Analysis  

 

AFC North projected starters: Browns' new feel; Joe Flacco's test

Print

Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams -- because that's his idea of fun.

Baltimore Ravens

QB: Joe Flacco
RB: Alex Collins
WR: Michael Crabtree
WR: John Brown
WR: Willie Snead
TE: Hayden Hurst
LT: Ronnie Stanley
LG: Alex Lewis
C: Matt Skura
RG: Marshal Yanda
RT: Orlando Brown

DE: Brandon Williams
DT: Michael Pierce
DE: Willie Henry
OLB: Terrell Suggs
ILB: C.J. Mosley
OLB: Za'Darius Smith
CB: Jimmy Smith
CB: Marlon Humphrey
CB: Tavon Young
S: Eric Weddle
S: Tony Jefferson

» The once-tiring Joe Flacco vs. Matt Ryan debate ended long before this offseason, when the Ravens drafted Flacco's replacement and Ryan signed the league's first $30 million-per-year contract. Flacco should be newly motivated -- and he can keep Lamar Jackson on the bench, as long as the Ravens are winning.

» The weapons in the Ravens' passing game look improved, but hardly fail-safe. Signing John Brown was a risk worth taking. That said, he couldn't produce in Arizona the last two years, even when he was healthy. Ex-Saint Willie Snead is coming off a lost season on one of the league's best offenses. The Raiders couldn't wait to get rid of Michael Crabtree despite his production (77 catches, 848 yards and eight touchdowns per year over his three years with the Raiders). Consider it a victory if general manager Ozzie Newsome hits on two of those three free-agent pickups.

» As much attention as the Jackson pick got at No. 32 overall, OT Orlando Brown means more to the 2018 Ravens' playoff chances. Brown played like a first-round pick while protecting Baker Mayfield's blind side last season, but after a disastrous performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was there for the Ravens to take in the third round (No. 83 overall). Brown's opportunity to wear his late father's old number on his father's old team after writing a letter to his father's old boss is the stuff of Hollywood screenplays. Perhaps "The Blind Side 2" could be about Brown, with a nod to the fact that right tackle is the new left tackle.

» Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Alex Lewis, whose 2017 season was wiped out by shoulder surgery, is likely to move to left guard, leaving Brown to battle James Hurst at right tackle. The return of Marshal Yanda -- who missed most of 2017 with an ankle injury -- is a huge boost for an offense that may only have three primary starters from 2017 returning to the same position this year (Flacco, Alex Collins and Ronnie Stanley).

» The Ravens are as deep as almost any team in football at cornerback, with Brandon Carr and some promising young players like Maurice Canady not listed here.

» The biggest room for improvement on the Ravens' defense will come from within. They haven't seen enough production from recent high draft picks, including second- and third-round choices from last year, pass rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.

Cincinnati Bengals

QB: Andy Dalton
RB: Joe Mixon
WR: A.J. Green
WR: Tyler Boyd
WR: John Ross
TE: Tyler Eifert
LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Clint Boling
C: Billy Price
RG: Christian Westerman
RT: Jake Fisher

DE: Carlos Dunlap
DT: Geno Atkins
DT: Andrew Billings
DE: Jordan Willis
OLB: Vincent Rey
MLB: Preston Brown
OLB: Carl Lawson
CB: Dre Kirkpatrick
CB: William Jackson III
S: George Iloka
S: Shawn Williams

» This offensive starting lineup would be a best-case scenario, with John Ross and Tyler Boyd showing enough in training camp to make replacement-level veteran receiver Brandon LaFell superfluous.

» Getting Tyler Eifert back on the field is also an X-factor for an offense full of them. There may be a lot of wishful thinking with the skill-position talent around Andy Dalton, but the ceiling for this group is high.

» Bengals fans aren't thrilled with the state of the offensive line, but Cincinnati invested a first-round pick in a new center and made a rare high-profile trade for a veteran to shore up left tackle. The Bengals just aren't built to make wholesale changes like the '17 Rams, for instance.

» No team is more reliant on drafting and developing its players than this one. The Bengals' two former Bills, Preston Brown and Cordy Glenn, are literally the only players listed above who didn't start their careers in Cincinnati.

» Vontaze Burfict isn't listed as a starter because he opens the season on a four-game suspension. He'll be replaced by Vincent Rey, who has made a nice career out of Burfict suspensions. The Bengals have solid linebacker depth after signing Brown, 25, from Buffalo. Nick Vigil played more than 700 snaps last season and should also have a big role. Carl Lawson could also be listed as a defensive end -- either way, he deserves a bigger role than just situational pass rusher.

