Now that we’ve had a look at the tight end rooms around the AFC North, we shift to the trenches and take a look on the offensive side of the ball with the offensive line.
In recent years this group has been an area for all four teams in the north, but that might be changing for one team buried at the bottom in this list.
No. 1 — Pittsburgh Steelers
I mean, just looking at each roster, it’s pretty clear that the Steelers stand out in the AFC North with the best offensive line of the four teams.
Center Maurkice Pouncey is back after a career-threatening injury and will hold down the fort in the middle of the line, while veterans Ramon Foster, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert remain, providing the Steelers with some serious continuity up front.
Then when you add in the young Alejandro Villanueva, who played very well down the stretch in place of Kelvin Beachum last season and it’s clear to see why the Steelers are No. 1 in this list.
Behind the starting five, you have free agent signee Ryan Harris, who can play both tackles and brings Super Bowl experience to the bunch, while interior linemen Cody Wallace, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard add some more depth to this bunch.
Rookie Jerald Hawkins is another intriguing piece for this offensive line room, but he’s a ways away from contributing to this team.
No. 2 — Cincinnati Bengals
The loss of Andre Smith to the Minnesota Vikings hurts the Bengals for me in this list. Smith was a standout right tackle for Cincinnati and was a serious road grader in the running game.
Now, the Bengals will have to turn to a first-year starter in second-year players Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.
Andrew Whitworth holds down the left side of the line again, and seems to not be slowing down, while guards Clint Boling, Eric Winston, Kevin Zeitler and rookie Christian Westerman provide serious depth in the middle of the line for the Bengals.
Russell Bodine and T.J. Johnson round out the rest of the offensive line group for Cincinnati.
No. 3 — Cleveland Browns
When you have bookends Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio along the offensive line, you’re in pretty good shape.
Fortunately for Cleveland, that’s just what they have in place. Thomas remains the best left tackle in football and Bitonio should have a bounce back year in 2016, returning to his 2014 form.
The losses of Mitchell Schwartz (Kansas City) and Alex Mack (Atlanta) certainly hurts the overall picture, but second-year offensive lineman Cameron Erving should be much, much better in year two with a move back to center, while rookies Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango, along with veteran Alvin Bailey, should be able to step into the fold on the right side and hold down the fort.
Cleveland went from having very little depth along the offensive line to having plenty of depth filled with guys with serious upside.
Things seem to be trending upwards in the trenches for Cleveland.
No. 4 — Baltimore Ravens
Wow, things seem to have fallen off the rails here for Baltimore.
Veteran tackle Eugene Monroe was released and then subsequently retired and veteran free agent Jake Long had a deal that was in place fall through due to a balky left knee, so rookie Ronnie Stanley might have to step in at left tackle from day one.
Marshal Yanda is the standout along the offensive line for the Ravens, but he might have to move out from right guard — where he’s been the top player there for years — and fill in at one of the tackles to protect Joe Flacco.
James Hurst could be the starting right tackle, and that’s a disaster for the Ravens, while John Urschel, Vladimir Ducasse, Rick Wagner, Alex Lewis and Jeremy Zuttah will battle for the other starting jobs at guard and tackle.
At center, rookies Anthony Fabiano and Matt Skura will battle for the job snapping the football to Flacco to start the year.
The depth chart up front is incredibly murky for the Ravens, and that’s never a good thing for a team looking to protect its franchise QB coming off of a serious knee injury.