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Eyes of the Guru Preseason Part 1: AFC North

An overview of defenses in the AFC North with an emphasis on individual defensive players and their fantasy value.

Welcome to the twenty first season of the Eyes of the Guru series. Those who have been with us for a few years know what the EOTG is all about. For the newcomers in the crowd; each year about this time I start passing along my thoughts and expectations for individual defensive players. Starting here the AFC North and my hometown Bengals, I will tour the league over the next several weeks covering everything from rookie additions to scheme changes, what effect they will have in the box scores and who you should be targeting on draft day. For reference, when I mention where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system.

Tackles = 1.5
Assists = .75
Sacks = 4
Forced fumbles = 3
Fumble recoveries = 3
Interceptions = 4
Passes defended = 1.5
Touchdowns = 6

Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league. From time to time I will reference the "rookie corner rule". For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is basically the fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie at corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses, thus these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Most often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon) and their numbers will begin to drop after their rookie seasons. When I mention tackle numbers, I do not lump assists and solo tackles together. Unless I make a reference one way or the other, I am talking about solo tackles. When I talk about a total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries and fumbles forced since all of these score very similarly in most scoring systems.

Cincinnati Bengals

Defensive Linemen

The Bengals return all four starters to a front line which accounted for 35.5 of the team's 42 sacks in 2015. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap led the way with a career best 13.5 in his breakout season. He had 9 as a rookie in 2010 while serving mostly as a nickel pass rusher, and had averaged just over 8 through the first five years of his career. This will have some fantasy owners thinking Dunlap's big 2015 was somewhat of an anomaly. Do not be one of those owners. This is a player who is just reaching his full potential. His personal goal for 2016 is to set a new single season sack record. Expecting him to reach that lofty goal would be a big stretch but a repeat of last year's production is not. At age 27 Dunlap is in the prime of his career physically. He is surrounded by a talented supporting cast which makes it difficult for opponents to emphasize him in their game plan. Since becoming a three down starter during the 2012 season, Dunlap has consistently recorded tackle numbers in the 37-41 range, has at least 7.5 sacks in each season, forced a dozen fumbles and recovered 6. He has even batted down 17 passes and scored twice since 2011. The sack record may be a reach but a sack title for 2016 is not out of the question. Dunlap was a top five defensive lineman in 2015. He is a safe bet to repeat and should be among the top five off the board at the position this year.

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