AFC North projected starters: Steelers WRs need a lift


With the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, Around The NFL will project starting lineups with tasty position battle nuggets for all 32 teams. The AFC North is below.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Ben Roethlisberger DE: Cameron Heyward
  RB: Le'Veon Bell DT: Daniel McCullers
  WR1: Antonio Brown DE: Stephon Tuitt
WR2: Markus Wheaton OLB: Jarvis Jones
  WR3: Sammie Coates ILB: Ryan Shazier
TE: Ladarius Green ILB: Lawrence Timmons
LT: Alejandro Villanueva OLB: Bud Dupree
LG: Ramon Foster CB1: William Gay
C: Maurkice Pouncey CB2: Ross Cockrell
RG: David DeCastro S: Mike Mitchell
RT: Marcus Gilbert S: Sean Davis

» The Steelers didn't mess around with their draft picks. They had open starting jobs at cornerback, safety, and nose tackle. Their first three picks were cornerback, safety, and nose tackle. First-round cornerback Artie Burns might be the biggest project of the three.

» Steelers coaches "quietly believe" second round safety Sean Davis could start Week 1 over Robert Golden. Third-round nose tackle Javon Hargrave could beat out McCullers at nose tackle. The Steelers usually let their rookies marinate for a year, but they might not have that luxury this year.

» Let's give second-year receiver Sammie Coates the nod over Darrius Heyward-Bey for the third receiver job. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the year, Markus Wheaton and Coates will need to step up. Coates essentially had a redshirt rookie season before making two big plays in the Divisional Round against the Broncos.

» Perhaps the Steelers just won't throw as much this year. The Steelers have the best backfield in football with Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams.

» Alejandro Villanueva and free agent Ryan Harris will battle for the left tackle job. The former Army Ranger has gone from being a great feature story to a key part of the Steelers roster. Pittsburgh poked around at left tackle Russell Okung in free agency, but didn't want to pay big money.

» We are projecting James Harrison to remain a pass rusher off the bench.

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Joe Flacco DE: Timmy Jernigan
  RB: Justin Forsett DT: Brandon Williams
  WR1: Steve Smith DE: Lawrence Guy
WR2: Mike Wallace OLB: Terrell Suggs
  WR3: Breshad Perriman ILB: C.J. Mosley
TE: Crockett Gillmore ILB: Zachary Orr
LT: Ronnie Stanley OLB: Elvis Dumervil
LG: John Urschel CB1: Jimmy Smith
C: Jeremy Zuttah CB2: Jerraud Powers
RG: Marshal Yanda S: Eric Weddle
RT: Rick Wagner S: Lardarius Webb

» Justin Forsett is not a lock to keep his starting job in Baltimore. Buck Allen was rock solid in the role last year and fourth round pick Kenneth Dixon should be in the early mix for snaps.

» Kamar Aiken could go from 944 yards to the No. 4 receiver if everyone stays healthy in front of him. Assuming that Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman stay healthy is risky.

» One way or another, I don't expect Eugene Monroe to be on the Ravens. He could be released in camp or potentially traded. If Monroe does start at left tackle, Ronnie Stanley would move inside to guard like Jonathan Ogden once did as a rookie. Fourth-round pick Alex Lewis, who played tackle in college, is also in the left guard mix.

» The Ravens are suddenly deep at tight end if Dennis Pitta can continue his career after multiple hip injuries. Benjamin Watson could be the safest bet to start, but Crockett Gillmore has more athleticism at this stage of their careers. Last year's second round pick Maxx Williams is also a roster lock.

» Brent Urban and rookie Bronson Kaufusi will battle at defensive end with Lawrence Guy, who was solid as an emergency starter last year.

» The top of Ozzie Newsome's 2013 class is not faring well. First round pick Matt Elam could be on the roster bubble. Undrafted free agent Zachary Orr looks like a slight favorite to start over 2013 second rounder Arthur Brown.

» It wouldn't be a shock if Za'Darius Smith beats out Elvis Dumervil for a starting job.

