clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2020 AFC North Positional Rankings: Linebacker

New, comments
NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Louisiana State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the dog days of the NFL offseason continue to settle in, each team’s roster is pretty much set with free agency and the draft in the rear view mirror. Therefore, it’s an opportune time to detox with our annual positional rankings for the AFC North.

Continuing with the defense, we’ll examine the linebacker spot here. Across the division, the linebacker cores in 2020 will look awfully different in some cases and feature a lot of youth and upside.

You can check out last year’s rankings here, along with the following 2020 editions:

Check out the listing below, vote on the corresponding poll and join in on the conversation!


1) Pittsburgh Steelers

Starters: Devin Bush, Vince Williams

Depth Chart: Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane

Compared to the other teams in the division, the Steelers may pail a bit in terms of depth at the linebacker position. However, there’s no dispute that they have the best individual player of anyone, which is enough to give them the top spot here.

That player, of course, is 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush. Bush did a little of everything in his rookie campaign, racking up 109 total tackles, forcing a fumble and recovering four others, hauling in an interception and scoring a touchdown.

It was the type of all-around production that the Steelers expected when they traded up several spots to draft Bush. He should only improve in Year 2 as he becomes more consistent and disciplined, too.

The other starter in Pittsburgh’s lineup is Vince Williams, one of the few veteran linebackers in the division. Williams has shown himself to be a solid pass-rusher in recent years, posting 15 sacks since 2017. Last season, he earned a 76.2 grade from PFF and recorded 55 tackles.

Poll

Where would you rank the Steelers in the LB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    First
    (179 votes)
  • 32%
    Second
    (100 votes)
  • 4%
    Third
    (13 votes)
  • 4%
    Fourth
    (13 votes)
305 votes total Vote Now

2) Baltimore Ravens

Starters: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison

Depth Chart: L.J. Fort, Chris Board

There’s an argument to be made for any team here at the second spot, but the combination of youth and upside gives the Ravens a slight bump.

Baltimore lost a pair of veterans in Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes in free agency and replaced them in the draft with a pair of rookies. First-round pick Patrick Queen was one of the top linebacker prospects in the draft and brings speed, versatility and intangibles to the position for the Ravens.

Queen will step in as a Day 1 starter who can play all three downs thanks to his combination of run-stuffing and coverage skills. In the fourth round, they added another linebacker in Ohio State’s Malik Harrison.

Harrison is a prototypical “thumper” who will likely start at the MIKE spot. His playing style meshes well with Queen’s, and the two should form a solid tandem. If Harrison does not start right away, that honor will go to returning veteran L.J. Fort.

Fort is a solid rotational player who earned himself a contract extension last year. There’s also Chris Board, a special teams standout who may struggle to make the 53-man roster.

Poll

Where would you rank the Ravens in the LB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    First
    (135 votes)
  • 41%
    Second
    (132 votes)
  • 10%
    Third
    (35 votes)
  • 5%
    Fourth
    (17 votes)
319 votes total Vote Now

3) Cincinnati Bengals

Starters: Germaine Pratt, Josh Bynes, Logan Wilson

Depth Chart: Akeem Davis-Gaithers, Jordan Evans, Markus Bailey

Like the Ravens but to an even further extent, the Bengals overhauled their linebacker core in a big way this offseason.

They began by adding Josh Bynes in free agency, who performed admirably in a short stint with the Ravens in 2019. Bynes is a tested veteran and will bring stability and reliability to a position that lacked almost any of that last season.

In the draft, Cincinnati landed a pair of mid-round prospects in Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaithers. Both players are small-school products and could struggle to transition to the NFL level right away, but add a further infusion of talent.

Wilson or “AKG” figure to start alongside Bynes and Germaine Pratt in the Bengals’ 4-3 scheme. PFF was not kind to Pratt in his rookie season, as he graded out with just a 51.2 mark. He did, though, rack up 76 total tackles, which ranked fourth on the team.

Jordan Evans and Markus Bailey round out the group as potential rotational pieces.

Poll

Where would you rank the Bengals in the LB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    First
    (8 votes)
  • 12%
    Second
    (26 votes)
  • 53%
    Third
    (107 votes)
  • 29%
    Fourth
    (60 votes)
201 votes total Vote Now

4) Cleveland Browns

Starters: Mack Wilson, B.J. Goodson, Sione Takitaki

Depth Chart: Jacob Phillips, Jermaine Grace, Tae Davis.

Maybe this is too harsh on the Browns, but it’s hard to see the upside with this group.

Mack Wilson played all 16 games in his rookie season and took on a large role. His numbers across the board were solid, highlighted by 82 total tackles, but it was far from the most efficient campaign. Wilson’s PFF grade was a dismal 41.6.

Wilson was considered a bit of a project heading into Year 1, so some ups and downs are to be expected. However, the fact that he’s the headliner from this group is a bit concerning.

In free agency, the Browns added veteran B.J. Goodson on a one-year flier. Goodson played with the Giants for three seasons before joining the Packers in 2019. The other projected starter is second-year man Sione Takitaki, who played in all but one game last year.

Takitaki’s rookie season was quiet, as he recorded just 21 combined tackles and failed to make an impact in other areas. PFF gave him a 64.4 grade for the year.

In this year’s draft, the Browns added LSU’s Jacob Phillips in the third round.

Poll

Where would you rank the Browns in the LB ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    First
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    Second
    (10 votes)
  • 20%
    Third
    (41 votes)
  • 73%
    Fourth
    (150 votes)
205 votes total Vote Now