remains the primary back to be sure, but Rice has the chance in the preseason to gain more playing time and even up to being a true tandem backfield. Rice is a definite one to watch in August. He is small at 5'8" but he's both quick and powerful.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 284 146 51% 1766 12.1 7 29 31
2006 276 159 58% 2086 13.1 10 18 20
2007 343 191 56% 2281 11.9 8 19 26

Wide Receivers - The Ravens are in a rebuilding year and elected to start out with quarterback and running back. They made no moves in the free agency market for any of the ball-handling position and left the wide receivers as is from last year. That means Derrick Mason remains the lone certain starter but he is on the down-side of the career and can only make the possession catches. There will be a competition for the #2 between Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams with the taller Williams most likely to win the starting spot since OC Cam Cameron prefers larger wideouts (Williams is 6'2" while Clayton is only 5'10"). This unit hasn't been much for fantasy value other than Mason starting out 2007 with an obscene amount of catches but even he cooled down. The new offense won't be hitting on all cylinders to start with so training camp is important, especially if the starting quarterback ends up to be Joe Flacco.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 155 101 65% 1064 10.5 8 3 5
2006 147 95 65% 946 10 9 5 2
2007 102 65 64% 507 7.8 3 24 28

Tight Ends
- Todd Heap missed most of last season thanks to a torn hamstring and many have forgotten just how good he has been. The rankings for tight end went into the toilet but have been top five in yards and scores in seasons where Heap has remained healthy. And just as exciting is that OC Cam Cameron brings in a very tight-end friendly offense that should be tailor-made to keep Heap top five again this season. Heap has to stay healthy and that may mean not as much visible work in the preseason.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - There is definite fantasy news that will come out of training camp though likely it won't be huge. Joe Flacco is worth a watch especially in keeper leagues and Ray Rice is the most interesting since he could have some production this year. If he shows up really well in preseason games, then it is likely he will be getting increased playing time during the season and that will come at the expense of McGahee. Heap should have a big year but he'll almost certainly not be seen too much in preseason games to keep him healthy. Watch Rice.

Cincinnati Bengals
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 36 55 1 538 362 67% 3935 10.9 32 14 7 1
2006 29 32 0 523 327 63% 4067 12.4 28 13 6 3
2007 24 10 0 575 373 65% 4131 11.1 26 20 9 11

Quarterback - Carson Palmer comes off another fine season and seemed to have a down 2006 mainly because so many other quarterbacks had career best seasons. His touchdown totals are slightly declining and that could happen again this year since the Bengals want to establish the run better than they did last year. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson both return and even Johnson says he will not be a distraction and will play out his contract (for at least one more year). Even Chris Henry is rumored to return but the Bengals would be fine without him since they used the NFL draft to load up on wideouts. Training camp is important for Palmer to get some chemistry going with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell if only for future seasons.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 407 1751 4.3 12 112 86 77% 483 5 12 12 13
2006 391 1559 4 14 86 61 71% 416 0 21 22 11
2007 376 1468 3.9 10 96 75 78% 535 2 25 24 17

Running Backs - This will be an interesting year for the running backs though it may not show up so much in training camp. Rudi Johnson returns from his first injury-marred season and even Chris Perry has regained his health. The intention is that the duo reprise 2005 when they combined for a formidable backfield with Johnson rushing and Perry mainly receiving. But given the injury history of the two - particularly Perry - it is likely that the two will not get much work in preseason games and scrimmages if only to keep them healthy. That'll likely make Kenny Watson look like he is going to be a bigger factor than he will (unless Perry and/or Johnson are injured again).

