For the third straight year, we’re continuing the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot. You can find the latest rankings here. Today, we’ll stay in the trenches, taking a look at the AFC North DL rooms.
I’ll personally run down each position, starting with the quarterbacks in the division, and ending with specialists in this 10-part series.
In case you forgot the rankings from last summer, I have you covered.
Here is the 2017 Ranking the Rooms: AFC North DL list:
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Cleveland Browns
- Baltimore Ravens
Let’s take a look at how the division shakes out in 2018 at defensive line.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals sure did a nice job transforming their defensive line from one year to the next, without even jettisoning some players.
Returning this year are standout defensive tackle Geno Atkins, as well as veteran defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, but what makes this group jump ahead of the Steelers this year is the emergence of Carl Lawson into a bonafide pass rushing star, and the addition of veteran defensive tackle Chris Baker, who comes over from Tampa Bay as a cap casualty.
Lawson fell much further in the 2017 NFL Draft than most experts anticipated, and Cincinnati was happy to snap him up, giving the Bengals a future All-Pro defensive end to pair with Atkins along the defensive line.
Depth-wise, the Bengals have a number of bodies they can rotate in and out throughout games to keep the starters fresh, with the likes of defensive tackles Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow, as well as defensive end Jordan Willis, and rookies Sam Hubbard and Andrew Brown.
There’s a ton of young, high-ceiling talent along the defensive line for the Bengals.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The same trio of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave returns this year for the Steelers in their trademark 3-4 defensive alignment, as does do-everything backup Tyson Alualu, but this unit struggled down the stretch last season against the run, resulting in an early exit from the playoffs.
On top of that, the group as a whole – namely the starters – struggles to stay healthy week to week, which hinders the Steelers at times due to a lack of depth.
Returning behind the trio and Alualu is Dan McCullers, and LT Walton, as well as rookies Joshua Frazier, Greg Gilmore, and Kendal Vickers, among other young players.
Overall, the Steelers are loaded at the top with the starters, but once again, depth looks a bit thin on paper.
3. Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah form an outstanding pass rushing combination on the outside for the Browns’ defensive line group, which is a unit on the rise, not only in the division moving forward, but in the NFL as a whole.
Garrett should bust out in a major way for the Browns this season, while Ogbah will continue to be his steady self.
Inside, after trading away former first-round pick Danny Shelton, the Browns turn to Trevon Coley, Caleb Brantley, and Larry Ogunjobi along the interior. While it’s not sexy on paper, the trio is pretty solid. Add in veteran Jamie Meder, and the Browns have some solid depth inside.
Behind Garrett and Ogbah on the outside, Carl Nassib, Nate Orchard and Chad Thomas headline the depth for the Browns, who will have some tough decisions to make come camp cut down time.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Last season, the Ravens traded away Timmy Jernigan to the Philadelphia Eagles, and let Lawrence Guy walk in free agency. Ozzie Newsome did very little to try and replace those two.
Those two holes still exist, but this season should be a better one up front for the Ravens, as Brandon Williams returns to anchor the three down linemen in the 3-4 front, while ends Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi, and rookie Christian LaCouture should be able to give the Ravens some juice on the outside.
Up the middle, the Ravens have good depth behind Williams, as Willie Henry showed flashes last season, while Carl Davis and Michael Pierce proved to be good rotational guys down the stretch during the regular season.
Don’t be surprised if the Ravens play more 4-3 alignment this year thanks to the depth at defensive tackle.