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Ranking the AFC North Rosters, by Position

The AFC North projects as one of the leagues toughest divisions in 2023, with all four teams’ eyes set on a division title and a playoff run. One can debate the validity of each team’s chances to reach that goal in a crowded conference, but the fact is that the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers all believe they belong in the conversation with the AFC’s best.

As with every NFL team, the AFC North Division members have positional strengths and weaknesses. There are two main factors to consider when determining the strength of a particular position group: Top end starting talent and overall depth. In this exercise, I will be using both considerations to rank the AFC North rosters by position.

Each team will be given a numerical score based on where they end up in each positional ranking, and then a final score will be totaled for each roster in its entirety. While it’s relatively easy to look at a position group and determine whether it is strong or weak, applying positional value to the equation when comparing the teams to each other is a tricky component. Quarterbacks, for example, obviously carry a weightier positional value than running backs, but trying to put a numerical value on Joe Burrow’s impact on the Bengals as opposed to Kenny Pickett’s on the Steelers is a much more nuanced process.

For our purposes, Quarterback value will be assigned based on the player’s league-wide standing on a scale of 1-10. Joe Burrow earns a value of 10 as one of the league’s best established QBs, while Kenny Pickett earns just a 5 as an overall unknown at the position. Edge Rusher and Offensive Line will be valued similarly, but on a smaller point scale (1-7), since they are universally considered less important than QB, but more so than most other positions. For every other position, teams will earn points based on a 1-4 point scale. Four points for 1st place and one point for 4th.

That’s a lot of information, but it is necessary to establish some objective parameters for a subjective topic such as this. Without further ado, my AFC North team rankings by position:

NOTE: Players for each team are listed according to projected depth chart order. Rosters current as of 07/24/23.


OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

1. Bengals (Joe Burrow) – 10 pts
2. Ravens (Lamar Jackson) – 8 pts
3. Browns (Deshaun Watson) – 5.5 pts
4. Steelers (Kenny Pickett) – 5 pts

RUNNING BACK

1. Browns (Nick Chubb, Jerome Ford) – 4 pts
2. Steelers (Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren) – 3 pts
3. Ravens (JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards) – 2 pts
4. Bengals (Joe Mixon, Chase Brown) – 1 pts

WIDE RECEIVER

1. Bengals (Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd) – 4 pts
2. Steelers (Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson) – 3 pts
3. Browns (Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Elijah Moore) – 2 pts
4. Ravens (Rashod Bateman, O’dell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers) – 1 pts

TIGHT END

1. Ravens (Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely) – 4 pts
2. Steelers (Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington) – 3 pts
3. Browns (David Njoku, Jordan Akins) – 2 pts
4. Bengals (Irv Smith Jr., Drew Sample) – 1 pts

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Browns (LT Jedrick Wills Jr., LG Joel Bitonio, C Ethan Pocic, RG Wyatt Teller, RT Jack Conklin) – 7 pts
2. Ravens (LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Ben Cleveland, C Tyler Linderbaum, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Morgan Moses) – 5.5 pts
3. Steelers (LT Broderick Jones, LG Isaac Seumalo, C Mason Cole, RG James Daniels, RT Chuks Okorafor) – 3.5 pts
4. Bengals (LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Cordell Volson, C Ted Karras, RG Alex Cappa, RT Jonah Williams) – 3 pts

DEFENSE

INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Steelers (Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Keeanu Benton) – 4 pts
2. Ravens (Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, Broderick Washington) – 3 pts
3. Bengals (DJ Reader, BJ Hill, Josh Tupou) – 2 pts
4. Browns (Dalvin Tomlinson, Jordan Elliott, Siaki Ika) – 1 pts

EDGE RUSHER

1. Steelers (TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Markus Golden) – 7 pts
2. Browns (Myles Garrett, Za’Darius Smith, Ogbo Okoronkwo) – 6.5 pts
3. Bengals (Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, Myles Murphy) – 5.5 pts
4. Ravens (Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser, David Ojabo) – 2 pts

INSIDE LINEBACKER

1. Ravens (Roquan Smith, Patrick Queen, Trenton Simpson) – 4 pts
2. Bengals (Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither) – 3 pts
3. Browns (Anthony Walker Jr., Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Sione Takitaki) – 2 pts
4. Steelers (Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Mark Robinson) – 1 pts

CORNERBACK

1. Browns (Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, Martin Emerson Jr.) – 4 pts
2. Ravens (Marlon Humphrey, Rock Ya-Sin, Damarion Williams) – 3 pts
3. Steelers (Patrick Peterson, Joey Porter Jr., Levi Wallace) – 2 pts
4. Bengals (Chidobe Awuzie, Cam Taylor-Britt, DJ Turner II) – 1 pts

SAFETY

1. Steelers (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal) – 4 pts
2. Ravens (Kyle Hamilton, Marcus Williams, Geno Stone) – 3 pts
3. Browns (Juan Thornhill, Grant Delpit, Rodney McLeod) – 2 pts
4. Bengals (Dax Hill, Nick Scott, Jordan Battle) – 1 pts

OVERALL

1. CLEVELAND BROWNS (36 pts)

According to this exercise, the Browns own the top overall roster in the AFC North, and that’s absolutely not a stretch. Even if you think Cleveland will find a way to screw it all up in the end, the team is loaded from top to bottom on both sides of the ball. If Deshaun Watson returns to his pre-controversy form from a couple years ago, this team is a legit Super Bowl contender, not to mention maybe the biggest threat to the Bengals in the AFC North in 2023.

T2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (35.5 pts)

The balance of power in the AFC North could really come down to one player, and that player is Steelers QB Kenny Pickett. The Steelers should field the North’s best defense in 2023, with a pass rush ready to wreak havoc on opponents and create plenty of splash play opportunities for a ball-hawking secondary. If the offense under Pickett is able to be an above average, or even equal, contributor to the team’s success, the AFC should be on high alert.

T2. BALTIMORE RAVENS (35.5 pts)

The Ravens enter 2023 with a long list of unknowns, but the overall talent and depth of the roster isn’t one of them. Scheme, health, and personnel fit most definitely make that list, but it’s no doubt that John Harbaugh has assembled a very solid cast of contributors on both sides of the ball, obviously highlighted by QB Lamar Jackson leading an offense that will look vastly different from any iterations we’ve seen in Baltimore in his career. If Baltimore’s receivers can stay on the field and give Jackson consistent production in Todd Monken’s scheme, then the Ravens too have a legitimate shot at an AFC North title and a deep playoff run. Color me skeptical, but it’s hard for a team to put it all together in year one of a new offensive scheme. We’ll find out soon enough.

4. CINCINNATI BENGALS (31.5 pts)

Surprise, surprise! The 2x defending AFC North Champs have the worst overall roster in the division according to this exercise. When you look at the team on paper, though, as we have, there are definite holes, specifically on offense along the line and in the backfield. On defense, there are a lot of new faces taking on vital roles, and Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo will have his hands full getting that group to gel quickly. This team is all about how far Joe Burrow and that receiving unit can take them, and for the last couple years, that has been enough. Can they keep the magic rolling in 2023, or are their [potential roster deficiencies this season too much for Burrow to overcome?

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