From the Gut: The AFC North
By Sigmund Bloom
August 27th, 2012

This is a good time to review where we are at on offenses as a whole, and the possible downstream effects on the players within those offenses. The height of draft season is upon us and sometimes the level of quality and risk in an offense can be a good tiebreaker between similar players when you are making decisions on the clock.

Baltimore Ravens

There's some buzz around Joe Flacco after a strong preseason, and perhaps in hindsight it will be warranted, but I feel like we have heard the "this is the year" talk about him before. Regardless, he is still a solid backup fantasy quarterback and perhaps even a QB2 in QBBC candidate.

Certainly the potential for the offense to open up with Flacco and his strong connection with Torrey Smith helps the fantasy stock of both players. Smith has risen to the top of a tier of WR2/WR3 that has been lasting until the sixth round of 12 team drafts. He is a no brainer there.

Last season, Anquan Boldin was drawing all of the attention of defenses, and Smith was often allowed to run free in single coverage. Look for the script to flip this season, making Boldin a terrific value in the 10th round or later of PPR leagues. The fact that the young tight ends and countless number of WR3 candidates for the team have been less than stellar or banged up in the preseason only helps Boldin.

Ray Rice is worthy of the first pick, but I am just ever so slightly worried about his workload of over 1200 touches the last three years when it comes time to decide between him and Arian Foster. Rice has no clear handcuff, so don't waste a pick on Bernard Pierce if you build around the Rutgers product.

Cincinnati Bengals

It's hard to get excited about the Bengals offense. AJ Green will get his, and I won't blame you for taking him in the second or third round even though I am forgoing wide receivers in the first three rounds. Andy Dalton doesn't look poised for a big leap and the secondary wide receivers are a mixed bag. I wouldn't spend a pick on any Bengals wide receiver not named Green. Jermaine Gresham could solidly into the TE1 tier for fantasy, but I don't see top five upside.

The running game is like taking a lukewarm bath. Benjarvus Green-Ellis has foot issues again, which held him back for a good part of 2011. He might be a baseline RB2 with his goal-line opportunities and the lion's share of carries, but would you really take him over a wide receiver like Stevie Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, or Dwayne Bowe? Those wideouts are ranked right next to him in overall ADP. Bernard Scott is more talented, in my opinion, but surprise! He has been banged up, too. This running game could make a street free agent worth a waiver wire pickup during the season.

Cleveland Browns

Brandon Weeden pretty much looked like the quarterback he was in college during the preseason. Terrific natural arm talent that can make stick throws downfield with accuracy at times, but worthless under pressure. He can definitely make a wide receiver relevant for fantasy in this offense. That was supposed to be Greg Little, who I was fascinated with in the 8th/9th round because he plays a lot like Justin Blackmon, who was Weeden's main man at Oklahoma State. Little and Weeden don't see to have much spark so far, and Little has still been inconsistent and not quite as explosive as hoped.

Supplemental draft second rounder Josh Gordon could end up being that guy, but I don't know if I believe in him enough to stake a pick on it, even a last-round pick in typical leagues. He's worth a spot in very deep leagues, and Gordon is on my early season waiver wire watch list.

Trent Richardson has denied us the chance to see him in action while he has been sidelined with knee surgery. The offense hasn't raised expectations for Richardson to have a lot of goal-line opportunities or 20+ carry games. Getting knee surgery during camp is just a bad sign and I won't take Richardson before the late third round. I'm hearing about him falling even farther than that in some drafts, so break ties against Richardson if you're agonizing between him and say, Doug Martin.

Montario Hardesty looks as good as he has in his career and he might be a week 1 start in a pinch if Richardson can't go. He's worth a pick late if you are worried about covering Richardson or Ryan Mathews for the season opener. Brandon Jackson will also eat into Richardson's upside with his ideal third-down back profile.

There is room for a pass-catching tight end to emerge, but Evan Moore and Jordan Cameron both have the talent to seize that role and might end up splitting it with Ben Watson. I'll be watching to see there is waiver wire fodder here because of Moore and Cameron's raw ability, but I'm not optimistic.

Pittsburgh Steelers

What offensive line upgrade in the draft? Max Starks is back at left tackle, and Ramon Foster is back at right guard. This doesn't necessarily scare me off of Steelers offensive players, but it still dampens expectations a bit.

Ben Roethlisberger should be fine with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, especially with the return of Mike Wallace (more on that later). Roethlisberger is one of the "safe" QB1s in a QBBC. He was a low-end QB1 last year before his ankle injury.

The Steelers wide receivers are close enough in my mind that Wallace is the pick in non-PPR leagues, and Brown is in PPR leagues. In other words, take the second one to go off of the board. Emmanuel Sanders is a starting quality receiver in his own right. He improves Roethlisberger's outlook as long as he is healthy (not a given by any means), and he is an instant pickup if Wallace or Brown go down. He is on my bench in a lot of leagues.

Pittsburgh's backfield is a mess, although Ramon Foster replacing first-round pick David DeCastro on the offensive line benefits Isaac Redman. Redman is a no-nonsense north/south runner, and Foster is a drive-blocking behemoth. If Redman is still there in the 10th or 11th round, I might take him, sore hip/groin and all. He's definitely the only Steelers back I would draft, including Rashard Mendenhall. A wait of at least a few weeks before Mendenhall even sees the field for significant action is too big a cost of lost waiver wire opportunity for a questionable payoff.

Poor Heath Miller. Until the offensive line gets settled, he'll continue to be marooned at the line of scrimmage too often to have anything but desperation injury/bye week option fantasy value.

As always, thanks for reading. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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