Grades for every AFC team's fantasy players: Can anyone top Bengals?

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Cincinnati Bengals - A

The Bengals have a rising young quarterback, two-star pass-catchers and a workhorse back. Few teams boast such a collection of talent and fantasy assets.

However long the Bengals can keep the Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase-Tee Higgins core fully together will be a beautiful gift to NFL viewers. Chase and Higgins are the NFL’s fastest-rising 1A/1B combination and Burrow is a hyper-accurate passer with a playmaking mentality. The fact that rock-solid slot man Tyler Boyd is almost an afterthought shows how special this unit can be.

Provided that the offensive line makeover hits, the only real weak spot here is tight end. Former Ravens first-rounder Hayden Hurst looks like the favorite to replace C.J. Uzomah but he's just that: A replacement-level player.

Los Angeles Chargers - A

Miss me with any “He’s never been to the playoffs” nonsense; just two years into his NFL career, it’s clear Justin Herbert already belongs among the best passers in the AFC.

Filing in alongside Herbert are a variety of high-end talents. Austin Ekeler led the NFL with 20 total touchdowns last season and cleared 1,500 yards from scrimmage for the second time in his career. He’s emerged as a legitimate star back, not just some receiving complement. Keenan Allen remains one of the best route runners in the game and has cleared 1,110 yards in three of the last four seasons. Mike Williams is back on a new contract after a career-best season: 1,146 yards and nine scores on 129 targets.

You can argue this offense is a bit top-heavy unless Gerald Everett breaks out with his third team or Josh Palmer takes a huge second-year leap. Nevertheless, that foursome is good enough to earn this unit an A grade.

Buffalo Bills - A

The Bills have a top-three quarterback, an All-Pro receiver and better bit players than you might think.

The Josh Allen-to-Stefon Diggs combination is as good as any connection in the league. The duo has brought out the best in each other, as Diggs reached new statistical heights once arriving in Buffalo and helped stabilize Allen’s play. Diggs is one of the league’s premier separators and Allen boasts some of the game’s best arm talent. What a pair.

Josh Allen #17 and Stefon Diggs #14 of the Buffalo Bills are fantasy stars
The Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs combo has been a boon to fantasy. (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

As mentioned, Buffalo has better ancillary players than credited. Third-year tight end Dawson Knox has a chance to erupt in fantasy this season and finish as a top-five tight end. After 71 targets last season, he could get closer to 90 in 2022 after several wide receiver departures.

Gabriel Davis needs to get more consistent as a player but he can burn in the deep game. He should make big plays throughout the course of next season. If healthy, there’s a chance Jamison Crowder is an upgrade in the slot for Buffalo, too.

Rookie running back James Cook should also help boost the passing game in Buffalo. The Round 2 pick might not have the size to be a feature back but can run real routes and create matchup problems out of the backfield. Devin Singletary showed last year he can thrive when the coaching staff doesn’t force some peculiar committee for the early-down work. Buffalo is fine at running back.

Las Vegas Raiders - B+

Trading for the NFL’s best wide receiver will get you a good grade. The logic checks out.

Davante Adams instantly boosts the credibility of any offense and it’s not as if the Raiders had nothing to work with prior to his arrival.

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Indeed, Derek Carr’s presence was a big selling point in Adams’ request to be traded to Las Vegas. Carr was seventh in yards per attempt and fifth in completion percentage last year in a chaotic environment. He has a chance to enjoy the best season of his career while throwing to the best receiver in football and playing in an uptempo offense under Josh McDaniels.

Hunter Renfrow is fresh off a 100-catch season and makes for the ideal running mate to Adams. Renfrow has an excellent feel for zone coverage and haunts defenders over the middle of the field. Darren Waller dealt with injuries last season but is still one of the most talented tight ends in the game. They could still use more threatening depth beyond these guys, however.

The backfield is led by Josh Jacobs and sports a host of players competing for snaps behind him. This is the weakest skill-position unit on the offense but it has potential.

Kansas City Chiefs - B+

The Chiefs traded away one of the biggest difference-makers in the NFL but still employ the best quarterback in football, Patrick Mahomes. They’ll sort the rest out.