» It's tricky to list just 11 starters for a team like Cincinnati that rotates so much. The Bengals' nickel back, Darqueze Dennard, will almost certainly have more snaps than rotational defensive linemen like Andrew Billings and Jordan Willis.

Cleveland Browns

QB: Tyrod Taylor
RB: Nick Chubb
WR: Jarvis Landry
WR: Josh Gordon
WR: Corey Coleman
TE: David Njoku
LT: Austin Corbett
LG: Joel Bitonio
C: JC Tretter
RG: Kevin Zeitler
RT: Chris Hubbard

DE: Myles Garrett
DT: Larry Ogunjobi
DT: Trevon Coley
DE: Emmanuel Ogbah
OLB: Christian Kirksey
MLB: Joe Schobert
OLB: Jamie Collins
CB: Denzel Ward
CB: T.J. Carrie
S: Jabrill Peppers
S: Damarious Randall

» The interior O-line starters are all back for Cleveland. Other than that, none of the other eight players on offense listed above started more than eight games last season. Combine that turnover with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley getting "total autonomy," and there is very little connection here to the Browns' 0-16 squad of 2017.

» The Browns start the season with the Steelers at home, then head to New Orleans. After Cleveland gave up a third-round pick for one year of Tyrod Taylor, I expect the veteran to get at least a few chances to end the team's losing streak. Beyond that, No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield figures to play sooner rather than later.

» Nick Chubb gets the nod here over veteran free-agent signee Carlos Hyde. The second-round pick has a rugged style that rewards more touches. He's the personification of what this Browns regime wants the new offense to look like, while Hyde is the equivalent of Taylor at running back: one year and done.

» Running back Duke Johnson more than doubled the next-closest Browns player in receptions last season (Johnson had 74 to Seth DeValve's 33). That won't happen again, but the passing-down specialist should remain a big part of the offense. He's proven to be far more reliable as a pass catcher than Josh Gordon or Corey Coleman.

» T.J. Carrie was given starting-cornerback money and is a safe bet to receive the team's snaps in the slot. He may also wind up sharing snaps on the outside with E.J. Gaines, who received a meaningful signing bonus after a nice season in Buffalo.

» The defense will go as far as Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jamie Collins take it. That trio has a chance to be very disruptive together.

Pittsburgh Steelers

QB: Ben Roethlisberger
RB: Le'Veon Bell
WR: Antonio Brown
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster
WR: James Washington
TE: Vance McDonald
LT: Alejandro Villanueva
LG: Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey
RG: David DeCastro
RT: Marcus Gilbert

DE: Cameron Heyward
DT: Javon Hargrave
DE: Stephon Tuitt
OLB: T.J. Watt
ILB: Vince Williams
OLB: Bud Dupree
CB: Joe Haden
CB: Artie Burns
CB: Mike Hilton
S: Morgan Burnett
S: Sean Davis

» The top three names above on the Steelers offense have combined with the team's offensive line to form a remarkable stretch of excellence and continuity. It's worth wondering how long Pittsburgh can keep this group intact and humming at the highest levels, because it won't last forever.

» The trade of receiver Martavis Bryant to Oakland leaves the Steelers' pass-catching crew thinner than usual. If James Washington can't make an impact as a rookie like JuJu Smith-Schuster did last season (58 catches, 917 yards, seven scores), the Steelers would probably rely on Darrius Heyward-Bey as the No. 3 wideout.

» That relative lack of certainty extends to tight end, where Vance McDonald made a huge impression down the stretch, including a 100-yard playoff performance. He's the favorite to start over Jesse James.

» All the drama on offense has helped to distract from coach Mike Tomlin's failure to build a difference-making defense. Last year was supposed to be the time his vision came together, and it did -- for half a season. Linebacker Ryan Shazier's injury was an unprecedented blow to recover from, yet it's still fair to note that this crew underachieved late in the year relative to its significant talent. The Steelers couldn't get key stops, whether they were facing Tom Brady or Blake Bortles.

» The Steelers have better depth than usual in the secondary. Neither cornerback Cameron Sutton, a third-round choice last year, nor safety Terrell Edmunds, this year's first-rounder, are listed as starters.

» While the defensive line remains strong, the Steelers have questions at outside linebacker, with T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo as the team's top edge players. That's a long way from enjoying James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in their primes.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop