Ahead of the 2022 regular season, it’s pretty clear that the AFC North featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens are loaded at the wide receiver position.
Featuring names like Diontae Johnson, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool and Amari Cooper, the AFC North has a lot of star power and overall production at the receiver position in a division with star-level talent at the quarterback position. Knowing that, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the division rank third overall in CBS Sports’ wide receiver rankings by division Friday afternoon.
According to CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin, the AFC North ranked third overall, trailing the likes of the NFC West in second and the AFC West as the top division at the receiver position. Honestly, that’s a pretty fair ranking from Dubin, though it could certainly change ahead of next season if some key receivers take a step forward in their development in 2022.
“It was an incredibly tough call between these next two divisions, but the volume of established stars of the NFC West ultimately won the day. Still, there is an absolute ton of firepower in the AFC North, including a player who has the potential to be the best wideout in the league at some point in the next few years in Chase,” Dubin writes regarding the AFC North’s ranking for CBS Sports. “Higgins might already be the NFL’s most overqualified No. 2 receiver, Boyd is one of its best No. 3 wideouts, the Steelers have two players who have already broken out in Johnson and Claypool, the Browns brought in Cooper via (an incredibly low-cost) trade, and there’s a lot of potential in players like Bateman, Bell, Pickens, and Austin.”
It’s not a stretch at this point to say Chase is the best receiver in the AFC North, and arguably a top five player at the position overall already just one year into his career. Still, making just a passing comment at Diontae Johnson is a bit rough from Dubin overall. Quietly, Johnson is a top 10-12 receiver in football, one who has produced at a high level the last two seasons and is coming off of a career year in 2021 with 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns.
Those numbers can be put up next to some of the very best in the game, so it’s a bit frustrating to see Johnson not get the respect he deserves overall from Dubin when talking about the talent in the AFC North.
Aside from Chase and Johnson, Amari Cooper is a high-level receiver in his own right — when on the field. The problem is, he struggles to stay healthy overall, which has sapped his production in recent season, including a significant falloff in 2021. He’s still an exceptional talent, but the health concerns are real for the 28 year old.
Depth-wise, the AFC North is very strong at the position with the likes of Higgins and Claypool profiling as very good No. 2 options in the passing game. Of course, Higgins is the much more consistent of the two and would be a true No. 1 elsewhere, but the talent is there with Claypool as a physical freak combination of height, weight and speed.
The division could really rise up the rankings ahead of next season if Baltimore’s Rashod Bateman breaks out as expected now that he’s the No. 1 receiver in Baltimore for Lamar Jackson. A former first-round pick, Bateman was arguably the top receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft class. He’s in a relatively tough spot overall offensively in a run-first offense that heavily utilizes the tight ends in the passing game, but he showed flashes of dominance last season and could excel in an increased role in 2022.
Overall, it’s a loaded division at the receiver position now and moving forward. They’re rightfully ranked a top 3 group in Dubin’s division rankings.