AFC North position rankings: Browns offense brimming with talent, but Ravens have made gains

Left to right, Ravens tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews share a smile before an organized team activity at the Under Armour Performance Center.

All it took was one offseason for the Cleveland Browns to become the new Pittsburgh Steelers. On offense, anyway.

With running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown departing Pittsburgh, and with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. arriving in Cleveland as quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb ascend, the Browns have perhaps the most offensive talent in the AFC North at three skill positions.


They’re not yet a runaway force, though. The Steelers should still have the division’s top offensive line, and the Ravens have unmatched depth and talent at tight end. The Cincinnati Bengals are in for a rebuilding season, but they don’t lack talent at wide receiver.

With the start of training camp just weeks away, here’s how the four offenses stack up at each position entering the 2019 season.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will likely get even better in his second season.


Ranking (Nos. 1-4): Browns, Steelers, Bengals, Ravens

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had one of his better seasons in recent memory last year — 34 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 5,129 passing yards, 67% accuracy, 96.5 passer rating — and still wasn’t as good as the Browns’ Mayfield over the regular season’s final two months. There’s also the fact that second-year quarterbacks tend to improve more than 37-year-olds do.

Andy Dalton was far from great last season for Cincinnati, but he did finish with nearly twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. Lamar Jackson’s footspeed helped unlock the Ravens’ ground game last season, but he still needs to improve his fundamentals as a passer (too many missed throws to the sideline) and ball carrier (too many fumbles).

Kareem Hunt (27) and Nick Chubb form a strong duo at running back for the Browns.

Running back

Ranking: Browns, Ravens, Bengals, Steelers

Cleveland is the only AFC team with two running backs who finished among Pro Football Focus’ top 10 at the position last season. Chubb, the analytics site’s No. 1 overall running back, averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie, forcing 44 missed tackles and running for 858 yards after contact. Kareem Hunt will miss half the season for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, but the newcomer’s receiving ability is unquestioned.

The Ravens have a promising one-two punch in Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, and rookie Justice Hill gives the offense a breakaway threat it lacked last year. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon and Pittsburgh’s James Conner are top-level starters, as the former led the AFC in rushing yards and the latter made it the Pro Bowl last season. But from starter to backup, there’s a notable drop-off in the Bengals’ production and in the Steelers’ experience.

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reached 5,000 career receiving yards in his 54th game last season, the fastest pace in NFL history.

Wide receiver

Ranking: Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Ravens

It never hurts to acquire maybe the NFL’s best receiver. Beckham, another new Cleveland star, reached 5,000 career receiving yards in his 54th game last season, the fastest pace in NFL history. He’s missed a combined 16 games the past two seasons because of injuries, but he’s still averaged well over 1,000 yards per year since entering the league. The Browns’ supporting cast is pretty good, too: Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins combined for more than 2,000 yards last season.


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If not for injuries, A.J. Green would have paired with Tyler Boyd to give Cincinnati a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Pittsburgh lost Brown this offseason, but still has JuJu Smith-Schuster, one of the NFL’s most productive receivers last season. In Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin, the Ravens have two promising rookies, but they still need a lot more.

Ravens tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews share a smile before OTAs.

Tight end

Ranking: Ravens, Browns, Steelers, Bengals

Name a scenario that calls for a tight end’s help, and the Ravens will probably be able to provide two. Mark Andrews was maybe the NFL’s best rookie at the position last season and figures to be Jackson’s favorite target. Nick Boyle was a wrecking ball as a blocker in the team’s running game last season and is still improving as a receiver. Hayden Hurst, when healthy, has flashed the potential that made him the No. 25 overall pick a year ago.

Former first-round pick David Njoku had a breakout 2018 for Cleveland, finishing with 639 yards and four touchdowns. Vance McDonald came out of nowhere last season to finish with 610 yards in Pittsburgh. Injuries have severely limited Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert recently, forcing C.J. Uzomah into a bigger role.

Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl for the seventh time last season.

Offensive line

Ranking: Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Bengals

It’s not often that three offensive linemen from the same team earn Pro Bowl selections. Even rarer is all three being named starters. The Steelers are that good up front: Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl for the seventh time last season, while David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva were honored for the fourth and second straight time, respectively. Altogether, Pittsburgh’s front five rated first in pass-blocking efficiency last season, according to PFF.


With the return of Marshal Yanda and the continued development of Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., the Ravens have the talent to continue to win at the line of scrimmage. Cleveland showed improvement up front last season, but losing guard Kevin Zeitler hurts. The Bengals need Billy Price, their 2018 first-round pick, to come through this season, especially with No. 11 pick Jonah Williams (shoulder) lost for the year.