A few days ago I took a look at inside linebackers for the “Ranking the Rooms: AFC North” series.
Some people seemed to get a bit confused with how I did the distinction between a 4-3 MLB and a 3-4 ILB to fit them into the list. For the purpose of today’s list, I’ll lay this out clearly.
Outside linebackers for this part of the series includes your traditional 4-3 off-ball linebackers and your normal 3-4 EDGE rushers.
Without further ado, here we go.
1) Baltimore Ravens
I know that this group, at least at the top with Terrell Suggs, is getting old. But I love what Ozzie Newsome has done over the last three years in the draft, picking up guys like Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams this year, as well as Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith in prior years to provide Baltimore with depth behind Suggs.
Veteran Elvis Dumervil was released this off-season and recently signed with the San Francisco 49ers, but I think that overall the Ravens are much, much better on the edge this year than in years past.
Bowser is a guy I was really high on coming out of Houston, so of course Baltimore would snatch him up. The big swing here though is Williams, who was very good at Alabama, but had major question marks off the field coming out this season.
He’s a high risk, high reward player, and more often than not those types of players work out for the Ravens.
Suggs is aging, but he has plenty of depth behind him. The Ravens looks scary on the edge.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison simply doesn’t age and can still play at a high level.
However, the Steelers absolutely had to address the depth behind him, selecting TJ Watt in the first round this past season. Watt should be able to step in right away to contribute to the Steelers’ defense, but there’s no telling just how good or bad that could be.
Opposite of Harrison and Watt, Bud Dupree returns for a third year and really seemed to turn a corner towards the end of last season, at least from a pass rushing perspective.
Behind Dupree, veteran Arthur Moats, third-year pro Anthony Chickillo and rookie Keion Adams will battle it out for the final two spots at outside linebacker.
As of now, the edge should go to Chickillo (special teams) and Adams (upside) with Moats as the odd-man out, fair or not.
In years past the outside linebacker spot looked bad for the Steelers, but I really like the work they’ve put in at the position to rebuild it from the ground up.
3) Cincinnati Bengals
Say what you will about Vontaze Burfict the person (and maybe even the player in some situations), but there’s no denying just how great 55 is for the Bengals in their 4-3 scheme.
Burfict is a great sideline-to-sideline tackling machine, but he could really ascend to league-wide greatness if he could just cut out the extracurricular crap.
Opposite of Burfict, Cincinnati will look to guys like Nick Vigil, PJ Dawson, Marquis Flowers and rookie Brandon Bell out of Penn State.
There are plenty of high-end athletes there, namely Bell and Dawson, but the Bengals will have to do their very best at the position to really get the most out of that position next to Burfict and Kevin Minter.
4) Cleveland Browns
Jamie Collins is great and is well worth the extension the Browns handed out to him this off-season, but aside from his great play off the ball for Cleveland, there’s very little — if anything — opposite or behind him currently on the Browns’ roster.
Second-year pro Emmanuel Ogbah had a strong year as a 3-4 OLB last season, but I just can’t see him making the switch to a 4-3 LB in Gregg Williams’ system. He’d be better suited to drop down to defensive end opposite Myles Garrett. We’ll see.
Nate Orchard and Joe Schoebert are still around in Cleveland, but again, much like Ogbah, they’re pass rushers first and foremost. I can’t really see them making an impact as a 4-3 linebacker.
Cleveland has done a great job of building up their defense, but I think the scheme change has hurt the back seven more than helped it as of late.
Last Year’s Rankings