I can’t believe we’re already into the middle of July and just two weeks away from the scheduled start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Knowing that, we’re chugging right along here at Steelers Depot with the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series, and today we move one of the deepest and most talented position group in the division: the defensive line.
While the star power resides on offense within the division, this position group will be the one that gets most of the publicity for football reasons within the division during the 2019 season.
Let’s get started.
1. Cleveland Browns
I’m not sure there’s a deeper defensive line in all of football than what the Cleveland Browns could possibly roll out for the 2020 season.
Obviously, Myles Garrett headlines the group. He’s an absolute superstar off the edge and now a clear villain in Pittsburgh following last season’s incident with Mason Rudolph. Make no mistake though: Garrett is a game wrecker.
Opposite Garrett, the Browns bring back veteran Olivier Vernon, who restructured his contract following down year, as well as veterans Chad Thomas and Adrian Clayborn. That’s some insane depth to have at both DE spots in a 4-3 system. Thomas and Clayborn recorded four sacks each last season in rotational action.
Inside, the Browns still have electrifying defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who is an absolute terror on the interior for guards and centers to handle. The Browns will again pair Sheldon Richardson with Ogunjobi, and also added free agent Andrew Billings in the off-season, giving Cleveland three high-level talents at defensive tackle. On top of that trio, Cleveland drafted Missouri product Jordan Elliott, a guy whom I liked quite a bit coming out of the Tigers’ program.
Depth is absurd in Cleveland in the trenches on the defensive side of the football. It should be a real tone-setter for the Browns’ defense in 2020.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
While the Steelers might have more star power along the defensive line than the Bengals, Cincinnati has great depth and high-end talent, giving them the nod.
Geno Atkins is the star of the unit, continuing his string of strong seasons as a top tier defensive tackle in football. Cincinnati did right by him in the off-season, adding All-Pro caliber defensive tackle DJ Reader to the mix, giving Cincinnati two dominant tackles inside.
Outside, Carlos Dunlap still continues to get it done 11 years into his career. He’s quietly consistent. Opposite Dunlap, the duo of Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson can be deadly, should Lawson stay healthy. Hubbard has developed nicely for the Bengals, giving them a ton of speed and athleticism off the edge. If Lawson is healthy, he could reach his rookie-season level again, giving the Bengals a plethora of high-level pass rushers.
For depth, guys like Ryan Glasgow and Renell Wren provide upside inside, while Andrew Brown brings some experience on the outside.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
The national media continues to sleep on Cameron Heyward, and that’s just fine by me. He’s arguably the second-best interior defensive lineman in football behind All-World Aaron Donald, which is no slight for Heyward in the least bit.
Heyward is a game wrecker in his own right, and continues to get better and better as he ages. He’s a legit weapon for the Steelers’ defense to move all over the defensive line, and often makes the game’s best linemen look silly.
If Stephon Tuitt could just stay healthy, the duo of Heyward and Tuitt would be nearly unblockable for any line. The problem is, he’s struggling to stay healthy. However, when he’s on the field he’s a disruptive force that gets to the quarterback often.
The problem for Pittsburgh is that the departure of Javon Hargrave to Philadelphia in free agency leaves a glaring hole at nose tackle, which Tyson Alualu will get first crack at filling. Alualu is a steady veteran presence, but he’s never really played nose before and is a bit undersized there. We’ll see how that works out, but it doesn’t give me a great feeling.
Depth is a serious concern too. Names like Isaiah Buggs, Dan McCullers, Cavon Walker, Henry Mondeaux, Carlos Davis, Josiah Coatney and Calvin Taylor don’t elicit much faith in terms of depth. I am still high on Buggs, but I don’t view him as a future starter. Coatney could crack the roster out of camp because on his size and versatility, but depth is a concern.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Without one of Heyward or Tuitt on the roster in Pittsburgh, I’d have dropped the Steelers below the Ravens on this list.
The addition of Calais Campbell is a solid one for the Ravens. Campbell can still play at a high level and always plays well against the AFC North. Another veteran in Derek Wolfe gives the Ravens a ton of athleticism and experience at end in their 3-4 scheme. The problem with Wolfe though is he can’t seem to stay healthy. That could be a massive problem for Baltimore down the road because there’s just not much depth there at end.
Jihad Ward is the lone other defensive end on the roster currently, and he’s bounced around the league a bit. Guys like Daylon Mack and Justin Madabuike could theoretically bounce outside if needed, but the Ravens would be taking them away from their strengths inside if they do that.
Broderick Washington could be solid depth behind All-Pro caliber defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who remains a powerful load in the middle of Baltimore’s defensive line.
The real concern I have is depth, much like Pittsburgh. The problem is, Baltimore doesn’t have the elite-level talent Pittsburgh does on the defensive line.
Last season’s rankings:
- Cleveland Browns
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Baltimore Ravens