NFL teams are just about done getting their 53-man rosters straight. Waiver claims have happened, players have been cut and others have been placed on the injured reserve list.
The process is never over, but we have a pretty clear picture right now where everyone’s at. Which is why we’re going to take a look at what stands out from each AFC North’s current 53-man roster (besides the Bengals) before Week 1 hits.
The Ravens will be one of the strangest teams to talk about in the AFC North. They have fully committed to a unique offense focused around Lamar Jackson’s strengths, but their defense is still the big ticket item.
Oddly enough, Baltimore seems to always end up with a big name in free agency. This past offseason they added safety Earl Thomas, of all players, to replace Eric Weddle at free safety. Thomas and cornerback Marlon Humphrey are going to be the big names to watch on that defense.
Losing their nickel cornerback Tavon Young to injured reserve is going to be something to see if they can get over. Of course, the biggest losses will be the leadership of pass rusher Terrell Suggs and replacing linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Offensively, expect a ton of focus to be on the running game. Whether it is Mark Ingram, Justice Hill or even Jackson taking him itself, the Ravens will be running it very frequently. As far as pass catchers goes, tight end Mark Andrews is looking like he could be a big part of their air attack, especially in the red zone.
Wide receiver Willie Snead had a few games down the stretch with Jackson last season where it looked like the two could develop some chemistry, but it was pretty hit or miss.
You should also expect Baltimore to get their first-round wide receiver, Marquise Brown, involved as he gets more acclimated to the offense after missing most of the offseason.
Safe to say though the Ravens will go as far as the Jackson experiment takes them.
Cleveland has easily been the most hyped team going into 2019. They finished 2018 strong after seemingly finally finding their franchise quarterback in first overall pick Baker Mayfield. They topped that off by going out and trading for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason on top of building a very scary defensive line.
Offensively, it is a matter of how do you game plan to stop all the weapons the Browns have. Beckham, Jarvis Laundry and Nick Chubb have proved they can be productive, and Mayfield has shown he can run new head coach Freddie Kitchen’s offense at a high level.
The biggest concern offensively has to come from the offensive line. It looked less than stellar all preseason after they sent Kevin Zeitler to the Giants. On paper it doesn’t look terrible as Greg Robinson came in last season and played well at left tackle for them, and Joel Bitonio and JC Tretter are still manning the inside. It still looked easier to get to Mayfield during the preseason than it did during 2018, which is something to watch as the season starts.
The Browns defensive line has to be one of the scariest in the NFL. It all starts with Myles Garrett, who has just looks unblockable going against left tackles. Then you have Vernon Oliver on the opposite side with Sheldon Richardson as the pass-rushing defensive tackle in the middle.
Expect cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker Joe Schobert to each build off a strong 2018, but there are holes in the Browns defense. The only problem is you’re going to need time in the pocket as an offense to exploit them, which is something most teams won’t have a lot of.
The breakup between wide receiver Antonio Brown and the Steelers was the biggest news story of the entire offseason. Now, we finally get to see how well Pittsburgh will move on from their former star receiver.
The Steelers are relying on Ben Roethlisberger to elevate plenty of young talent. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a monster 2018, but he did that with defenses paying all their attention to Brown. Will he be able to have the same success now that he is consistently getting double teamed?
It will be a matter of whether Donte Moncrief, James Washington or even rookie Dionte Johnson can help fill the void of Brown’s 168 targets from 2018. Luckily for the Steelers, they still have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, which helps getting anything done on offense just a little bit easier.
On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh just extended Joe Haden for two seasons. He remains to be one of their best defenders. The real threat of this defense is in their front seven, which is led by edge rusher T.J. Watt and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. Those two guys disrupt just about anything opposing offenses try to do in the running and passing game.
The Steelers will also be starting rookie linebacker Devin Bush at some point this season, if not this week already. His impact on top of whether safety Terrell Edmunds can improve in year two will be the difference between the Steeler having a decent defense and a very good one.