With OTAs underway, we’re starting to get a glimpse of what the AFC North will look like in 2019.
The major waves of NFL free agency, as well as the NFL Draft, have all concluded and thus left us with a clearer picture of what the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers will put on the field when Week 1 of the 2019 season kicks off.
As is the case with most teams, there were several notable additions and subtractions for all four teams. The Steelers and Bengals had so-so showings in free agency, while the Ravens had some big losses, especially on defense, while the Browns made a host of big acquisitions via free agency and trade.
So, what position group improved the most this offseason?
SB Nation made the case for defensive line being the most improved position group in the AFC North, primarily due to what Cleveland did:
Notable Additions: Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson
Trading for Odell Beckham Jr. was obviously the peak of the Browns’ offseason, but they made other key moves as well — particularly along the defensive line.
Cleveland already had skilled players on the defensive line with Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi. To help take the unit to a new level, general manager John Dorsey went out and acquired Olivier Vernon from the Giants in a trade and then signed Sheldon Richardson at the start of free agency.
When you look at the raw numbers for both Vernon and Richardson, they might appear to be a little underwhelming. They had a combined 11.5 sacks in 2018, but sack numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to Sports Info Solutions, Vernon ranked 26th in pressure rate out of 115 edge defenders with at least 200 pass rush snaps last season. Richardson ranked 13th in pressure rate out of 59 defensive tackles with at least 200 pass rush snaps. That’s two significant additions to a defense that finished 28th in sack percentage.
Cleveland is breaking in new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and has a young secondary. An elite defensive line won’t just make for a smoother transition. It’ll also give the Browns a better chance to win their first-ever AFC North title.
The Bengals made their own additions along the defensive line, though veteran Kerry Wynn and fourth-round rookie Renell Wren aren’t going to move the needle quite like Sheldon Richardson and Oliver Vernon would.
What position group do you think improved the most within the AFC North this offseason?