» Powers was just signed but he could beat out Shareece Wright for a starting job. Cornerback is thinner after the Ravens decided to move Lardarius Webb to safety.

Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Andy Dalton DE: Carlos Dunlap
  RB: Giovani Bernard DT: Geno Atkins
  WR1: A.J. Green DL: Domata Peko
WR2: Brandon LaFell DE: Michael Johnson
  WR3 Tyler Boyd OLB: Karlos Dansby*
TE: Tyler Eifert ILB: Rey Maualuga
LT: Andrew Whitworth OLB: Vincent Rey
LG: Clint Boling CB1: Dre Kirkpatrick
C: Russell Bodine CB2: Adam Jones
RG: Kevin Zeitler S: George Iloka
RT: Cedric Ogbuehi S: Shawn Williams

» I'm calling Giovani Bernard a starter because he played more snaps than Jeremy Hill last season, something that I expect to happen again. Bernard is a better option on "running downs" than he's given credit for and made more yards after contact than Hill last season.

» The Bengals often let their rookies learn on the bench for a year. They won't be able to with Tyler Boyd, who fills a big need as a slot receiver. They are also counting on an inconsistent player in Brandon LaFell to be a true starter.

» It's rare to see the team's 2015 first-round pick (Cedric Ogbuehi) elevated to a starting job, with the 2015 second-round pick Jake Fisher as his likely backup. Fisher is learning all five positions in the offseason to back up the entire line. It's a great line, with Russell Bodine as the weak spot.

» 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard and this year's first-rounder William Jackson III figure to be the No. 3 and No. 4 cornerbacks. Adam Jones is going to remain a starter after getting a huge contract in the offseason.

» Karlos Dansby should start the first three weeks of the season while Vontaze Burfict serves his suspension. Vincent Rey and Dansby could rotate after that.

» Last call for Hard Knocks hero Margus Hunt to become an impact player.

» The Bengals roster top to bottom has few weak spots. It's as balanced as any group in the league.

Cleveland Browns

Browns Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Robert Griffin III DE: Desmond Bryant
  RB: Duke Johnson DT: Danny Shelton
  WR1: Corey Coleman DE: John Hughes
WR2: Andrew Hawkins OLB: Paul Kruger
  WR3: Rookie to be named later ILB: Christian Kirksey
TE: Gary Barnidge ILB: Demario Davis
LT: Joe Thomas OLB: Emmanuel Ogbah
LG: Joel Bitonio CB1: Joe Haden
C: Cameron Erving CB2: Tramon Williams
RG: John Greco S: Rahim Moore
RT: Shon Coleman S: Jordan Poyer

» It was hard to pencil in RGIII as the starter because Josh McCown would seem to have a good chance to win a fair, open competition. Hue Jackson's quote that the team might name a starter before pads even come on in training camp indicates it might be heavily weighed towards Griffin. When multiple Browns beat writers say that it will take a "disastrous meltdown" for Griffin to not win the job, we'll take their collective word.

» Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell figure to split snaps, but Johnson gets the nod here because he's a more dynamic talent.

» With so many rookie receivers on the roster, it will be tough for Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins to make the team. (Hartline was ultimately released.) Fifth-round pick Rashard Higgins could be the best bet of the rookies to emerge from the pack.

» The offensive line has a wide open four-way battle at right tackle. We'll pencil in third-round pick Shon Coleman. The team needs last year's first round pick Cameron Ervin to step up after moving to center.

» The Browns have as many open starting jobs as any team in the league. Only Joe Haden, Paul Kruger, Christian Kirksey, Danny Shelton, and Desmond Bryant are safe bets out of this group. Xavier Cooper and rookie Carl Nassib will challenge for defensive end spots. Safety is particularly wide open.

» I gave second round pick Emmanuel Ogbah the edge over Nate Orchard and Barkevious Mingo because Ogbah was drafted by this regime. They will want some of their 14 rookies to start.