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 386 239 62% 3143 13.2 24 3 1
2006 390 232 59% 3288 14.2 26 1 1
2007 432 266 62% 3263 12.3 24 4 2

Wide Receivers - After much ado in the offseason, the Bengals report to camp with both T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson as starters. Johnson has elected to honor his contract (which has four years left) if for no other reason than he had no choice other than sitting home unemployed. Training camp is very important because the Bengals could find themselves at odds with Johnson again next year and Houshmandzadeh is slated to become a free agent that Cincinnati is not certain they can afford to re-sign. That may or may not have come to bear in Johnson's decision to remain, but at the least the Bengals need to see what they have with Jerome Simpson (2.15) and Andre Caldwell (3.34). This has big fantasy implications if only for dynasty league because one or both of those rookies could become a starter as early as next year and having Carson Palmer as a quarterback is a very good thing. Training camp is worth watching here to see those two rookies.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 49 37 76% 309 8.4 2 27 27
2006 51 35 69% 374 10.7 2 26 27
2007 43 32 74% 333 10.4 0 32 32

Tight Ends
- The Bengals brought in Ben Utecht from Indianapolis with the intention of making more use of his receiving skills. But there are only so many balls in Cincy and the Bengals have never made much use of the position. Even if Utecht ends up with the best tight end numbers from a Bengal in the last decade, that still does not mean he will have fantasy relevance. The Bengals pulled the ultra-rare 32-32 by being the worst in both tight end yards and scores last year.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - The Bengals are going to be reticent to expose Rudi Johnson or Chris Perry to injury so the rushing game will largely be kept under wraps in preseason games. The main part of the camp to watch is just how well Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson are coming along. Both should see extensive work in games and camp.

Cleveland Browns
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 37 99 1 498 297 60% 3323 11.2 15 18 23 27
2006 51 262 3 508 317 62% 3242 10.2 15 25 22 27
2007 32 70 3 535 301 56% 3832 12.7 29 19 12 8

Quarterback - There is no quarterback controversy per se in Cleveland and Derrick Anderson remains the starter with Brady "I'll be right over here" Quinn on the sideline. This will be Anderson's first camp as the starter and he knows the pressure is on him to produce again this year. That should mean he'll be getting more work and game time than most starting quarterbacks would. But short of him looking suddenly horrible or getting injured, camp is not going to change anything. Though Quinn should be getting plenty of playing time in preseason games and if he looks really sharp, it will push Anderson even harder.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 354 1361 3.8 3 88 65 74% 498 1 24 28 31
2006 313 1023 3.3 4 77 56 73% 379 0 31 32 32
2007 396 1766 4.5 10 102 69 68% 591 4 8 9 12

Running Backs - This should be a very boring camp for Jamal Lewis. He is the starter - no question - and he has to remain healthy because the Browns only have Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison waiting in the wings. Expect a low-key camp for Lewis who will not play in preseason games more than a cameo.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 303 168 55% 2256 13.4 10 16 22
2006 262 134 51% 1725 12.9 9 28 27
2007 261 141 54% 2057 14.6 20 24 10

Wide Receivers - This should be more interesting than last year. Braylon Edwards has already broken out and has nothing to prove so camp is just a minor tune-up for him but Donte Stallworth replaces Joe Jurevicius and he needs to get on the same page as Anderson if only during camp and scrimmages. The passing game was outstanding last year and that was without a credible #2 wideout. Stallworth could make some waves here if he can remain healthy. With Jurevicius likely on PUP to start the season, there will be a competition for the slot receiver as well with Josh Cribbs and Travis Wilson. Last year that only accounted for one score and less than 200 yards all year so the winner is hardly due for much fantasy value.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 99 63 64% 570 9 4 19 15
2006 171 127 74% 1138 9 6 1 10
2007 170 95 56% 1218 12.8 5 3 15

Tight Ends
- Kellen Winslow comes off yet another knee surgery but claims to feel the best he has since he was a healthy rookie. The Browns drafted Martin Rucker who they hope will develop into a solid #2 and eventually a starter if Winslow's career is shortened by bad knees as is feared. Rucker deserves a little fantasy notice but he won't carry any value until and unless Winslow is out.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - It will be nice to see Brady Quinn in preseason games and that could have an impact on how safe Anderson's job is but it will likely take outright stumbling for many weeks before the Browns would opt to switch to Quinn. Nothing to follow there in camp. Donte Stallworth can buy himself some good will by showing up in preseason games but there is not a lot on this offense to watch in camps. Just Stallworth mostly.

