Fantasy Football: AFC North

Fantasy Football: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (12-4, 378 Points For, lost in AFC Championship Game): Forget everything you thought you knew about the Ravens, the flow is changing. The aging defense is no longer a dominant unit, and sack-master Terrell Suggs could be down for the season. As a result, the games will be more open this year, on both sides. QB Joe Flacco seems ready for more responsibility on offense, and receiver Torrey Smith was an uncoverable monster all summer. You'll land Smith as your third or fourth wideout in most drafts, but he's capable of a Top 15 year at the position. Anquan Boldin can still grab 65-75 passes, but he's not a deep threat and his touchdown upside is limited. Ray Rice is a known commodity, a Top 3 back on anyone's board. If you're in a deeper league and feel the need to handcuff, the backup is Bernard Pierce. That said, Rice has been very durable as a pro.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, 325 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): Todd Haley has his share of detractors, but his offensive methods are well-respected and he should do a fine job with the Steelers offense, in time. But for 2012, we worry about the offensive line and what it will allow Pittsburgh to accomplish. Isaac Redman (groin) is no sure thing in the backfield and Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a major knee injury; with that in mind, earmark summer sleeper Jonathan Dwyer for the late rounds. Ben Roethlisberger is still a Top 12 fantasy quarterback, when he's allowed to stand and fire. Mind you, Big Ben runs into a few sacks himself by holding the ball too long. Antonio Brown could ascend to the No. 1 receiver spot, and he's a good bet for 7-9 scores this year after being touchdown-unlucky last year. Mike Wallace is a dynamite deep threat, though he's unhappy about his contract and blew off most of the summer. Brown's progress (and lucrative contract extension) might wind up bothering Wallace, too. Buyer beware.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7, 344 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): A bunch of things fell right for the surprise Bengals last year, and they were happy to take advantage of a soft schedule. Cincinnati never beat a team with a winning record in 2011, so be careful when you judge this roster. QB Andy Dalton was a quick study and should be a decade-long starter, though he's not a special talent by any means. But so long as he keeps pitching the ball to electric WR A.J. Green (now there's an elite player, a Top 5 pass-catcher), everyone in the Queen City will be happy. There's no solid No. 2 wideout here, which means tight end Jermaine Gresham will be targeted liberally. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a straight-line runner with no lateral agility, but he never fumbles and he's reliable around the goal line. Look for a boring 1,100 yards and 7-9 touchdowns, the type of year Cedric Benson used to give us. Try to secure Green-Ellis as your third back.
Cleveland Browns (4-12, 218 PF): Most NFL clubs viewed Brandon Weeden as a so-so prospect, someone to consider in the third or fourth round of April's draft. Part of the bearish nature was tied to Weeden's age - he's already 28, having spent several years as a baseball prospect. The Browns wrote their own memo on Weeden and pounced in the first round, 22nd overall pick. Obviously they'll give him a chance to play right away, for better or for worse. Weeden's college stats were floated by a wide-open spread offense, but the Browns don't have the personnel to run that here. At least there's second-year receiver Greg Little on the outside, a budding star. Running back Trent Richardson was a respected pick at the No. 5 slot, but he needed a knee scope in early August. If he can heal up quickly, he'll run behind an underrated offensive line; while the Browns don't have an answer at right tackle yet, they do have two blocking stars in LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack. Montario Hardesty has settled in as the backup tailback, and could be an interesting sleeper if Richardson is slow off the mark. Cleveland's underrated defense should keep things surprisingly competitive, but this will be another losing year by the lake.

Report: Maryland's matchup set in 2016 Barclays Center Classic

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Report: Maryland's matchup set in 2016 Barclays Center Classic

After news was reported last fall that Maryland would take place in the 2016 Barclays Center Classic alongside Boston College, Kansas State, and Richmond, we now reportedly have matchups.

According to Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com, Maryland will face Richmond and Boston College will face Kansas State in the event's first round. 

Richmond finished the 2015-16 season with an overall record of 16-16. Two of the team's top three scorers from last season are set to return next season.

3 challenges Melo Trimble faces by returning to Maryland

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3 challenges Melo Trimble faces by returning to Maryland

Melo Trimble, by many estimations, made the "right" decision by returning to Maryland for his junior season.

Of course, there could be any number of unforeseen circumstances in the future that could change that opinion, but given the current set of conditions, he returns to a team that could legitimately make the NCAA tournament with another year to prove to NBA scouts that he can play at the next level.

But there are still challenges ahead for Trimble. Here are three of them. 

