Ranking The Rooms: AFC North iDL

Another year, another very strong crop of interior defensive linemen in the AFC North.

Though stalwart names such as Stephon Tuitt and Brandon Williams are no longer in the NFL, let alone the AFC North, the depth across the board for the four teams in the division in the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens remains strong overall in the trenches on the defensive side of the football.

After closing out the offensive side of the football in the AFC North earlier in the week, it’s time to flip to the defensive side of the football and see how the talent stacks up against each other within the division.


Losing Tuitt to retirement on June 1 after not having him all last season certainly hurt the depth and the talent on the defensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, former GM Kevin Colbert and current GM Omar Khan did a good job this offseason attempting to plug holes along the defensive line opposite Cameron Heyward.

With Heyward back in the mix once again and coming off arguably his best season yet, the defensive line is in relative good shape having the Pro Bowler and All-Pro to anchor it. He’s an absolute force in the trenches, one that can’t be blocked one-on-one, which takes attention away from others in the trenches, leading to favorable one-on-one matchups.

This group really struggled to stop the run in 2021, but the return of veteran Tyson Alualu will certainly help in that category in 2022. Though he’s nearing the end of his career, he’s still solid at the point of attack and won’t get moved off of his spot often against the run. Along with Alualu returning from injury, Khan addressed the interior defensive line late in the summer with the addition of Larry Ogunjobi on a one-year deal in an effort to try and plug the hole left behind by Tuitt’s retirement.

If healthy, Ogunjobi is a penetrating defensive lineman that causes problems in opposing backfields. He’ll fit in well next to Heyward, should his Lisfranc injury be fully healed.

Behind the expected starting trio of Heyward, Alualu and Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley is coming off of a career-high 7.0 sacks in 2021 filling in for Tuitt. He struggled against the run but certainly flashed on passing downs, getting after quarterbacks consistently. Veteran Montravious Adams was a good find by the Steelers off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad late last season as he stepped in and provided solid reps at nose tackle down the stretch.

Second-year pro Isaiahh Loudermilk appears poised for a sizable jump forward in his second year in the league after seeing consistent playing time down the stretch as a rookie in 2021. He’s reportedly added 30 pounds and has been working on his pass rush moves in an effort to make more of an impact against the run. Then there’s 2022 third-round pick DeMarvin Leal, who has a pretty high ceiling overall at the position, but might not have much of a role in 2022 behind a deep depth chart overall.


After ranking last in these rankings ahead of the 2021 season, the Ravens take a big step forward ahead of the 2022 season, climbing all the way up to No. 2 in my rankings.

Letting longtime nose tackle Brandon Williams walk in free agency was a sound move by Baltimore as the 33-year-old simply didn’t have I anymore as a powerful run stopper. To combat that, the Ravens moved quickly in free agency, bringing back Michael Pierce from a one-year stint in Minnesota, giving the Ravens some juice as a pass rusher at nose tackle. When he’s healthy he’s a true force in the middle of a defense.

Along with Pierce, the Ravens drafted UConn product Travis Jones, who I’m relatively high on. Jones is very similar to former Steelers’ defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, in that he’s a big, strong defensive tackle with impressive explosion and burst in a phone booth. He profiles as very good fit in Baltimore’s front seven moving forward.

Veteran Calais Campbell returns for another season. At 35 years old, Campbell continues to play at a high level even with his sack numbers dropping off precipitously. That’s more about how the Ravens are asking him to play, rather than an indication of his skillset overall. Along with Campbell, Brent Urban returns for another stint with Baltimore after spending the last two seasons with Chicago and Dallas. He’s a sound run defender overall that can provide some push against the pocket on passing downs.

The Ravens will also deploy Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington along the interior of the defensive line in 2022, making for good depth and upside overall at the position.


Losing Ogunjobi in free agency to a division rival hurts a bit for Cincinnati, but the interior of the defensive line in the Bengals’ 4-3 scheme is pretty solid overall.

Starting duo B.J. Hill and DJ Reader are a really intriguing combination of power and explosiveness inside. The two serve as sound run defenders that are hard to move off of the spot, and at the same time bring a certain level of quickness and overall burst to position as pass rushers.

The two helped the Bengals’ defense come up big in a number of situations throughout the 2021 season as Cincinnati went on a run to the Super Bowl.

Behind a stout starting duo with Hill and Reader, the Bengals lack a bit of depth overall, though there is some veteran experience to work with. Josh Tupou returns for his fifth season with Cincinnati, providing a powerful option off the bench to serve as a run stopper. Second-year pro Tyler Shelvin also returns another season with the Bengals. He played just three games in 2021, but he’s an intriguing options on run down for the Bengals with his size (6-3, 346 pounds) and his overall power, which was on display quite a bit during his time at LSU.

The Bengals brought in rookie Zach Carter in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft as an option inside. Carter recorded 17.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss during his career at Florida and could be a real change-of-pace type interior defender for the Bengals right away as a rookie.


Cleveland falls a spot here in my rankings after sitting third last season.

I liked what the Browns did ahead of the 2021 season inside, bringing in Malik Jackson in free agency to pair with Malik McDowell and Andrew Billings.

All three are gone ahead of the 2022 season for various reasons, leading to the Browns undergoing a makeover on the interior of the defensive line ahead of a pivotal season.

Cleveland drafted Senior Bowl MVP and former Oklahoma star Perrion Winfrey to bring some serious juice to the interior of the Browns’ defensive line. He’s a very good pass rusher, one that shoots gaps well. Problem is, he’s a liability against the run, one that can get manhandled at times on the interior.

The Browns also brought in former first-round pick Taven Bryan in free agency from the Jaguars. Bryan was a relative bust in Jacksonville, though he still has an intriguing skillset with real explosiveness inside. Counting on him to do much of anything in 2022 or beyond at this point in his NFL career though is a bit of a stretch.

It’s likely that the Browns will lean heavily on Sheldon Day and Jordan Elliott in 2022. Both were sound depth options last season, but stepping into starting roles could be rather difficult for both. Cleveland also has Tommy Togiai — a guy I really liked coming out of Ohio State in 2021 — and rookies Glen Logan and Roderick Perry II on the interior of the defensive line.

After having serious star power in recent seasons, it’s looking a bit bare over for the Browns at the position, at least for the 2022 season, landing them fourth in the AFC North at the position.


No. 1 – Pittsburgh Steelers 

No. 2 – Cincinnati Bengals

No. 3 – Cleveland Browns

No. 4 – Baltimore Ravens

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