Mahomes still has Travis Kelce around as a top-level running mate. Kelce is getting up there in age but remains a unique and mega-reliable outlet receiver at tight end. Few players are as helpful at keeping the offense in rhythm and when he’s healthy, Kelce can still rip off big plays.

The receiver corps is in flux, though. The Chiefs will have veterans Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and holdover Mecole Hardman battling for big roles on this team, sans Tyreek Hill. None of these guys are No. 1 receivers.

Smith-Schuster has the best resume of the bunch here and should be the favorite to lead the receivers in targets as a big slot player. MVS is a one-trick pony in the deep game but that ability could be quite valuable paired with Mahomes in this spread offense.

The real wild card here is rookie Skyy Moore. He has a polished game that should translate to playing both outside and in the slot.

The question is when he’ll be ready to rock.

He’s a first-year, second-round player from Western Michigan. It’s quite conceivable he isn’t ready to contribute starting reps until later in the season — but the upside is tempting.

Denver Broncos - B

The Broncos have a ton of talent and have gotten steamed up quite a bit since the Russell Wilson trade, but let’s not get too excited just yet.

Denver needs one of Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy to emerge as a legitimate No. 1 receiver this season. Sutton had a great season in 2019 but struggled to get back to full form post-ACL-tear last year. Early camp reports have him as Wilson’s new favorite target.

You can write off Jeudy’s 2021 after he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1 but there’s no doubt he regressed from Year 1 to 2.

Both Tim Patrick and Albert Okwuegbunam have more than flashed the last two seasons and round out a strong crew of pass-catchers for Wilson. Javonte Williams and the too-often cast aside Melvin Gordon make one of the best one-two punches in the NFL, no matter how upset that makes fantasy managers.

This offense could really hit its stride by year’s end. Just don’t be surprised if it takes time for Wilson to gel with the new faces around him.

Baltimore Ravens - B-

The Ravens are a tough unit to grade.

On one hand, they have two of the best young players at their respective positions in Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews. That alone gives you a good floor to work with. We should also expect their backfield to be sizably better than the skeleton crew they ran out in 2021.

However, their receiver corps is as shallow as any in the NFL. I do expect Rashod Bateman to take a huge second-year leap. To me, he’s the most obvious breakout candidate in fantasy following the trade of Marquise Brown. Bateman has all the traits and polish of a true No. 1 receiver the likes of which Baltimore hasn’t had in years; certainly not in the Lamar era.

But even if Bateman does break out, the Ravens still desperately need someone else to emerge from their receiver room as a passable starter.

Indianapolis Colts - B-

The Colts boast two young stars in Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman but are quite top-heavy. You’re not surprised to see Taylor discussed with that gravity but you shouldn’t be shocked Pittman is knocking on that door either. Pittman was awesome in 2021 with a chaotic quarterback and will be further unlocked by a quarterback in Matt Ryan who plays with more anticipation in the short to intermediate game.

Pittman looks like a true No. 1 receiver, not just a jump-ball specialist, and is one of my favorite receivers to draft this year.

Michael Pittman #11 of the Indianapolis Colts
Michael Pittman should be even better with a new QB in Indy. (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

The Colts need Ryan to play well in this ecosystem and, ideally, another pass-catcher to emerge. Rookie Alec Pierce was drafted to be a lid-lifter and they re-signed tight end Mo Alie-Cox to a decent deal. One of them needs to take a big step to complement the Colts’ young stars.

Miami Dolphins - C

The pass-catchers rock; Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have the chance to be the most explosive duo in the league. Even Mike Gesicki brings a ton of juice as a movable chess piece at tight end.

The running back room has been remade but would you really consider any of the guys to be an above-average player? Maybe Chase Edmonds? This team will bank on the scheme getting the most out of these backs.

We know this grade all comes down to Tua Tagovailoa. So far in his career, he looks like an acceptable starting quarterback but it’s perfectly fair to say we need to see more to crown him as a difference-maker. Falling on either side of the spectrum of extremes is unwise. The Dolphins have set him up well to shine but could still look to upgrade if he doesn’t show more and move up from the median NFL quarterbacks.

