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NFL Free Agent Frenzy: The AFC North

by Photo of Jake Langbecker

A look at the fantasy impact of the moves in the AFC North

NFL Free Agent Frenzy: The AFC North

We've reached the midway point of our 8 part series on the fantasy implications of the NFL's free agent frenzy. Welcome to part 4 featuring the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

We will update the post as new moves are made but as of now rosters are current as of August 5th. We will list player additions and subtractions if we feel they have a fantasy impact. Offensive linemen might get listed because of their influence on position players and defensive players will be listed if we think the team defense is worth drafting. Let's get to it.

Baltimore Ravens

Record Last Season - 12-4

Key Additions/Re-signings: Bernard Pollard, Jimmy Smith, Tom Zbikowski

Key Losses: Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Todd Heap

Fantasy Impact: The Ravens didn't add many pieces on offense but sured up their secondary with rookie Jimmy Smith and safeties Bernard Pollard and Tom Zbikowski. The always feared Ravens defense is getting older but should never be counted out. They would still make a good choice for your team defense, especially with Ed Reed's propensity for return touchdowns.

The Ravens lose a number of weapons on offense in McGahee, McClain, Houshmandzadeh and Heap but this should actually help from a fantasy perspective. Ray Rice will now see the majority of the carries with McGahee and McClain gone and even with them on the team last year, Rice put up 1,700 all purpose yards and 6 touchdowns. Rice should be considered a top 5 back in all leagues.

Anquan Boldin and Joe Flacco are also valuable fantasy players. Boldin had 837 yards and 7 touchdowns last season and would make a nice number two or three receiver. Flacco threw for 3,600 yards and 25 touchdowns last season and should be considered a good pick out of that second tier of quarterbacks.

Sleeper: Tough to find a sleeper on this team until we are further along in training camp. Whoever emerges as the number two receiver opposite Boldin could be a nice sleeper as well as whoever replaces Heap at tight end.

Cincinnati Bengals 

Record Last Season - 4-12

Key Additions/Re-signings: Cedric Benson, Bruce Gradkowski, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton

Key Losses: Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco

Fantasy Impact: Avoid the Bengals. This is a team going through major transitions, losing their starting quarterback and top receiver. A.J. Green was a great college player but you can't expect a rookie wide receiver to make an impact and the same goes for Andy Dalton at quarterback. 

Cedric Benson had a decent year rushing for 1,100 yards and 7 touchdowns but you have to figure defenses will be loading the box against him. Also there are off-the-field concerns and you never know when your fantasy season might get interrupted by a 4-game suspension. I wouldn't consider Benson anything better than a third running back or flex player.

Sleeper: Jermaine Gresham? Whoever the starting quarterback is, they might fall in love with Gresham as a big target and safety valve but in all reality, avoid the Bengals this fantasy season.

Cleveland Browns 

Record Last Season - 5-11

Key Additions/Re-signings: N/A

Key Losses: Jake Delhomme

Fantasy Impact: So the state of Ohio isn't exactly brimming with fantasy talent. Like the Bengals, the Browns have a question mark at the quarterback position with Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy competing, although most expect McCoy to win the job. Unfortunately for whoever wins the starting the job, they don't have much to throw to. Josh Cribbs is a better returner than a receiver and Mohamed Massaquoi is coming off a 400 yard season.

Peyton Hillis came out of nowhere last season to compile 1,600 all purpose yards and 13 touchdowns. The Browns didn't have much of a passing attack last season either so I'm less concerned about teams packing the box against Hillis since it didn't seem to matter last year. The only thing working against Hillis is that he's the cover boy for Madden this year, which if you believe in curses is a bad omen. Hillis should still be considered a top 15 running back in fantasy and is the lone bright spot on the Browns.

Sleeper: Massaquoi. Although his totals last season were worse than his rookie campaign, he's entering his third year in the league which is normally when receivers breakout. No guarantee, but definitely someone worth keeping an eye on in the later rounds.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record Last Season- 12-4

Key Additions/Re-signings: LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor, Cameron Heyward

Key Losses: N/A

Fantasy Impact: The Steelers return almost their whole offense and were able to re-sign Woodley and Taylor and added Heyward through the draft to their defense. The Steelers defense should be considered one of the top fantasy defenses again.

Ben Roethlisberger is never going to put up huge fantasy numbers and Hines Ward appears to be on the decline. However, the Steelers do have two good fantasy players in Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace. Mendenhall ran for 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and is a no doubt top 10 fantasy running back.

Wallace had a breakout year last season with 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns and should only improve in his third NFL season. Wallace would make a great number two receiver on a fantasy team but most likely will go earlier as a number one.

Sleeper: John Clay. This is a total homer pick but the former Wisconsin running back could find a spot on the team as a goal line back. For as good as Mendenhall is he's had trouble in goal line situations. The bruising Clay could solve those problems if he even manages to make the team. Keep an eye on training camp and if Clay makes the roster look for him to assume a Jerome Bettis like role. He won't put up big yardage but could give you some of those 4 rushes for 3 yards and 2 touchdown type games Bettis was known for late in his career.

Check back on Monday for our preview of the NFC West and be sure to visit Charged.fm for all your NFL ticket needs. 

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