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Ranking AFC North rosters before the 2021 season: The Offenses

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

Wild Card Round - Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The NFL regular season is finally here!

In this upcoming 2021 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 at the offenses:


Quarterbacks

  1. Baltimore Ravens (Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley)
  2. Cleveland Browns (Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen)

Pending injury, the starting quarterbacks will take all of the important snaps at their position, so depth hardly matters in these rankings. It’s difficult to give Lamar Jackson and the Ravens the top spot here — and sure, if this was a ranking of the best pure passers in the AFC North he’d be lower — but Jackson is among the most dynamic weapons in the NFL due to his running ability. The league MVP in 2019, Jackson keeps the top spot on this list for now.

In second is Baker Mayfield. He’s seemingly improved each year, taking advantage of his strong arm and athleticism. He’s ranked barely higher than Roethlisberger on this list due how the two quarterbacks ended their seasons last year. Remember, this ranking is based off of where the quarterbacks are right now in their careers, because if based on legacy, Roethlisberger would be easily the highest on this list. However, Roethlisberger had a rough end to his season last year, with Mayfield’s Browns out-dueling him in the playoffs.

In last place is Joe Burrow. The former #1 overall pick has plenty of talent, but is coming off of an injury and stuck on a below-average roster.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

These four quarterback rooms could likely be ranked in any order with a believable supporting argument. This list is almost guaranteed to change as the season progresses. A strong start will likely move Roethlisberger into the top two, and possibly even the top spot if the NFL finally can “figure out” Lamar Jackson. Joe Burrow is a sleeper here as well, as the young passer has more than enough talent to climb out of the #4 spot.

On a side note, it’s interesting that the Steelers are the only AFC North team to keep three quarterbacks.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    First
    (312 votes)
  • 37%
    Second
    (319 votes)
  • 15%
    Third
    (127 votes)
  • 9%
    Fourth
    (83 votes)
841 votes total Vote Now

Running Backs

  1. Browns (Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton)
  2. Bengals (Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans)
  3. Steelers (Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Kalen Ballage)
  4. Ravens (Gus Edwards, Ty’Son Williams)

The Browns easily take the top spot here with perhaps the league’s best running back duo in Chubb and Hunt. Demetric Felton is a rookie with some interesting potential as well. Joe Mixon and the Bengals take second place due to Mixon’s experience as a feature back.

Rooke Najee Harris is set to take on the bell cow role for Pittsburgh, but despite his talent he’s largely unproven. However, he has some decent veteran depth behind him, which should improve with the addition of Anthony McFarland Jr. from Injured Reserve (IR). Solidly in last place are the Ravens, who lost their three top backs this offseason (Mark Ingram in free agency, J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill to injury), a massive blow to their depth. Gus Edwards is a capable power back, but reports came out on Thursday that he suffered a season-ending injury as well. The potential addition of Le’Veon Bell to the main roster may improve the Ravens’ devastated depth, but even then they’d certainly land in last place.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

Barring injury the Browns should hold the top spot all year, and when Dobbins, Hill, and Edwards recover the Ravens should certainly jump in the rankings. When it comes to the Steelers it becomes very interesting, as Najee Harris has the talent to be one of the NFL’s best runners. It will be an interesting year for AFC North running backs.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    First
    (89 votes)
  • 56%
    Second
    (448 votes)
  • 26%
    Third
    (209 votes)
  • 5%
    Fourth
    (41 votes)
787 votes total Vote Now

Wide Receivers

  1. Steelers (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud)
  2. Bengals (Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan, Mike Thomas)
  3. Browns (Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz)
  4. Ravens (Sammy Watkins, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Tylan Wallace, Devin Duvenray, James Proche)

The Steelers take the top spot at wide receiver this year due to their depth. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington are reliable presences while Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson are playmaking threats. The Bengals take second place, as Tyler Boyd is one of league’s most underrated receivers, and Higgins, Chase, and co. provide some solid depth with excellent upside. The Browns would usually rank higher, but with Beckham Jr. recovering from a torn ACL and Jarvis Landry coming off of a slight down year, they sink to third. The Ravens come in dead last with a receiver depth chart full of average to unproven talent, and their top pick Rashod Bateman on IR to start the season.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

All four receiver depth charts have loads of talent, the Steelers have simply made the most out of theirs. If the Bengals and Ravens can develop their talent, or the Browns’ veteran duo can return to old form, these rankings will be wide open. If not, it’s safe to say that the Steelers have the top spot locked up.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    First
    (692 votes)
  • 8%
    Second
    (70 votes)
  • 3%
    Third
    (27 votes)
  • 1%
    Fourth
    (13 votes)
802 votes total Vote Now

