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Ranking AFC North rosters before the regular season: The Defenses

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

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

The NFL regular season is just around the corner!

In this upcoming 2020 season, one of the biggest factors in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ success will be how they perform in the AFC North. So, as teams put the finishing touches on their final 53-man rosters and practice squads, I’ve attempted to objectively rank and compare each AFC North teams’ positional groups to the others.

Let’s take a look:


Interior Defensive Line

  1. Steelers (Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley)
  2. Ravens (Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madibuike)
  3. Bengals (Geno Atkins, D.J. Reader, Mike Daniels)
  4. Browns (Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, Vincent Taylor, Jordan Elliot)

The Steelers take the top spot in an insanely talented group of AFC North defensive linemen thanks to the duo of Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. It’s tough to choose between the Ravens and Bengals for the second spot, but the star power of Calais Campbell pushes him and Brandon Williams over the impressive combination of Geno Atkins and D.J. Reader in Cincinnati. The Browns come in last, but are still solid up front with Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The AFC North is full of talented interior linemen, and anyone in the top three has a good chance at emerging as the top unit in the AFC North this season. However, if Cam Heyward continues his dominant run and Stephon Tuitt can remain healthy, it will be hard for the Ravens and Bengals to secure the #1 spot on this list. The Browns aren’t bad, but simply aren’t on the same level as their rivals.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    First
    (597 votes)
  • 9%
    Second
    (64 votes)
  • 1%
    Third
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Fourth
    (6 votes)
674 votes total Vote Now

EDGE/Outside Linebackers

  1. Steelers (T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith)
  2. Browns (Myles Garrett, Oliver Vernon, Adrian Clayborn)
  3. Ravens (Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson)
  4. Bengals (Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, Carl Lawson)

Another talented group, but T.J. Watt and the Steelers take the top spot. Former #1 overall pick Myles Garrett and Oliver Vernon form and excellent duo, while Matthew Judon and the Ravens make it just ahead of Carlos Dunlap and the Bengals on the bottom half.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

T.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the AFC North, and paired with Bud Dupree, the Steelers are unquestionably number one. Behind them, the Browns could possibly push for the top spot if Myles Garrett can turn in an elite season, but will probably stay put at second place. The Ravens and Bengals are neck-and-neck with solid pass-rushing units.

Poll

Where do you think the Steelers’ EDGE/outside linebackers rank in the AFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    First
    (581 votes)
  • 5%
    Second
    (33 votes)
  • 1%
    Third
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Fourth
    (6 votes)
629 votes total Vote Now

Linebackers

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

For the Steelers, Devin Bush looks to turn things up a notch in his second season, while Vince Williams remains a solid veteran run stopper. With some promising camp reports about exciting backup Ulysees Gilbert, the Steelers look rock solid at the position despite some doubts earlier this year. Without a preseason to gain their sea legs, the Ravens’ pair of rookie linebackers in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison will be in for a tough start to their NFL careers, but excellent reports about Queen put him and the Ravens in second place. The Browns and Bengals come in at third and fourth, respectively. The Browns are led by the young, athletic Mack Wilson, while the Bengals look to bolster their depth with two new rookie additions in Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The AFC North has a very young and athletic collection of inside linebackers, meaning these rankings could change a lot as they develop and make plays throughout their careers. Still, the Steelers have the top spot solidified as of right now, but the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals are all closely matched.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    First
    (497 votes)
  • 13%
    Second
    (79 votes)
  • 1%
    Third
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (7 votes)
590 votes total Vote Now

Cornerbacks

  1. Ravens (Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young)
  2. Steelers (Joe Haden, Steve Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton)
  3. Browns (Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Terrance Mitchell, Kevin Johnson)
  4. Bengals (William Jackson III, Mackensie Alexander, Darius Phillips, LeShaun Sims)

Last time I did this ranking, I let my fandom control me and picked the Steelers as the top cornerback room in the AFC North. Reality finally hit, though, and the Ravens’ pair of All Pros and excellent depth wins them the first spot. The Steelers take second, led by veteran Pro Bowler Joe Haden, the underrated Steve Nelson, and some great depth. The Browns have a nice group of corners as well in Ward and Williams, while the Bengals are serviceable but definitely last.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The Ravens lost Earl Thomas this season, while the Steelers have Minkah Fitzpatrick returning (we’ll get to that in a second), meaning that Pittsburgh’s corners will have a better supporting cast. Because of that, the Steelers have a chance at winning the first spot — but let’s face it — the Ravens are absolutely stacked. At the bottom of the rankings, it looks as if the Browns could also have a chance at moving up, but the Bengals are stuck in last place.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    First
    (253 votes)
  • 49%
    Second
    (290 votes)
  • 5%
    Third
    (34 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (6 votes)
583 votes total Vote Now

Safeties

  1. Steelers (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Sean Davis)
  2. Bengals (Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell, Shawn Williams)
  3. Browns (Karl Joseph, Andrew Sendejo, Ronnie Harrison Jr.)
  4. Ravens (Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Geno Stone)

The Steelers have the best safeties in the division by a wide margin thanks to the star power of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the solid play of Terrell Edmunds, and the great depth Sean Davis provides. Behind them, the Bengals take second place with the tandem of Bates and Bell, while the Browns field a solid group that would be ranked higher if not for rookie Grant Delpit’s season ending injury. The Ravens, now without Earl Thomas, sink to last place.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

It doesn't look as if the Steelers will be moving from their spot in the rankings in 2020. Behind them, the Bengals, Browns, and Ravens are all closely matched. Their play this season will determine who takes spots two, three, and four.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    First
    (535 votes)
  • 2%
    Second
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    Third
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (7 votes)
567 votes total Vote Now

The Steelers’ defense is insanely talented, landing first or second in every ranking. They should be fun to watch this year, but there is still lots of talent in other places in the AFC North.

Does this article seem familiar? An edition was published after the 2020 NFL draft, which you can view here to see how AFC North rosters have changed since April.

Stay tuned to BTSC for more Steelers coverage, including part 1 of this series covering the offense, which you can view HERE.