Thoughts on AFC North, fantasy football

Fantasy football is a huge component of NFL fandom. So with drafts taking place around the country, the AFC North blog wants to offer several tips for fantasy players within our community.

Here are five thoughts to consider when drafting players in the AFC North:

RiceRice1. Don't worry about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice: The Ravens are not giving Rice many carries this preseason because they want to conserve him for the long haul. That should have no impact, as Rice should remain one of the safest picks in your fantasy drafts.

Rice brings rushing and receiving yards to the table, which makes him very valuable. Despite having depth at running back, Rice will get plenty of opportunities when it matters.

PalmerPalmer2. Quarterbacks could have great value: No one is thinking about AFC North quarterbacks in the first round. But this division could provide a great opportunity to steal a quality starter later in the draft. While everyone is jumping at the chance to take Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, GMs can stock up at other positions like running back and land someone like Joe Flacco or Carson Palmer further down the draft board. Barring injury, both AFC North quarterbacks have enough weapons around them to put up solid numbers, making them well worth the wait.

MendenhallMendenhall3. Keep an eye on Pittsburgh Steelers' sleepers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's conditional six-game suspension will scare off a lot of fantasy GMs. But Pittsburgh's skill players such as tailback Rashard Mendenhall, tight end Heath Miller and receivers Hines Ward and Mike Wallace could be a great value picks later in the draft. Pittsburgh's offense is expected to struggle early. But there's at least 10 games (maybe 12) available when the production for all these players will get back to their usual standards. Keep that in mind when you're stocking up reserves.

4. Defenses are key: Defenses usually go later in fantasy draft, but these units sometimes are the difference between winning and losing. The AFC North had three defenses rated in the top five last season: Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Cincinnati Bengals. This physical and talented trio should be a threat to rack up fantasy points on a weekly basis. You can't go wrong with any of these units.

DawsonDawson5. Be wary of AFC North kickers: In terms of fantasy numbers, you might want to avoid kickers in this division, particularly if you're drafting this week. Baltimore and Cincinnati still have kicking competitions ongoing, so you don't know for certain who those players will be. Jeff Reed and Phil Dawson are much safer choices. But Reed is on an offense not expected to do much early, and Dawson kicks for last year's No. 32-rated offense.