Tennessee Titans - C+

The Titans made some nice bargain additions in Robert Woods and Austin Hooper to upgrade their WR2 and TE1 spots.

That would have been great — had they kept A.J. Brown.

Now this stable of pass-catchers looks rather ghastly unless rookie Treylon Burks is ready to hit the ground running. I do not expect that to be the case.

The Titans need Derrick Henry to get right back to pre-2021-injury form and for Ryan Tannehill to reprise the efficiency he played with in 2019/2020. Both seem like long shots, especially the latter, with Brown out of the picture. This offense should be above average but perhaps by just a hair.

New York Jets - C

The Jets have done everything in their power to stack the deck for Zach Wilson. The wide receiver trio of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson can be something close to an embarrassment of riches if Wilson hits his ceiling. The tight end room has been remade and Breece Hall gives them a possible feature back. The Jets haven’t had anything like this for years.

With the receiving talent and Hall in the fold, this unit can be dangerous. If Wilson is good this year I could see the Jets entering the B+ territory this time in 2023.

Cleveland Browns - C-

I’m grading this offense as if Deshaun Watson plays zero games this season. If he plays, they'd be graded higher. Pretty simple.

Without Watson, this is a unit that will have below-average quarterback play, a pass-catching corps with Amari Cooper but no proven receivers beyond him, a tight end whom they’re hoping makes the leap and a truly great running game.

All that sounds like the makings of a unit hovering right below the NFL’s middle tier of scoring.

Obviously, if Watson is out there, he has enough ability to be the rising tide that lifts all boats. If it’s Jacoby Brissett for 17 games … all bets are off.

Pittsburgh Steelers - C-

The Steelers get dinged due to quarterback uncertainty. Either way, Mitchell Trubisky or rookie-year Kenny Pickett are unlikely to give Pittsburgh anything more than league-average play behind center.

Elsewhere the Steelers have a strong young running back in Najee Harris, a possible breakout tight end in Pat Freiermuth and one of the NFL’s most underrated receivers in Diontae Johnson.

That’s a really good starting point but the Steelers also need one of Chase Claypool, George Pickens or Calvin Austin to fill the No. 2 receiver job. Claypool is the favorite but is coming off a bad season — that wasn’t just Ben Roethlisberger’s fault — while the others are rookies. That’s the one big question along with quarterback.

New England Patriots - C-

It feels like Mac Jones should be getting credit after a rock-solid rookie season. Don’t be shocked if he takes another step and becomes a high-quality distributor with Philip Rivers-like upside.

Damien Harris leads a running back room brimming with options but light on a clear workhorse. Odds are New England cobbles together a decent rushing attack with these guys, even if fantasy managers struggle to follow the week-to-week thread of who is playing which role.

The pass-catching corps could be quite spread out, as well. Hunter Henry, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne were their best players last year and now DeVante Parker enters the mix. Parker will be the X-receiver this team lacked while Meyers and Bourne will be the slot and flanker options.

New England’s offense could be decent this season but doesn’t have any true star-level players on paper. They'll need Jones to take a big second-year leap.

Jacksonville Jaguars - D+

If Trevor Lawrence reaches the golden boy status he entered 2021 with, the Jaguars will shoot up this list. It’s more than reasonable to give him and many Jaguars a pass for not thriving under Urban Meyer’s lost-at-sea leadership.

On vibes alone, the Jags will be better this season.

Still, even if Lawrence is better this year the pass-catching corps appears average at best despite the money spent in March and the running back room needs Travis Etienne to get off to a hot start despite missing all of last year. Lawrence hitting his ceiling can cover up for a lot of flaws, but those issues still exist.

Houston Texans - D

The cupboard isn’t completely bare in Houston. The receiver corps is led by steady veteran Brandin Cooks while Nico Collins and John Metchie look like good fits as the X and slot receivers behind him. Quarterback Davis Mills is getting a deserved chance to provide an encore to a solid rookie campaign.

Meanwhile, the tight end and running back depth charts are among the weakest around.

QB and WR are the best parts of this offense and neither unit is locked in as above average. Houston can only hope for the best.

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