1) Less on-paper talent than the 2015-16 team

Mark Turgeon made two enormous, late-signing period splashes last year by landing five-star center Diamond Stone, then Rasheed Sulaimon from Duke as a graduate transfer. That helped to solidify a starting five that already included Trimble, then-senior Jake Layman, and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter, Jr.

The Terrapins had arguably the most purely talented starting five in the country. The attention on a given night was off of Trimble in a way because on any given night any one of those five players could carry the offensive load. It will be on Trimble during his junior season.

The starting five likely projects something like this (with some variation, depending on how Turgeon wants to utilize his guard and wing depth): PG: Melo Trimble | SG: Dion Wiley | SF: Jared Nickens | PF: L.G. Gill | C: Damonte Dodd.

Freshman guard Anthony Cowan will assuredly be in the mix, but that still pins most all of the offensive pressure on Trimble. Can he thrive when he is the focal point of the defense's game plan? 

Wiley, Nickens, and Gill hitting their shots would help. But who becomes the reliable pick-and-roll options like Carter and Stone were last season?

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2) The foul problem

Throughout the 2015-16 season, Turgeon mentioned whenever he could the fact that Trimble was getting to the rim at the same rate that he was his freshman season, but not getting foul calls at the same rate. That meant the same wear and tear on his body, but without the benefit of an efficient scoring line to go with it. 

Turgeon would never publicly, explicitly pin it on the referees, but look at the difference between Trimble's average field goal attempts as a sophomore during Big Ten play (4.4) and during the NCAA tournament (10.6). That cannot all be accounted for by saying he got to the basket more often in the tournament. 

Because Trimble hits at such a high rate from the free-throw line (86.8 percent), he becomes lethal in the pick-and-roll because he can hit shots if the defense goes under a screen, pass to an open man if they hedge out, or drive past and draw a foul if they go over. 

No fouls in the lane? Less effective pick-and-roll for a player who feasts in that set. What indicates that something will change when he is a junior?

3) The looming 2017 NBA Draft

By returning to Maryland, Trimble buys himself time and gives himself an opportunity to show what he can do during his junior season in hopes that he returns to a form closer to what we saw in 2014-15 or early 2015-16. 

That will all build up likely to the 2017 NBA Draft, assuming Trimble enters. He has questions that he now has to answer and some things that will be real concerns.

He will be 22 years old at the time of next year's draft. Only three players projected to be taken in the first round of this year's draft, according to DraftExpress.com's current mock, will be 22 years of age or older on draft night -- Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, and Providence's Kris Dunn.

Player of the Year finalist. Player of the Year finalist. Projected lottery pick back in 2015 who decided to stay anyway.

That's tough company to break into for Trimble and it speaks to the type of junior season he would have to have to get into the first round. 

And the foundation of his overall game won't be changing. His length will still be subpar, compared to his peers, at next year's Combine. It's unlikely that his max vertical will improve by much, which means he'll have to answer those questions another way -- simply by playing basketball. 

Master the pick-and-roll. Shoot a high percentage from three. Get back to the line at a high rate. That should be the formula for Trimble.

With season over, what did Kevin Durant say about his future?

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With season over, what did Kevin Durant say about his future?

The offseason of Kevin Durant is underway now that the Oklahoma City Thunder have been eliminated in shocking fashion from the Western Conference Finals — and the Wizards wait in line for a chance to put their best foot forward.

It’s not shocking in that they lost to the defending Golden State Warriors, but that they had a 3-1 series lead before succumbing in seven games.

It’s how they unraveled with Durant and Russell Westbrook reverting to their old form of panicking down the stretch, making bad decisions and blowing a 13-point first-half lead.

Durant, a D.C. native, is an unrestricted free agent who remains on the Wizards’ radar. And a host of other teams such as the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and New York Knicks want a shot to make their pitch.

“We just lost like 30 minutes ago,” said Durant, who had a team-high 27 points in a 96-88 loss that included a personal 7-0 run in a crucial fourth-quarter stretch. “I haven’t even thought about it yet. I’m embracing my teammates, just reflecting on the season. I’ll think about that stuff, I don’t know when.”

Durant earned $20 million with the Thunder this season. He could opt to sign a two-year deal with the second of it being an opt-out. That would allow Durant to play with Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, both of whom will be unrestricted in 2017, one more season so he can make his decision concurrent with theirs.

And with the salary cap expected to grow from $70 million in 2015-16 to $108 million for 2017-18, financially it would make more sense for Durant to wait.

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