Ranking the AFC North OffensesPosted on August 15, 2014 by Rob Michels
With the season upon us let’s take a look at how each offense in the AFC North stacks up. Ranking teams quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and offensive line as a whole unit to determine the best offense in the division. These grades take depth into consideration, so don’t freak because the Bengals are ahead of the Ravens as a quarterback unit…their depth is much better. I do my best to predict what players will also be on the final roster. Things could obviously change with a surprise cut or signing by a team in the division.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers:
Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
The Steelers have the best quarterback group in the division led by Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is the most consistent quarterback in the AFC North and has proven time and time again to be great. Bruce Gradkowski brings a solid veteran of the bench and Landry Jones is a second year player the Steelers hope to develop.
2. Cincinnati Bengals:
Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell, AJ McCarron, Matt Scott
Andy Dalton signed a huge contract this offseason and has been ripped in the media for it. However, Dalton has been a solid starting quarterback and has been successful in the AFC North. Jason Campbell is probably the best backup quarterback in the division (Unless Manziel starts and Hoyer is backup) and has a ton of starts under his belt. Rookie AJ McCarron will probably redshirt this year (injury) and give way to another young quarterback in Matt Scott who has potential.
3. Cleveland Browns:
Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Rex Grossman
The Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel duo is solid but neither has proven themselves like Roethlisberger or Dalton. Manziel is a boom or bust prospect and Hoyer has been average in his career. If Manziel starts then Hoyer is arguably the best backup in the entire NFL. Rex Grossman is well Rex Grossman, he does have experience in Kyle Shanahan’s offense and was brought in for that reason alone.
4. Baltimore Ravens:
Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Keith Wenning
Joe Flacco is right there with Ben Roethlisberger as the best quarterback in the division. Flacco is far better than Dalton and Manziel/Hoyer, but the Ravens depth at quarterback is troublesome. Tyrod Taylor has struggled when on the field in back up situations and Keith Wenning is an unproven rookie. The good thing is Flacco never misses starts (knock on wood) but if he did the Ravens would be scrambling.
1. Cincinnati Bengals:
Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Nikita Whitlock, Rex Burkhead
The young duo of Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill is very talented and could be the best running back duo in the NFL by the end of the season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a veteran back with a lot of carries the past few years, but appears to in a roster battle with Rex Burkhead. Nikita Whitlock is an unproven fullback but should do fine in his new role. This unit is young and very talented. It should shine in Hue Jackson’s run first offense.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers:
Le’Veon Bell, LaGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Will Johnson
Le’Veon Bell is right there with Gio Bernard as one of the top young backs in the NFL. Bell and LaGarrette Blount form a very powerful duo in the Steelers backfield. Add in lighting quick rookie Dri Archer to that duo and look out. Archer should see third down snaps and provide a boost in the return game. Will Johnson is a proven NFL fullback who has starting experience.
3. Baltimore Ravens:
Bernard Pierce, Ray Rice, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk
Two years ago the combo of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce helped lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl victory. They entered 2013 as the top running back duo in the NFL, things obviously didn’t work out. Talent wise this unit is very solid and if it can stay healthy and the offensive line improves it should rebound. Lorenzo Taliaferro is an intriguing rookie back and will see some action as a rookie. Justin Forsett is the leading candidate for third down duties until Rice comes back from suspension in week 3. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk has big shoes to fill from Vonta Leach but is leaps and bounds more versatile.
4. Cleveland Browns
Ben Tate, Terrance West, Dion Lewis, Edwin Baker, MarQueis Gray
The Browns running back core is an interesting one with some talent across the board. Ben Tate is a good back but can never seem to stay healthy. Rookie Terrance West should see plenty of carries and has made headlines this offseason for his play in camp. Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker are probably both making the team with Chris Ogbonnaya appearing to be on the outside looking in. MarQueis Gray is a former college quarterback who is an H-back type player that could see more snaps this year.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Ryan Whalen, Brandon Tate
AJ Green propels this unit to the best in the division, he is that talented. The Bengals did suffer a blow with Marvin Jones undergoing foot surgery recently and probably missing the first few weeks. Mohamed Sanu will replace Jones, he brings a lot to the table as a receiver but isn’t a starter in the NFL. The tight end duo of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert is very good. Gresham is an elite blocking tight end who is also a valiable receiver. Eifert is entering his second year and has the potential to break out as a receiving threat. Ryan Whalen and Brandon Tate are backups, but both are solid and have experience. Tate should be the starting kick returner as well in Cincinnati.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Kamar Aiken
The Ravens are very deep with receiving threats, though they lack a true talent like Green. The duo of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith gives Joe Flacco two very solid targets. Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones are situational players but both have their uses, Brown in the red zone and Jones as a deep threat. Dennis Pitta could lead the Ravens in receptions in Gary Kubiak’s offense. Owen Daniels is a proven veteran pass catcher and a nice number two option at tight end. Kamar Aiken has had a great training camp and currently leads the group for one of the final receiver spots.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Justin Brown, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller
This unit is unproven but has a lot of potential within it. Antonio Brown is a stud and should catch another hundred balls this season. He is the second best wide out in the division. Markus Wheaton is a second year player who replaces Emmanuel Sanders as the number two. The Steelers have high hopes for the speedster. Justin Brown and Martavis Bryant are rookies who could emerge as backups for the Steelers. Bryant is a size/speed guy who could really blossom in time. Lance Moore comes in as a veteran slot receiver who has a ton of catches in his career but is nearing the end of the line. Heath Miller is consistent when healthy, one of the most underrated tight ends in the NFL.
