AFC North Quarterback Preview

Division boasts better backups for fantasy than starters

Today we look at the fantasy value of the quarterbacks who play in the AFC North. What stands out in this division is that while there are no definite studs, there are 2-3 QB's who have fantasy starting potential. When healthy, Ben Roethlisberger has proven to be a very capable starting fantasy QB, although he has been inconsistent in prior years. Joe Flacco has a load of talent but he has yet to reach that 4,000 passing yards and 28 TD's benchmark usually used for measuring a better than average fantasy QB. Andy Dalton has started both of his first 2 seasons very hot, but has also finished on a cold spell the last 6 games of both years. While Norv Tuner and Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland have the pedigree as coaches for having strong passing attacks, what they don't have is a QB who makes you feel he can do it.
Baltimore Ravens
Starter: Joe Flacco
Backup: Tyrod Taylor
Fresh off winning the Super Bowl, Flacco still has yet to become a championship caliber fantasy football QB. He has yet to have a season with more than 3,850 passing yards or more than 25 TD passes. He has the natural skills to attain those numbers but for some reason it just hasn't happened yet. Will it in 2013? I kind of doubt it. While Torrey Smith is intriguing, he hasn't proven he can be a true #1 NFL WR. The loss of Anquan Boldin leaves a gaping hole opposite him as Boldin actually led the Ravens in receptions and receiving yards last season. Flacco is a safe pick as a fantasy backup as he does have the ability to put up big statistical games, it's just that he doesn't have them consistently yet. And I don't expect 2013 is the year they will start coming each week.
Cincinnati Bengals
Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup: Josh Johnson, John Skelton
Dalton repeated the late season fade he had in 2011 once again in 2012. He started both seasons with strong performances but I believe his lack of arm strength becomes a liability once the weather turns cold. And for two years in a row that has been proven right. In the last 6 games of the 2012 season, Dalton averaged 171 passing yards per game while throwing only a total of 4 TD passes. That's actually worse than the 191 average passing yards and 4 passing TD's he had as a rookie in 2010. While he has a great WR in A.J. Green, Dalton has yet to live up to expectation and I think he needs to step up and prove he can finish a season as strong as he starts them or he will be on the hot seat soon. For fantasy purposes, Dalton is a guy you grab as a backup and then try really hard to trade away to someone who doesn't know about his late season fades and is only looking at the first several weeks when he's having excellent stats. At the very least he's been durable starting all 32 games his first two seasons. Josh Johnson and John Skelton are battling it out to be the top backup but neither will see the field barring an injury.
Cleveland Browns
Starter: Brandon Weeden
Backup: Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer
Weeden will be given another chance by the new Browns regime to prove he is a capable starting QB in the NFL. While Weeden wasn't awful as a rookie in 2012, he also wasn't much above mediocre. Although the new offense is proven to provide big time fantasy numbers, Weeden needs to step up his own performances for me to buy into him as being anything more than a poor fantasy backup in 2013. He could have a short leash if either Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer show well in preseason. Those two are battling to be the top backup to Weeden and likely it will be played out in preseason. Neither would be a viable fantasy QB though even if put into the starting position as both are just mediocre talents.
Pittsburgh Steelers
Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Backup: Bruce Gradkowski
In the first 8 games of 2012, Roethlisberger had 2,203 passing yards, 16 TD's, and only 4 interceptions. But then injuries piled on derailing what was looking like to be his best fantasy season ever. In 2013 though, losing WR Mike Wallace in free agency could hurt Big Ben some. A lot will depend on whether this is the year Emmanuel Sanders steps up his game as Wallace's replacement. Also, it's unknown if Roethlisberger's favorite security blanket (TE Heath Miller) will be ready for the start of the regular season. Ben should be drafted as an excellent backup fantasy QB with the upside to be a regular starter. Gradkowski was signed to be a younger backup replacing aging Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Rookie Landry Jones will be groomed to be the eventual backup in another year or two.