2021 Fantasy Football Coach & Coordinator Breakdowns: AFC North

Senior analyst Michael Fabiano breaks down the fantasy history & potential of the AFC North's coaches & offensive coordinators
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These days, there's no shortage of information to prepare for your fantasy drafts. Heck, there might even be too much info! Well, I'm going to add to the madness by looking at how offensive coordinators and head coaches have run their offenses and what it might mean for the 2021 season. After all, the coaches and OCs are the minds behind the chess game that is the National Football League. Some coaches like to run the football, thus producing a ton of fantasy points at the running back position. Others prefer the air assault, making fantasy heroes out of quarterbacks while loading up wide receivers and tight ends with oodles of targets and chances to score points in the passing attack.

Well, this article will break it all down for you.

Fabiano's Coaches & Coordinators Series
AFC
: East | NorthSouth | West
NFC: East | North | South | West

We opened up our research with a look at the AFC East, so let’s continue this series with the AFC North. What you'll find below are each team’s current head coaches and offensive coordinators. I’ll discuss which positions have thrived or failed based on past statistics and fantasy finishes during their respective tenures in the league.

Baltimore Ravens

Head coach: John Harbaugh (2008-present)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Roman (2019-present)

John Harbaugh Thumb

Roman has long been a run-heavy coordinator, which has been evident in the last two seasons with a near 56 percent run percentage. He's also had a ton of success with mobile quarterbacks, as Lamar Jackson (2019, 2020), Tyrod Taylor (2016), and Colin Kaepernick (2013) have all finished in the top 10 in fantasy points in Roman’s offense.

Running backs have also found success under Roman, as his system has produced a combined six top-20 finishes at the position since 2011. Three of those finishes came from Frank Gore during his time in San Francisco. His offense also led Mark Ingram to an RB11 finish in 2019. With Ingram no longer on the roster, fantasy managers should be looking at J.K. Dobbins as a potential breakout candidate this season. He led all running backs in yards per rush average (6.0) as a rookie. Dobbins might not have a high ceiling as a pass-catcher though, as just one back (LeSean McCoy, 2015-2016) has produced more than 28 catches in a single season under Roman’s guidance.

The wide receiver position has not been nearly as fruitful, as just two (Anquan Boldin, Sammy Watkins) have finished in the top 20 in fantasy points at the position. Boldin, who did it twice (WR15, WR18), has been the lone success story for Roman among wide receivers. With a crowded group of wideouts after the additions of Watkins, and rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, the Ravens don’t figure to have even one reliable or productive wide receiver to target in 2021 fantasy football drafts.

While the wideouts haven't succeeded under Roman, tight ends have been solid. In fact, he's seen both Mark Andrews and Vernon Davis finish in the top eight in points twice. Davis did it in 2011 and 2013, while Andrews has finished fourth and fifth in each of the last two seasons. Andrews will no doubt remain a top-five fantasy tight end in 2021.

READ MORE: Baltimore Ravens Fantasy Team Outlook

Cincinnati Bengals

HC: Zac Taylor (2019-present)
OC: Brian Callahan (2019-present)

Zac Taylor

Taylor and Callahan have run the Bengals offense since taking over the reins in 2019. Joe Burrow averaged 17.1 fantasy points in 10 games as a rookie. Cincinnati’s offense has thrown the football more than 60 percent of the time under Taylor, so Burrow will be in a position to post top-12 totals among fantasy quarterbacks in his second season.

The Bengals have gone with a true featured back approach, as Joe Mixon has seen 33 percent of the touches since 2019. He’s also averaged nearly 16 fantasy points in the 36 games he’s played under Taylor and Callahan. With no real competition, Mixon will be in a great position to produce a top-15 fantasy finish among running backs as long as he can avoid injuries. Mixon (foot) missed a combined 10 games this past season.

Wide receivers haven't had a ton of success under Taylor and Callahan, as only Tyler Boyd (2019) has had a top-20 finish in the three seasons. Tee Higgins did show flashes of potential as a rookie, however, averaging 12.2 points per game. The team will look to establish first-round pick Ja'Marr Chase, and his built-in rapport with Burrow from their time together in college makes him a potential fantasy breakout candidate. With A.J. Green off the roster, Boyd, Higgins, and Chase could all see 100+ targets.

