Fantasy Football: The AFC North

Fantasy football is played by many, but few want to take the time necessary to dominate. Get an early look at the breakout players and where everybody has landed now that the smoke has cleared from the offseason.

Today's Fantasy Feature will focus on the AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens landed former league MVP Steve McNair, who will take over for ineffective quarterback Kyle Boller. The question is, how much does McNair still have left in the tank? One thing in his favor is that he will hook up with wide receiver Derrick Mason once again. Mason was his favorite receiver in Tennessee before joining the Ravens last season following his release by Tennessee. McNair has also always been quite adept at getting the ball to the tight end, so bump Todd Heap up a little in your rankings as well. The Ravens also added former 1,000-yard rusher Mike Anderson to help light a fire under Jamal Lewis, who has been an enigma since his 2,000-yard campaign. The team got a steal in the fourth round of the draft in wide receiver Demetrius Williams, a solid route runner with good hands. Look for him to be the No. 3 receiver behind Mason and Mark Clayton. Running back P. J. Daniels, also a fourth-round pick, could help ease the loss of pass-catching back Chester Taylor, who left as a free agent for Minnesota.

Cincinnati Bengals: Much of the offseason focus with the Bengals will be on quarterback Carson Palmer's injured left knee suffered in a playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Palmer insists he will be ready by the start of the regular season, but the team, which lost veteran backup Jon Kitna, brought in Anthony Wright from Baltimore just in case. If Palmer is out to start the season, everybody in the Bengals' lineup will see their numbers drop, as Wright isn't much of a fallback option. Also keep an eye on wide receiver Chris Henry's ongoing legal problems. They could cost the team's talented and valuable No. 3 wideout some playing time if the league steps in with a suspension. If that happens, Kelley Washington or Antonio Chapman, who came over as a free agent from Green Bay, will move into that No. 3 spot with the Bengals. On most teams that wouldn't mean much. But given how much the Bengals like to throw the ball, whoever wins that job will have value.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns went out and acquired possession receiver Joe Jurevicious from Seattle in free agency to serve as a security blanket for second-year quarterback Charlie Frye. Jurevicious had a nice season in Seattle last year and should continue to be a safe pick as a No. 2 fantasy receiver, especially if Braylon Edwards is slow coming back from a knee injury. Wide receiver Travis Wilson was acquired in the third round of the draft, but don't expect much right away. The team traded quarterback Trent Dilfer to San Francisco for Ken Dorsey, leaving no doubt that Frye is the man. He'll take his lumps, though, and is not recommended as a fantasy starter.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The team lost wide receiver Antwaan Randle El in free agency, hurting not only the passing game, but its return game as well. Then again, Randle El had just 35 receptions and one touchdown catch last season, so Cedrick Wilson or top draft pick Santonio Holmes should at least be able to replace that production. Look for tight end Heath Miller to pick up some of that slack as well. Jerome Bettis' retirement opens the door for Duce Staley to get back into action after largely taking 2005 off. Staley could have decent value as a short-yardage back behind Willie Parker, who has to show 2005 wasn't a fluke. In addition to Holmes, the draft yielded return man Willie Reid, who was outstanding at Florida State as a punt returner.

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter


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