Pittsburgh Steelers
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 50 125 4 375 225 60% 3037 13.5 20 14 25 18
2006 45 110 2 522 311 60% 4005 12.9 23 23 8 11
2007 47 197 2 440 281 64% 3386 12.0 34 14 21 3

Quarterback - There is not a lot to work on for Ben Roethlisberger who returns to the same set of receivers and may have an even better rushing game this year. There are plans in training camp to get Roethlisberger to release the ball faster since he was sacked 47 times last year but that won't show up much in camp. Big Ben comes off a very solid season and only needs to refresh before the season starts. Roethlisberger was 3rd in the NFL last year with 34 passing scores but the rushing game was horrible at scoring in 2007. The Steelers drafted line-buster Rashard Mendenhall so Big Ben will likely score less this year.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 483 2015 4.2 17 62 46 74% 448 1 7 6 6
2006 415 1816 4.4 14 102 73 72% 587 4 11 13 8
2007 453 1906 4.2 7 77 55 71% 424 2 5 12 23

Running Backs - This could be one of the most interesting units to watch in the NFL this summer. The Steelers installed a new offense last year and Parker rushed for 1316 yards on 321 carries. That was #4 in rushing yards and #3 in rushing attempts. But Parker only scored twice last year. That led the Steelers to draft Rashard Mendenhall for at least the short yardage and goal line carries. Parker remains the starter - he has rushed for more than 1200 yards in each of the last three seasons - but Mendenhall will also be involved. Training camp and preseason games should help give a clue as to whether Mendenhall remains purely relief and goal line duty or if he may have a bigger role. Parker is returning from a broken leg but has nothing to prove - he should stick to staying healthy and let Mendenhall get more work.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 257 139 54% 2134 15.4 14 21 14
2006 353 198 56% 2973 15 13 3 15
2007 288 174 60% 2385 13.7 21 17 9

Wide Receivers - Hines Ward returns from a season of nagging injuries but he remains the starter and possession receiver. Santonio Holmes has his breakout last year with eight scores and 942 yards so the only opening left is the slot which likely will be manned by Nate Washington again this season. But the Steelers made a play for the future by drafting Limas Sweed and his 6'4" height could become a factor in the endzone and middle of the field if only in future seasons. Sweed is a replacement for Plaxico Burress that has taken years to happen. Sweed is worth watching in dynasty leagues but 2008 is not likely to hold much fantasy value. What will be ideal is if Sweed can show an ability to go over the middle and take the ball away from defenders and hold onto it when hit. Sweed should get a lot of work in the preseason.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 60 43 72% 522 12.1 6 21 13
2006 59 41 69% 466 11.4 6 23 14
2007 69 53 77% 609 11.5 11 15 3

Tight Ends
- The tight ends stepped up nicely last year when the running backs could not score. Heath Miller led the group with seven scores though most came in the first part of the season. Miller remains the primary here and takes almost all catches by tight ends. Unfortunately, Matt Spaeth and Jerame Tuman only had eight catches in 2007 but four went for touchdowns. Training camp is just to refresh for Miller who could see less work as a receiver now that Mendenhall will take goal line carries.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - The Steelers have an interesting camp to follow even if it will be mostly to see what 2009 might bring. Rashard Mendenhall has a chance to get more playing time if he can show up big in camp and preseason games though Parker will hold the primary role no matter what. Limas Sweed will be interesting to watch and while there may not be a lot of room for him this year, Sweed can work his way onto the field and become a factor in the endzone if the Steelers elect to take advantage of his height. If he runs a few fade routes in preseason games, consider it a positive sign.

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