NFL fans are trying to make there way through the slow period of NFL coverage before teams kick off training camps, which makes it as good a time as any to check in on the rest of the AFC North.
Wide receivers remain to be a huge uncertainty
The Ravens haven’t had consistent receivers since they relied on veteran receivers like Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith. They’ve tried to address the position plenty of times with players like Breshad Perriman, Michael Crabtree, John Brown and so on and so forth.
2019 marks another hard reboot for that group. They drafted Marquise Brown in the first round and Miles Bokin in the third. These players will be filling the void left by both Crabtree and Brown leaving after a single season with the team.
The elephant in the room has to be addressed, though. This team is being built around Lamar Jackson and a heavy running game that will feature plenty of running backs (but is headlined by Mark Ingram).
The receivers aren’t going to be asked to catch five to 10 passes a game. They will be working out of play action a majority of the time, and they should see plenty of single coverage with the defense’s focus being on the running game.
It will be interesting to see how Jackson and these receivers will fair when the team is in obvious passing situations. It doesn’t seem wise to put that kind of pressure on such young receivers right out of the gate, and it could result in a very inconsistent 2019 for Baltimore.
Pressure is already mounting on Cleveland
For those fans who don’t regularly take in NFL news on a more national level, you may be surprised to hear that the Browns have become quite the darlings of the NFL. Many are pegging them as serious contenders for the AFC North.
It is hard to ignore them. They won five of their last seven games (two of which were against the Bengals), and they had one of the best offseasons of any NFL team that was highlighted by acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. to really boost their offensive power.
I’m not going to sit here and say the attention they are getting is unwarranted by any means. What is troubling is this isn’t a team that has gone to play anyone and been viewed a legitimate threat. They’ve very much flown under the radar whenever they’ve played teams, and they won’t have that benefit this upcoming season.
How they deal with the fact that teams are going to come into games focused on Cleveland will be a huge indicator of how well they perform in 2019. Odds are they will either be very successful, or they’ll go up in flames.
Cornerback Artie Burns is aware of the ‘urgency of his circumstance’
Let me take you back for a second. It is the 2016 draft. The Bengals are sitting at pick no. 24, and they just watched a run of receivers go off the board in front of them. They end up selecting the cornerback out of Houston, William Jackson, which is fairly shocking given the team’s current depth at the position.
It was probably most shocking to the team selecting right after Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers ended up drafting Artie Burns, which even at the time was viewed as a reach. Burns had some slight buzz of entering the first round, but it appears the Bengals will be getting the last laugh here.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler thinks Burns’ time with Pittsburgh could be coming to an end sooner than expected:
With an $800,000 roster bonus due July 28, Burns has worked overtime during OTAs and minicamp to regain his footing after a 2018 benching. He has logged extra film work with coaches. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Burns understands the “urgency of his circumstance” and is acting appropriately.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had an up close look at what could have been in 2017 when Jackson blanketed Antonio Brown. He didn’t allow a single reception to the All-Pro receiver in the two games they played.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have been scrambling to find talented corners for years. The team brought in Steven Nelson via free agency and drafted Justin Layne in the third round.
Even if Burns manages to fight his way onto the 53-man roster, he will be scheduled to hit free agency after this season. Pittsburgh declined his fifth-year option, which is usually a telling sign as to whether the team has a first round pick in their plans for the future.
The Bengals may not have much on the Steelers the past few seasons, but at least we can say Cincinnati stole Jackson from them.