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Ranking AFC North rosters after the draft: Defense

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How do your favorite Steelers compare to the rest of the division?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The draft is now complete!

...Meaning we enter the time of speculation between now and whenever the NFL allows teams to practice together.

So, as teams put the finishing touches on their 90-man roster, I’ve attempted to objectively rank and compare each AFC North team’s positional groups to the others. I’ve only mentioned players that have a good chance of starting or being primary depth - UDFA’s don’t have much of an affect on the rankings as of right now.

Interior Defensive Line

  1. Steelers (Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Chris Wormley).
  2. Ravens (Brandon Williams, Calais Cambell, Justin Madibuike, Daylon Mack).
  3. Bengals (Geno Atkins, D.J. Reader, Carlos Dunlap).
  4. Browns (Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, Andrew Billings, Jordan Elliot).

The Steelers have a powerful defensive duo in Heyward and Tuitt, backed by some underrated depth in Alualu, Buggs, and Wormley. The addition of Calais Cambell to the Raven’s defensive line upgrades the group to the second spot. Geno Atkins and D.J. Reader are both excellent lineman for the Bengals at #3, while Richardson, Ogunjobi, and Billings round out the stacked defensive line rankings in a AFC North.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The AFC North is full to the brim with talented defensive lineman, with all four teams conceivably having a shot at taking the top spot this season. However, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt look to be the best combo on this list, and look to wreak havoc in 2020 if the latter can stay healthy.

Poll

Where do you think the Steeler’s interior defensive line ranks in the AFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    First
    (1983 votes)
  • 13%
    Second
    (326 votes)
  • 2%
    Third
    (72 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (39 votes)
2420 votes total Vote Now

EDGE/Outside Linebackers

  1. Steelers (T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith).
  2. Browns (Myles Garrett, Oliver Vernon, Chad Thomas).
  3. Ravens (Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson)
  4. Bengals (Sam Hubbard, Carl Lawson, Andrew Brown).

T.J. Watt is the best pass rusher in the AFC North, and possibly the entire NFL. Him and Bud Dupree elevate Pittsburgh to first place on the list. The Browns, led by former #1 overall pick Myles Garrett fall into second, while the Ravens land in third with Pro-Bowler Matt Judon and some solid depth. The Bengals are once again in last place, with decent edge rushing tandem in Hubbard and Lawson.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The already elite T.J. Watt is still improving, but Bud Dupree may be on his way out of Pittsburgh. The Browns are in a somewhat similar position, as Garrett looks to bounce back in a big way in 2020, but his running mate in Oliver Vernon might be cut before the season starts. If the depth charts stay the same for all four teams, not much change will occur. However, if Dupree or Vernon leave their respective teams, there could be a shake-up in the rankings.

Poll

Where do you think the Steeler’s outside linebackers rank in the AFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    First
    (2097 votes)
  • 5%
    Second
    (121 votes)
  • 1%
    Third
    (30 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (36 votes)
2284 votes total Vote Now

Linebackers

  1. Ravens (Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort).
  2. Steelers (Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysses Gilbert III).
  3. Browns (Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, B.J. Goodson).
  4. Bengals (Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither).

It was a mixup between the Ravens and Steelers for the top spot, and even though Devin Bush is better than Patrick Queen, the Ravens win first place by being a little bit deeper at the position. The Browns found a late-round starter in Mack Wilson in last year’s draft who looks to build upon a solid rookie season in 2020, while the Bengals invested some mid-round capital on their linebacking core in an attempt to upgrade from a dismal 2019.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

As was previously mentioned, the Ravens and Steelers are neck-and-neck when it comes to the first spot on the list. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers leapfrog the Ravens this season, especially if Ulysses Gilbert can prove himself as a starter. The Browns and Bengals look to be stuck on the bottom half of the list unless one of them has managed to grab an incredible late-round steal.

Poll

Where do you think the Steeler’s linebackers rank in the AFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    First
    (1407 votes)
  • 31%
    Second
    (697 votes)
  • 4%
    Third
    (91 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (41 votes)
2236 votes total Vote Now

Cornerbacks

  1. Steelers (Joe Haden, Steve Nelson, Mike Hilton).
  2. Ravens (Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith).
  3. Browns (Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Terrance Mitchell).
  4. Bengals (William Jackson III, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes).

Once again, the Steelers and Ravens are both contenders for the top spot in the AFC North. I might be a homer, but I believe Haden and the criminally underrated Nelson outplayed the Raven’s starters by the slimmest of margins in 2019. The Browns have a solid starting pair in Ward and Williams, while the Bengals look to have an average starting secondary once again in 2020.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

Possibly, as an aging Joe Haden’s play might regress enough to let Baltimore reclaim the cornerback crown. The Browns have two young, talented starters as well that might make some noise this upcoming season.

It’s going to be a long year for Cincinnati.

Poll

Where do you think the Steeler’s cornerbacks rank in the AFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    First
    (1213 votes)
  • 36%
    Second
    (825 votes)
  • 7%
    Third
    (169 votes)
  • 2%
    Fourth
    (59 votes)
2266 votes total Vote Now

Safeties

  1. Steelers (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Antoine Brooks Jr.)
  2. Browns (Karl Joseph, Sheldrick Redwine, Andrew Senejo, Grant Delpit).
  3. Ravens (Earl Thomas, Chuck Clark, Geno Stone).
  4. Bengals (Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, Shawn Williams).

The presence of Minkah Fitzpatrick elevates the Steeler’s safeties just over the Brown’s four-deep safety group. Earl Thomas remains an excellent free safety for Baltimore, but the depth behind him is less than stellar. The Bengals have solid starters at safety, but once again are unable to rise beyond fourth place in the rankings.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

A strong season from Terrell Edmunds will solidify Pittsburgh atop the AFC North safety rankings. However, the Brown’s new addition, Grant Delpit, has a chance at being a huge draft steal for the Cleveland franchise. Earl Thomas and Jessie Bates are both above-average starters, but the depth behind each player is questionable.

Poll

Where do you think the Steeler’s safeties rank in the AFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    First
    (1792 votes)
  • 11%
    Second
    (247 votes)
  • 2%
    Third
    (49 votes)
  • 2%
    Fourth
    (52 votes)
2140 votes total Vote Now

The Steelers defense is undeniably one of the best, if the not the best, in the AFC North. T.J. Watt and co.’s talent was reflected well in their positional rankings, as the Steeler’s defense looks to turn in another dominant year in 2020.

Make sure to stay tuned to BTSC for more coverage of the Steelers and their star-studded defense.

Don’t miss the first part of this series, the offense, by clicking HERE.