After taking a look at interior defensive linemen recently, today we’ll shift to the defensive ends in the AFC North for the continuing series “Ranking the Rooms.”
If you missed the interior defensive linemen list, you can find it here.
No. 1 — Pittsburgh Steelers
Not only do the Steelers have arguably the two best all-around bookend defensive ends in the league, they’re the clear-cut top tandem in the AFC North as well.
Cameron Heyward is one of the most underrated stars in football, while Stephon Tuitt is set to explode onto the scene this season opposite of Heyward.
Both are very stout against the run and wreak havoc along opposing offensive lines, while showing some serious prowess as pass rushers in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
The only issue with the Steelers at DE is the lack of depth. Ricardo Mathews has looked good in camp and looks like a lock to make the roster, while second-year defensive end L.T. Walton needs to step up and prove his worth this summer.
Caushaud Lyons and Johnny Maxey are other names to watch throughout camp, but neither projects to have much of an impact in 2016.
No. 2 — Baltimore Ravens
Timmy Jernigan is an absolute stud, and he’s going to continue to show that year after year as he continues to be nearly impossible to block one-on-one.
As a dominant force in both phases of the game, Jernigan has really emerged as a key building block defensively for the Ravens defensively, which desperately needs to get younger at key spots.
Opposite Jernigan is Lawrence Guy, who is coming off of a solid season as well, recording 46 tackles and 4.5 sacks for Baltimore. Another year in the starting lineup could see a big jump in statistics for Guy.
Behind Jernigan and Guy is Kapron Lewis-Moore and intriguing rookie Bronson Kaufusi. Lewis-Moore struggles to stay healthy and see the field, but Kaufusi is the big piece here that could put the Ravens in the top spot next year should he develop as expected.
No. 3 — Cincinnati Bengals
Man, the AFC North is really loaded at DE. A tandem of Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson sitting third in this list is absolutely astonishing. In any other division they might be in the top spot.
Dunlap is a tremendous pass rusher off the edge for the Bengals and has really stepped up as a physical run stuffer. With Johnson, he’s not the pass rusher he once was before leaving for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before then coming back to Cincinnati, but he’s still a solid, solid player.
A big jump in sack totals could happen in 2016 for Johnson.
Behind Dunlap and Johnson there really isn’t much depth. Margus Hunt hasn’t proven much in his three years in the NFL, while Will Clarke, Ryan Brown and Jack Gangwish back up the duo.
The Bengals need depth badly.
No. 4 — Cleveland Browns
A barren wasteland is a good way to describe the DE position for the Browns.
While rookie Carl Nassib is at least a bright spot here that could prove to be a good foundational building block (I have my doubts in a 3-4 scheme), the Browns really have nothing here.
Veteran Nick Hayden will likely hold down the other spot opposite Nassib, while Kenton Adeyemi and maybe even Xavier Cooper (who I highlighted in the interior DL piece) could chip in with playing time at DE.
The Browns have a lot of work to do here. The development of Nassib would be a step in the right direction.