The Draft Scout Roster Grades: AFC North
Our team-by-team look at every division in the NFL continues with the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers ran off an impressive start last year but fizzled late. The Cleveland Browns clinched a 11-win season and have a roster with few holes. And the Baltimore Ravens remain dangerous with an MVP at quarterback and a reloaded offensive line. There’s also the emerging Cincinnati Bengals. IN arguably the toughest division in football, which roster is best? We grade them all.
2020 Record: 11-5
Free Agent Additions:
OT Alejandro Villanueva, OG Kevin Zeitler, WR Sammy Watkins,
WR Rashod Bateman (Rd 1, Pick 27)
OLB Odafe Oweh (Rd 1, Pick 31)
OG Ben Cleveland (Rd 3, Pick 31)
CB Brandon Stephens (Rd 3, Pick 41)
WR Tylan Wallace (Rd 4, Pick 26)
CB Shaun Wade (Rd 5, Pick 16)
DE Daelin Hayes (Rd 5, Pick 27)
FB Ben Mason (Rd 5, Pick 40)
OT Orlando Brown, Jr. (trade), OLB Matt Judon, OLB Yannick Ngakoue, RB Mark Ingram, OC Matt Skura, WR Willie Snead
Overall Roster Grade: A
A rebuilt offensive line and improvements made at wide receiver should boost the offense of the Baltimore Ravens in 2021. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still dangerous and a renewed ability to run the football will keep defenses more honest. There are still question marks at center and the young wideouts need to emerge, but there is little to doubt here.
Defensively, the Ravens are as loaded as always. The defensive line is aging, but also full of veterans who know how to get the job done. The speedy young linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison have to step up in Year 2, but the secondary is arguably the NFL’s best.
This is a Super Bowl contending roster.
2020 Record: 4-11-1
Free Agent Additions: DE Trey Hendrickson, DL Larry Ogunjobi, OT Riley Reiff, CB Mike Hilton, CB Chidobe Awuzie,
WR Ja’Marr Chase (Rd 1, Pick 5)
OG Jackson Carman (Rd 2, Pick 14)
DE Joseph Ossai (Rd 3, Pick 5)
DL Cameron Sample (Rd 4, Pick 6)
DL Tyler Shelvin (Rd 4, Pick 17)
OT D’Ante Smith (Rd 4, Pick 34)
P Evan McPherson (Rd 5, Pick 5)
C Trey Hill (Rd 6, Pick 6)
RB Chris Evans (Rd 6, Pick 18)
DE Wyatt Hubert (Rd 7, Pick 7)
Subtractions: CB William Jackson III, DE Carl Lawson, TE Cethan Carter, WR AJ Green
Overall Roster Grade: C-
The Bengals are an improved roster from last year but there are still many questions on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Joe Burrow is returning from a gruesome knee injury and while he’s reunited with former college teammate Ja’Marr Chase in the passing game, the offensive line has to be markedly better in 2021 for the Bengals to win more than four games. Adding Riley Reiff will help, as should second-rounder Jackson Carman eventually, but it’s still a rag-tag group up front and that’s the team’s biggest issue.
Defensively, the Bengals essentially traded Carl Lawson for Trey Hendrickson but added more power to the defensive line. Losing William Jackson III in the secondary will hurt, but there is an emerging superstar at safety in Jessie Bates that teams must account for. Still, the Bengals are light on talent at linebacker and cornerback which will be exposed in a tough division.
2020 Record: 11-5
Free Agent Additions:
S John Johnson III, S Troy Hill, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Takk McKinley, DT Malik Jackson, LB Anthony Walker
CB Greg Newsome II (Rd 1, Pick 26)
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Rd 2, Pick 20)
WR Anthony Schwartz (Rd 3, Pick 28)
OT James Hudson (Rd 4, Pick 5)
DL Tommy Togiai (Rd 4, Pick 27)
LB Tony Fields II (Rd 5, Pick 9)
S Richard LeCounte (Rd 5, Pick 25)
WR Demetric Felton (Rd 6, Pick 27)
DL Larry Ogunjobi
Overall Roster Grade: A-
The Cleveland Browns have a roster that can compete for an AFC North title and a Super Bowl. Offensively, it all starts with the run game and the two-headed approach with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is the NFL’s best. Quarterback Baker Mayfield blossomed in new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense and should take a bigger step in Year 2 as the offense has had time to build chemistry that was missing early last season.
Defensively, the Browns added impact free agents and draft picks to a unit that was already loaded with young studs. And while there isn’t a go-to linebacker on this defense, the depth at the position is fantastic. Adding Greg Newsome II and Troy Hill gives the secondary the depth it needs while John Johnson III is the team’s best defensive back now.
If what we saw from Mayfield last year is the real deal, the Browns will go far this year.
2020 Record: 12-4
Free Agent Additions:
T Joe Haeg
RB Najee Harris (Rd 1, Pick 24)
TE Pat Freiermuth (Rd 2, Pick 23)
OG Kendrick Green (Rd 3, Pick 24)
OT Dan Moore, Jr. (Rd 4, Pick 23)
LB Buddy Johnson (Rd 4, Pick 35)
DL Isaiahh Loundermilk (Rd 5, Pick 12)
DE Quincy Roche (Rd 6, Pick 32)
CB Tre Norwood (Rd 7, Pick 18)
P Pressley Harvin III (Rd 7, Pick 27)
Subtractions: OLB Bud Dupree, CB Mike Hilton, OT Matt Feiler, OT Alejandro Villanueva, RB James Conner, S Sean Davis
Overall Roster Grade: C+
It’s hard to argue that the Steelers got better headed into the 2021 season. Adding running back Najee Harris in Round 1 of the draft was a solid move, but the offensive line is a big question mark and assets weren’t added there until Round 3 of the draft and really not at all in free agency. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended the year in a slump last year and must bounce back big time behind an offensive line that’s questionable.
Defensively, the Steelers will be tough again but little was done (and nothing was early in the draft) to bolster this unit. The mindset was almost, “we won 11 straight games last year, we’re good enough to win again” while the rest of the division made significant improvements. Mike Tomlin has one hell of a coaching job ahead of him with an aging roster that frankly lacks impact players at key position groups like offensive line and cornerback.
Hey Matt, I wanted to throw something by you that I got a lot of run on twitter about with Browns fans. A lot of the optimism with their defense is warranted with the young guys and the secondary, however I'm not thrilled about the losses on the DL. You noted Larry Ogunjobi, but also Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon were all starters alongside Myles Garrett and combined for 16 sacks last year alone. Regardless of the commentary on Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley, on the field they've worn more different jerseys than they have produced sacks in the last couple of years. I am all for optimism, I think JOK and Marvin Wilson are steals and again the secondary looks nice, but that's still a lot of production for me to have comfort in giving up up front. This is especially notable when we look at the Ravens who reinvested in the middle of the OL and will work to exploit that more in the run than to challenge that secondary.
I do worry about the Ravens OL a tad. Losing Orlando Brown no matter how you slice it, is rough. The Browns look legit this year.