4. Cleveland Browns
Andrew Hawkins, Jordan Cameron, Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Travis Benjamin, Gary Barnidge
This unit is without Josh Gordon who is likely facing a yearlong suspension. Take away Gordon and this group is one of the worst receiving corps in the league. Tight end Jordan Cameron is the top threat and emerged last year as a top five tight end. He should have a very strong year but will miss Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator. Andrew Hawkins is a nice player but at 5’7’’ he can’t be trusted as a starting wide receiver in the NFL. Miles Austin and Nate Burleson are names fans know but are at the end of their careers and don’t offer much. Travis Benjamin is a playmaker but is more likely to make plays in the return game then at wide out. Gary Barnidge offers little to this offense as the backup tight end.
1. Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Joel Bitonio, Paul McQuistan, Garrett Gilkey
The strength of the Browns offense is their offensive line. The unit is led by All Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. Guard John Greco and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz were both starters last season and were solid for much of the year. Rookie left guard Joel Bitonio is projected to start and has looked good in camp. Paul McQuistan is a good swing tackle who saw a handful of starts at tackle for the Seahawks last year. Garrett Gilkey is unproven and is working as an interior backup for the Browns.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Kevin Zeitler , Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Mike Pollack, Marshall Newhouse
Injuries have hurt this line in the past but when healthy it’s among the best. Andrew Whitworth will move back to left tackle where he dominated this division for a handful of years. Andre Smith finally had the light go off in his head and is a Pro Bowl caliber tackle. Kevin Zeitler is one of the best up and coming guards in the NFL. Rookie fourth round pick Russell Bodine is a question mark at center and could be challenged by veteran Mike Pollack. Pollack is also in a battle with Clint Boling for the starting left guard spot. Boling was average last year but the Bengals hope to see him take the next step. Marshall Newhouse is an awful NFL tackle and it was questionable the Bengals making him their swing tackle.
3. Baltimore Ravens
Marshal Yanda, Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Rick Wagner, Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski
The Ravens offensive line was among the worst in the NFL last season. They upgraded at a few positions and are coming into 2014 healthy, which they weren’t last year. Marshal Yanda is a top five guard in football and is coming off another All Pro season. Eugene Monroe is an underrated left tackle and is entering his first full year with the Ravens. Kelechi Osemele was great at guard during the 2012 Super Bowl run but was hurt last year. The combo of Osemele and Yanda should prove to be a major upgrade for this line. Jeremy Zuttah was traded for his offseason after the disappointing season from Gino Gradkowski at center. Rick Wagner is the biggest question mark on this line but should prove to be a solid starter next to Yanda. Jah Reid is struggling in camp and in preseason but has a ton of versatility being able to play guard and tackle.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Kelvin Beachum, Mike Adams, Cody Wallace
Maurkice Pouncey is one of the best centers in football and is an All Pro talent. The rest of the line has a lot of question marks. David DeCastro has a ton of talent but hasn’t been able to stay healthy during his two year career. The Steelers are expecting big things from him this season. Ramon Foster had a great season last year and is a very consistent player at right guard. Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum are a below average tackle duo. Gilbert struggled last season and Beachum isn’t exactly the ideal blind side protector for Roethlisberger. Mike Adams has also struggled since being a second round choice in 2012 but appears to have the swing tackle job locked down. Adams could challenge Gilbert or Beachum for a starting job this season. Cody Wallace is the backup center and provides some veteran leadership as a backup.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are the best offense in the AFC North. They have a deep team that has playmakers in AJ Green, Gio Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. Their offensive line is solid and quarterback Andy Dalton has proven to be a winner. The injury to Marvin Jones hurts a lot but they should be able to perform well until he returns. The injury does open up an opportunity for second year tight end Tyler Eifert. Overall this offense is consistent and has potential to break open any game.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and a very dangerous back field in Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is solid. Antonio Brown is a very good receiver and Markus Wheaton should provide this offense with a much needed deep threat. The offensive line has its problems but if it stays healthy it should be a solid unit. Right now this is an average offensive in the NFL, but has potential to be a lot better.
3. Baltimore Ravens
A ton of question marks on this offense to really jump them above the Steelers. Joe Flacco is just too inconsistent and after the way the offensive line performed last season it’s hard to trust that unit. Flacco does have more weapons in Torrey Smith, Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta going into the season and should be better. If the line can open up some running room Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce should be a solid duo. Similar to Pittsburgh this offense has potential but needs to prove it.
4. Cleveland Browns
The Browns fall behind the other three teams in this division because the quarterback position. Flacco, Dalton and Roethlisberger are proven NFL starters and can win games. Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer are unproven and simply don’t have the weapons the other three teams have. The Browns offensive line is very good and the duo of Ben Tate and Terrance West could be deadly. However, they lack receiving threats and are going into 2014 with Josh Gordon riding a likely season long suspension. This is another rebuilding year for this offense.