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The future of the AFC North is here, and the Bengals are dangerously unprepared

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The Steelers are leading the division, and the Browns and Ravens each appear to have their quarterback of the future. Where does that leave the Bengals?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last two weeks, the Bengals have faced two of the league’s most exciting rookies, in quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield.

While the Ravens are on the fringe of the playoffs and the Browns are in last place in the division, their fans have a lot to be excited about. Two of the most exciting players on the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster are second-year players JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. The Bengals have some good young players, but with their struggles on offense and defense in 2018, the future looks bleak.

The four most important positions on an NFL roster are quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher, and cornerback. The Browns have one of the best young players in the league at three of those for positions. Denzel Ward has all the makings of a shutdown corner, and defensive end Myles Garrett is one of the most talented pass rushers around.

Rookie linebacker Genard Avery has also shown a penchant for pass rush. On offense, Mayfield gets help from second year tight end David Njoku and rookie running back Nick Chubb. Both are exciting players. This is just a small sample of the young talent in Cleveland.

Jackson is the Raven rookie that everyone talks about, but he was taken after tight end Hayden Hurst in the 2018 NFL draft. Hurst is a player who a lot of draft experts were excited about, and he is not the only talented pass catching tight end the team drafted in 2108.

They also selected one of Mayfield’s favorite targets, Mark Andrews. This year, they also drafted Kenny Young, who is starting at linebacker as a rookie, as is offensive tackle Orlando Brown. Also, running back Gus Edwards was an undrafted free agent and has rushed for over 100 yards in two consecutive weeks.

The Steelers have been known for their trio of offensive playmakers (Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown) for some time. In 2017, they drafted Conner, who is taking Bell’s job, and Smith-Schuster, who is establishing himself as a top receiver just like Brown. Their first pick in that draft, however, was linebacker T.J. Watt who is a talented pass rusher.

That year, they also drafted quarterback Josh Dobbs, who is now the team’s backup, and in 2018, they added another high-potential quarterback in Mason Rudolph. This year, they also brought in Rudolph’s main target from Oklahoma State, James Washington. So although the Steelers do not have a clear quarterback of the future, there is a lot to be excited about.

While Jessie Bates III has been very impressive as a rookie in 2018, and Carl Lawson was equally impressive in his rookie season in 2017 while John Ross and Auden Tate have both shown potential at receiver, the Bengals do not give fans much to be excited about when looking forward to 2019.

The future is now, and in the new AFC North the Bengals seem to be relegating themselves to a role previous played by the Browns.