Tight Ends

  1. Ravens (Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Eric Tomlinson, Josh Oliver)
  2. Steelers (Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry)
  3. Browns (Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant)
  4. Bengals (C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox)

The Ravens’ Mark Andrews remains one of the league’s best receiving tight ends, and Nick Boyle is one of best when it comes to blocking. Baltimore continues to retain the top spot. For the Steelers, the duo of Ebron on Freiermuth looks like a dangerous one, as Ebron is a athletic-although-inconsistent receiving threat while Freiermuth looks like a well-rounded rookie who’s already in contention for the starting position. In Cleveland, both Austin Hooper and Njoku are talented pass-catchers, while the Bengals come in last with the solid C.J. Uzomah.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

There’s a good chance the potential of Pat Freiermuth could help the Steelers take the top spot this season. However, Andrews and Boyle remain a talented duo, as do Hooper and Njoku. The top three spots on this list could certainly be shaken up throughout the season.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    First
    (269 votes)
  • 47%
    Second
    (350 votes)
  • 13%
    Third
    (102 votes)
  • 2%
    Fourth
    (21 votes)
742 votes total Vote Now

Offensive Tackles

  1. Browns (Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills Jr., Chris Hubbard, James Hudson)
  2. Ravens (Alejandro Villanueva, Ronnie Stanley, Patrick Mekari)
  3. Bengals (Jonah Williams, Riley Reiff, Isaiah Prince, Fred Johnson)
  4. Steelers (Dan Moore Jr., Chukwuma Okorafor, Joe Haeg)

Jack Conklin is among the best at his position, and paired with developing first-rounder Jedrick Wills, the Browns easily take the top spot. In second place are the Ravens with the talented Ronnie Stanley, but Alejandro Villanueva’s struggles last year pose a major concern for the Baltimore offense. Riley Reiff provides a good veteran presence for the Bengals as Jonah Williams continues to develop. And in last place come the Steelers, with a talented but unproven rookie starting on the left side in Dan Moore, and Chuks Okorafor, coming off of a disappointing 2020, protecting the right. There’s potential there, but it doesn’t look great for the Steelers at the tackle position.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The Browns will likely maintain their top spot, but the Ravens could definitely fall. Villanueva isn’t a great scheme fit in Baltimore, and Ronnie Stanley is recovering from an injury. The potential of the Bengals’ Jonah Williams and the Steelers’ Dan Moore could help both respective teams rise in the rankings, as could the addition of Zach Banner from IR for Pittsburgh at some point in the season. But as of right now, it doesn’t look like much will change in 2021.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    First
    (33 votes)
  • 8%
    Second
    (61 votes)
  • 29%
    Third
    (203 votes)
  • 57%
    Fourth
    (394 votes)
691 votes total Vote Now

Interior Offensive Line

  1. Browns (J.C. Tretter, Joe Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Nick Harris, Michael Dunn, Blake Hance)
  2. Ravens (Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler, Trystan Colon, Ben Powers, Ben Cleveland)
  3. Steelers (Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, Kevin Dotson, B.J. Finney, Rashaad Coward)
  4. Bengals (Trey Hill, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Quinton Spain, D’Ante Smith, Trey Hopkins, Jackson Carman)

The Browns’ offensive line remains a team strength thanks to a talented interior, while the Ravens have some solid veterans manning theirs. The Steelers take the third spot over the Bengals largely due to the talent of Kevin Dotson, although Trai Turner and Kendrick Green look to be quality starters for the team as well. The Bengals’ lineup doesn’t look very strong, but once again there is potential for this to be a solid group in the future.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

These rankings look like they will stay fairly static throughout the season. The Browns are by far the best at this position, and the Ravens’ group doesn’t look like it will regress much. However, the Steelers do have some potential, meaning that they could surprise in 2021.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    First
    (36 votes)
  • 30%
    Second
    (202 votes)
  • 47%
    Third
    (312 votes)
  • 16%
    Fourth
    (112 votes)
662 votes total Vote Now

The Steelers come out of the rankings with the top wide receivers in the division, but are noticeably in need of improvement elsewhere.

Does this article seem familiar? An edition was published before the 2020 season, which you can view here to see how AFC North rosters have changed since last year.

Stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for more Steelers coverage, including the second part of this series.