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 move to the heart of the defense, taking a look at the AFC North OLB 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 OLBs list:
- Baltimore Ravens
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Cleveland Browns
Let’s take a look at the 2018 OLBs list for the division.
1. Cleveland Browns
What. A. Group.
Seriously, on paper, the Browns’ OLB group (more off ball than outside) is loaded. For starters, Cleveland gets to trot out Joe Schobert and Jamie Collins Sr. off the ball. Schobert finished with 144 tackles last season, finishing tied for the league lead with Cincinnati’s free agent signee Preston Brown, and Green Bay’s Blake Martinez.
Collins struggled to stay healthy, but there’s no questioning his talent and potential ceiling in a defense run by Gregg Williams. Heck, James Burgess slid outside to replace Collins last year and finished with 75 stops. Imagine what Collins can do when fully healthy.
Behind the strong starting duo, rookie Genard Avery brings a ton of versatility and athleticism to the group, while Brady Shelton and Justin Currie bring some pop to the position as well.
2. Baltimore Ravens
This position is still pretty darn solid for the Ravens, even if Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser didn’t make the expected impacts in their first years out of college. Combined, the rookie duo provided just 14 tackles and three sacks last season.
While a jump in production is expected as the Ravens try and transition away from Terrell Suggs, last season’s performances bumped the Ravens off the top spot.
Speaking of Suggs, the 35-year-old still turned in 11 sacks last season, albeit in a reduced role. He’s no longer one of the league’s most feared pass rushers, but he can still get the job done at a high level.
Opposite of Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon combined for 11.5 sacks, giving the Ravens a boost on the outside. Judon looks like a future star, while Smith is know more for playing the run.
Overall, there’s not a single player not to like in this group, but I have the Ravens slightly behind the Browns due to production and ceiling.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
I know that we all love to dislike Vontaze Burfict, but there’s no denying how good he is as a player when he’s not being a goon on the field.
He’s an All-Pro caliber linebacker. As a fan of the game, I’d wish he’d cut the theatrics out and just rack up numbers, but that’s not his game, dating all the way back to Arizona State.
Opposite of Burfict, Nick Vigil and rookie Malik Jefferson will battle it out for the starting job. Both are underrated players athletically, and can make plays all over the field. Whichever one loses the job will make the team stronger through depth.
Third-year player Jordan Evans, and rookie Junior Joseph round out the linebackers room for the Bengals. While it’s not heavy on big-name guys, it’s a very solid room top to bottom.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
While some Steelers fans soured on TJ Watt last year for his lack of impact sacks, the first round pick from Wisconsin stepped right into a complex system last season and produced from Day 1. Expect a big leap forward in Year 2.
Watt can do it all for the Steelers on defense, but with Bud Dupree, the same can’t be said. Dupree is solid against the run, but he is uncomfortable in coverage, and still struggles to rush the passer with any type of consistency. Hopefully attending the Von Miller Pass Rushing summit helps him unlock his pass rushing traits.
I’m still a believer in Dupree.
Behind Watt and Dupree, it’s a barren wasteland of sorts. James Harrison and Arthur Moats (for now) are gone. Anthony Chickillo returns as the No. 3 OLB on the roster, but behind Chickillo, it’s a bunch of guys with little to no NFL experience.
Keion Adams has a shot to crack the roster for the first time, while undrafted free agent Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, and second-year linebacker Farrington Huguenin round out the room. It’s not pretty right now, so I do expect the Steelers to address it in training camp at some point.