The tight end position isn’t going to offer much for fantasy managers. Over the last three seasons, no Bengal at the position produced over 43 catches or 436 yards.

READ MORE: Cincinnati Bengals Fantasy Team Outlook

Cleveland Browns

HC: Kevin Stefanski (2020-present)
OC: Alex Van Pelt (2020-present)

nfl-browns-kevin-stefanski-offseason-workouts

Stefanski's offense is based on the success of the ground game, so it's no surprise that his quarterbacks haven't had a ton of fantasy appeal. During his tenures across Minnesota and now Cleveland, no quarterback has averaged more than 16.3 fantasy points per game (Kirk Cousins, 2019). So while Baker Mayfield had his share of good fantasy performances last season, he's unlikely to be a reliable starter in most leagues.

On the flip side, running backs have been superstars under Stefanski. Dalvin Cook put up a top-six finish for the Vikings under his tutelage in 2019, and both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt finished in the top 11 among running backs last season. Chubb, who put up an average of 17.3 points a game, might have been a top-five runner had he not missed four games with an injured knee. He’ll be a top-12 overall pick in 2021 drafts.

The same success can’t be found at wide receiver, however. In his two-plus years as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Stefanski’s best wideout (Stefon Diggs, 2019) put up an average of 14.1 points. By comparison, he averaged 20.5 points in 2020. Digging a little deeper, Diggs is the lone wideout to finish in the top 24 among wideouts in a full season under Stefanski. That doesn’t bode well for Odell Beckham Jr., who averaged 12.4 points in seven games under his watch a season ago. Don’t draft him or Jarvis Landry, who averaged 12.5 points per game in 2020, as more than No. 3 wideouts.

Stefanski likes to run a lot of 12 personnel, but his tight ends haven't been very fantasy-friendly. No player at the position has finished higher than TE14 (Kyle Rudolph, 2019). With Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant all in the mix, I wouldn't expect a change in this trend unless injuries occur. Hooper is most valuable, but he's worth just a late-round selection after an uninspiring TE21 this past season.

READ MORE: Cleveland Browns Fantasy Team Outlook

Pittsburgh Steelers

HC: Mike Tomlin (2007-present)
OC: Matt Canada (2021)

mike tomlin

Canada’s experience in the world of football has come mostly at the college level. He did serve as the Steelers quarterbacks coach last season though, so things shouldn’t change much from the offense of former coordinator Randy Fichtner. The Steelers did throw the football a bananas 64.2 percent of the time last season, which helped Ben Roethlisberger to a QB14 finish. The addition of running back Najee Harris should mean less emphasis on the passing game in 2021, but Roethlisberger will remain a QB2.

Tomlin has long-preferred to use a featured back, making Harris a legitimate breakout candidate as a rookie. Under his watchful eye, Tomlin has seen Le'Veon Bell (2014, 2016-2017) rank in the top three among runners three times. DeAngelo Williams (2015) and James Conner (2018) both had top-six finishes among fantasy running backs. So, the Steelers have produced at least a top-six runner five times in the last seven years. Based on that trend and Harris's skill set, the rookie will be a cinch top-15 selection.

Led by JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR16), the Steelers had three players finish in the top 23 among wideouts. Diontae Johnson (WR21) and Chase Claypool (WR23) rounded out the trio. A decline in pass attempts (Roethlisberger was third last season with 608) is a bit of concern for this trio, though I’d be most concerned about Claypool since he scored 11 touchdowns (and those are difficult to predict). Johnson, who led the Steelers with 144 targets a season ago, will be the first Pittsburgh wideout off the board in redrafts.

The Steelers have had one top-10 tight end (Vance McDonald, 2018) since 2012, so don’t look for Eric Ebron to improve on his TE14 finish from a season ago. Pittsburgh also added rookie Pat Freiermuth, though he won’t make an impact as an NFL rookie.

READ MORE: Pittsburgh Steelers Fantasy Team Outlook


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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!