Prepping for the upcoming fantasy football season requires asking tough questions.
Which NFL teams are set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Where can fantasy managers mine for latent fantasy talent? Which brand name stars could actually disappoint?
Throughout June, I’ll sift through every division and highlight the most pressing fantasy question facing each team. First up, the AFC North.
Can J.K. Dobbins be trusted to finish inside the top 30 fantasy producers at running back?
Dobbins sustained a grade 3 ACL tear in August 2021. But that wasn’t all. He also suffered tears to his LCL, hamstring and meniscus. Therefore, his return-to-play timeline was more complicated than the average nine to 10 months. It wasn’t until after an arthroscopic “cleanup” procedure in Week 7 (which required six weeks of rehab) that Dobbins finally rebounded. He managed an average of 14 carries over his final five games (including postseason). Assuming he’s healthier now than he was in January, that workload should remain stable, at the very least. There’s a chance, in fact, that it could increase with the arrival of Todd Monken, whose offense projects to bring more aerial action. A potential increase in targets would only add to Dobbins’ overall appeal.
It’s also worth noting that Dobbins recorded an efficient 6.55 YPC in those aforementioned five contests. And he did that with Tyler Huntley — not Lamar Jackson — under center. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s presence turbocharges the whole of the Ravens Nest. Dobbins, in particular, has averaged 47 more yards per game when Jackson is on the field than when he’s sidelined. Moreover, Dobbins has posted 1.05 fantasy points per touch throughout his career when Jackson was the starter. At that rate, even 12 touches per game would land Dobbins inside the top 30 at the position (11.1 PPG was good enough for RB30 last season).
Takeaway: Dobbins is expected to lead the Ravens’ backfield in touches, which provides him with a top-30 positional floor and potential RB2 upside.
Is Joe Mixon being overvalued or undervalued by fantasy managers?
Fantasy heads have been speculating about Mixon’s future in Cincinnati since before last season was even over. While there has been good reason for the suspicion, Mixon has outlasted free agency and the draft. The Bengals let Samaje Perine walk back in March and waited until the fifth round to add Chase Brown in April’s draft. Like it or not, the soon-to-be 27-year-old remains the primary ball carrier in a top-five offense.
Mixon has managed more than 16 carries per game throughout his career while clearing 1,200 scrimmage yards in four of those six seasons. Additionally, he’s improved as a pass-catcher and has set career highs in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. He’s also been inside the top 12 in fantasy points per game since Joe Burrow became the team’s quarterback. There may be flashier names available in the fifth round, but Mixon remains a reliable source of production.
Takeaway: Mixon’s robust role in an electric offense makes him a top-15 fantasy option at RB.
The below vets are currently being drafted around the same time in the fifth(ish) round of 12-team exercises.
Which “dead zone” RB do you believe is most likely to ROI in redraft formats? #fantasyfootball
– Liz Loza (@LizLoza_FF) May 23, 2023
Will Deshaun Watson return to QB1 status this season?
He’s inside my top 10 QBs, so that’s a yes for me.
Watson averaged 0.73 fantasy points per completion in Cleveland last season. He recorded 0.82 fantasy points per completion during his final two years in Houston. Given the chaos-filled 700 days between starts, a fractional decline in efficiency is frankly astounding. It also suggests the probability of a bounce back, particularly when noting Watson will have a full offseason before playing four of his first five regular-season games at home.
Ultimately, however, Watson’s fantasy value is in his legs. The Clemson product averaged six rushing attempts per game in 2022. Assuming he stays healthy and maintains the same average, Watson will clear 100 rushing attempts in 2023. For context, four of the five QBs who went over 100 rushing attempts last season finished inside the top-10 producers (Lamar Jackson, who finished as QB14 despite missing five games, was the fifth).
Takeaway: Watson’s mobility buoys his fantasy stock and makes him a low-end QB1 in 10- and 12-team leagues.
Is Diontae Johnson the most undervalued WR in drafts this season?
Johnson is becoming one of the more polarizing players in fantasy circles. He finished 28th among fantasy WRs in 2022. Heading into this season, he’s currently our WR26 in the consensus ranks. So, no, I don’t think he’s “undervalued,” but I do think there’s room for profit.
Much of Johnson’s upside is linked to Kenny Pickett’s potential growth. Over the past five seasons, there are 14 instances of a WR averaging better than 14.5 fantasy points per game with a Year 2 QB. Johnson may not have Tyreek Hill’s speed or DeAndre Hopkins’ physicality, but he’s not so different from Sterling Shepard (who managed 14.85 PPG with then-sophomore Daniel Jones in 2020).
Even if Pickett doesn’t make a massive leap, Johnson should still post fantasy-relevant numbers. Volume alone — he’s gone over 140 targets for three consecutive campaigns — figures to keep the Toledo product’s fantasy stock afloat. Additionally, he’s due for positive regression in the TD department after failing to reach the end zone in 2022. Johnson appears to have hit his floor last season.
Takeaway: Johnson’s volume and likely TD regression put him on track to rebound inside the top 25 WRs this go-round.
Follow Liz on Twitter: @LizLoza_FF
Fantasy football rankings questions – AFC North