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BREAKOUT PLAYERS: Part 5 – AFC NORTH

In Part 5 of my 8-part series into fantasy football’s breakout stars for 2019, we move on from the NFC conference and dive straight into the state of the AFC. We will start our journey with one the roughest divisions in all of football; the daunting AFC North.  Personally, I believe there is so much to be energized about from a fantasy stand point from all four teams that represent the North this year.  Last season, Baltimore and Cleveland gifted fantasy owners with two new rookie QB’s to get very excited about for the coming decade.  These newcomers brought with them big arm’s, game breaking abilities, and swag unlike anything this league has seen since the days of Brett Favre and Michael Vick.

Also, during this off-season we witnessed the stunning trade of one of the all-time great fantasy football Wide Receivers in Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers.  However, don’t let Brown’s departure discourage you my fantasy friends, as the Steelers know a thing or two about turning lesser known WR commodities into household names.  Then there are the Bengals, with their brand new offensive minded head coach, revamped running game, and resurgent WR core, just waiting to show the rest of the division who is the baddest team in the North.  So, without further ado, here are my predictions for potential Breakout Stars in PPR formats from the AFC North for 2019.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Lamar Jackson QB – Really, you didn’t see this coming? Well shame on you.  Jackson is what the NFL has been waiting for since the days of Vince Young.  Jackson, the 5th QB taken in the 2018 NFL draft, had to wait much longer than his rookie classmates to prove he was capable of handling the big stage in 2018.  After a mid-season injury to then starting QB Joe Flacco occurred, Jackson didn’t waste anytime showing his doubters that a run-first QB could flourish in the NFL under the right scheme and coaching.  Make no mistake about it, Lamar is pure electricity when he breaks the pocket and extends the play to the second-level.  His speed is not just outstanding from a QBs perspective, even when compared to WR & DB standards it falls into the elite category.

After choosing not to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, Jackson instead elected to wait till his pro-day at Louisville to showcase his 4.34 speed. At the moment, the biggest knock on Jackson’s game is his ability to read defenses and find the open receiver. Since a QB must be more than just an elite runner to have success in the league, this area of his game is still a work in progress for the Baltimore coaching staff to evolve.  But, for all that is still left to be desired when it comes to the mental aspect of quarterbacking at this point, he is very underrated when it comes to throwing the long ball. Jackson can really drive it down the field with accuracy and touch when he is asked. Surrounded by young explosive talent at the RB and WR positions, Jackson’s sophomore season just might leave fantasy owners that don’t take the chance on drafting him scratching their heads thinking, “how didn’t I see this coming?”

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, WR – What do Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray both have in common other than Heisman trophies and 1st overall draft pick selections?  Well, they both got to throw the ball to one Marquise “Hollywood” Brown during their collegiate careers.  How does one sum up Hollywood Brown in one word?  That word would be – FAST.  Like 4.30 in the 40-yard dash fast, the last time he was officially clocked back in 2017.  Let’s not kid ourselves however, Brown is on the smaller side for a receiver at 5’9″ & 166lbs.  Personally though, I wouldn’t let his size immediately dissuade you from the former Sooner in his rookie year.

Brown has the rare ability to change games in a way that is very reminiscent to Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill.  At the University of Oklahoma, Brown averaged 96.2 yards per game and his 18.3 yards per reception ranks as 4th highest all-time in Big 12 history.  Add that to his 17 TDs in 25 career games and you have a very intriguing player for fantasy purposes.  Now with the Ravens, Brown is united with his 3rd Heisman trophy winning QB in the last three years, Lamar Jackson.  As mentioned, Jackson can really let it fly when he is asked too and the proposition of these two fantastic athletes joining forces should scare the daylights out of AFC North defenses starting as soon as Week 1.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Joe Mixon, RB – Can you really be expected to have a breakout if just one year ago you finished Top-10 in PPR formats?  If you ask me, you most certainly can, if that’s a player’s floor. Which is how I value Mixon going into 2019. Coming out of Oklahoma in 2017, I had Mixon rated higher skill-set wise than the trio of RBs that went before him, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, & Dalvin Cook.  After cutting his teeth as a rookie finishing a sub-par RB #34 overall in PPR, Mixon knocked the rookie dust off in 2018 and gave loyal fantasy owners what they came to expect from him; a Top-10 finish.  Mixon’s results from last year give me supreme confidence that he has just begun to terrorize the AFC North from a fantasy perspective.

When I watch Mixon play, I get a Le’Veon Bell type of vibe from him.  He is patient in and out of the hole and when sees any crease of daylight he explodes through it and is off to the races. His ability to capture the edge reminds me of some of the greats using his 4.43 speed. His hands might be his best attribute however, as he is a very fluid player in the passing game.  What really has me excited about Mixon this season is the Bengals change at Head Coach. Zac Taylor comes over from the Los Angeles Rams and brings with him the Sean McVay system. A system that has propelled Todd Gurley into one of the best RBs for fantasy purposes we have seen in recent memory. If he can replicate anything close to what McVay has accomplished with Gurley in L.A., Mixon could wind up flirting with a Top-5 or better fantasy performance this season.

Tyler Boyd TE – Hang tight with me here, because Tyler Boyd isn’t a name a lot of fantasy owners talk about when they are thinking of who to choose to fill in their WR 2 and 3 spots respectfully. But, if we are to assume that A.J. Green is going to return to form in 2019 (which we do) then we have to start looking into just how much potential a player like Tyler Boyd has coming off a career year. What I like about Boyd is that after A.J. Green went down and he finally got the opportunity to prove what he could do, he decided to throw caution to the wind and just went out and made plays. Let me be clear here, there is nothing fancy about Boyd’s game. He isn’t going to wow a fantasy owner with his speed or big play type ability, he is just going to be consistent, a la Adam Thielen.

Boyd has sticky, sticky hands. If it’s in his air space, you best believe he is going to come down with it. He posted an impressive 70 percent catch rate last season; hauling in a spectacular 76 of his 108 targets on the year. The best thing that comes with owning Tyler Boyd however, is the hidden upside he has. Currently, his ADP is hovering around the mid 60’s and is being drafted as the WR #25 or worse in some cases. So, not only is he a value pick in the mid-rounds, but if something unfortunate were to happen to A.J. Green again this season, by default you end up with the #1 WR in Cincinnati.  From a fantasy owners’ perspective, sign me up for that all day and twice on Sunday’s please.

About Justin Smithey

The common man with uncommon fantasy takes. California raised, Texas approved. Avid reader, golfer and father.