One year after splitting the offensive line up in offensive tackles and interior offensive linemen in my Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series, I stick with the same format once again this off-season.
Last summer, splitting up the offensive line into respective position groups seemed to be a hit, so why not try it again?
Ahead of the 2021 season, I had the Baltimore Ravens holding down the top spot in the offensive tackles rankings, thanks to the presence of Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva. With Villanueva now retired and Stanley still struggling with injuries, there’s a shakeup at the top of the AFC North.
Let’s dive into my AFC North OT rankings ahead of the 2022 season, shall we?
1. CINCINNATI BENGALS
What a seismic jump up the rankings from 2021 to 2022 for the Cincinnati Bengals. It helps that a former top 15 draft pick in left tackle Jonah Williams finally stayed healthy and settled into his role as Joe Burrow’s blindside protector, as well as going out and signing coveted free agent right tackle La’el Collins, giving the Bengals a stalwart bookend combination at left and right tackle.
Williams posted his career-best grade according to Pro Football Focus’s metrics last season, coming in with a 77.1 overall grade, including a 79.8 run blocking grade and a 68.8 pass blocking grade in 1,044 snaps, helping Cincinnati reach the Super Bowl. Finally healthy, Williams was able to show glimpses of the talent that saw him become a top 15 pick coming out of Alabama.
Opposite Williams, Collins profiles as the ideal right tackle long-term for the Bengals. He’s a stout pass protector who will bring physicality to the position in the run game for Joe Mixon. Add in his familiarity with Burrow as his former teammate at LSU and the fit made so much sense in free agency.
With two book-end starting tackles in front of Burrow, the Bengals should feel very good about the future of the offensive line moving forward.
Behind Williams and Collins, veteran Isaiah Prince returns, having played in the Super Bowl gaining valuable experience. The Bengals also have rookie Devin Cochran in the fold, who is coming off of a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas before going undrafted. Overall, the starting talent and the depth looks rather solid on paper.
2. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Much like the Bengals, the Cleveland Browns have an exceptionally strong bookend tackle pairing in left tackle Jedrick Wills and right tackle Jack Conklin. The problem is the two struggled to stay healthy last season, putting the Browns in a tough spot overall, especially Conklin.
Though Wills missed just one game in 2021, he was banged up all season and saw his play dip a bit, while Conklin played in just seven games, forcing the Browns to rely on what little depth they had. When healthy though, the pairing is very good. Wills is a great athlete at left tackle, one that can handle the top pass rushers, while Conklin is a force in the run game overall.
Behind the two starters, the Browns have decent depth overall. Chris Hubbard returns for another year with the Browns as the swing tackle, a role he held down well in Pittsburgh during his time with the Steelers. He’s not an ideal guy to have on the field consistently in a starting role though. Second-year pro James Hudson had a really rough time in 2021 filling in for Conklin, especially against the Steelers. He’s an intriguing young player though, one that should see a jump in his game after his baptism by fire as a rookie.
Young players Alex Taylor, Elijah Nkansah, and Ben Petrula will battle it out for the practice squad spot at this point in Cleveland, unless the Browns decide to move on from Hubbard.
3. BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Ravens face a steep drop-off here in my rankings, in large part due to the decline in Ronnie Stanley’s health. When he’s fully healthy he’s a top 5 tackle in the NFL. He hasn’t been healthy since a devastating injury against the Steelers two seasons ago, having played just 68 snaps last season in Week 1 before missing the rest of the season again.
Baltimore seems to have hedged on the possibility Stanley will never truly be healthy again, having added veteran Morgan Moses this offseason, while hoping the investment in Ju’Wan James last season after being cut by the Denver Broncos due to injury pays off. However, a combination of James and Moses at left and right tackle just doesn’t move the needle much in the Ravens’ power rushing attack.
If Stanley is healthy and returns to form, the Ravens could rise back up the rankings next summer. For now though, they slot in third. Moses is a fine veteran, as is James. Both are best suited for right tackle though, so a position battle will be underway in Baltimore.
Behind the three veterans, the Ravens did a nice job investing in mammoth Minnesota rookie Daniel Faalele, giving Baltimore a moldable tackle prospect to work with, much like they had in Orlando Brown Jr. before trading him and turning that into a first-round draft pick.
Practice squad player Jaryd Jones-Smith, a former Pitt player, returns as well and will battle for a practice squad role once again.
4. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
While I feel much better about the tackle combination in Pittsburgh than seemingly the rest of the fanbase and the national media does, they still slot in at No. 4 in my rankings ahead of the 2022 season.
Dan Moore Jr. continues to be unfairly bashed this offseason. He handled being thrown into the starting lineup AND changing from right to left tackle just 10 days before the start of the season about as well as a fourth-round pick could have. He got better as the season progressed.
Chukwuma Okorafor has been relatively underwhelming overall, but he was solid in 2021 at right tackle and certainly earned the three-year deal the Steelers gave him in free agency, securing the 24 year old for at least one more season under new offensive line coach Pat Meyer.
Behind those two though, the Steelers are a bit bleak. That’s no disrespect to swing tackle Joe Haeg, who played well in limited action in 2021. But if he’s the caliber of top backup you have as a team at tackle, you’re in rough shape. Same for a guy like Chaz Green, and recent signee Trent Scott. Both certainly have experience along the offensive line, but both are below average overall.
UDFAs Jake Dixon and Jordan Tucker certainly are intriguing, but both have a long way to go to be anything for the Steelers, even on the practice squad at this point.
With new assistant GM Andy Weidl in the fold, there’s a great chance the Steelers look to address offensive tackle early in the 2023 NFL Draft and in free agency, depending on how Moore Jr. and Okorafor progress this season.
2021 AFC North OT rankings:
No. 1 – Baltimore Ravens
No. 2 – Cleveland Browns
No. 3 – Cincinnati Bengals
No. 4 – Pittsburgh Steelers