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AFC North 2022 Position Rankings: Defensive Line

Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The start of training camp is now just days away for teams across the NFL, with preseason and the regular season not far down the line. While there are some potential acquisitions that could still take place, most major moves have already transpired in free agency and the draft.

Therefore, we have a good idea of what the AFC North teams’ rosters will look like in 2022. Let’s break down where each position group stacks up within the division, switching gears to the other side of the ball with the defensive line personnel.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected starters: T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu, Alex Highsmith

Depth: Chris Wormley, Genard Avery, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Derek Tuszka

The Steelers quietly suffered a big blow when Stephon Tuitt announced his retirement earlier this offseason. While Tuitt has been an important piece on the Steelers’ defensive line for a long time, they still project to be one of the league’s top units without him.

Why? For one, they still have T.J. Watt, the reigning defensive player of the year and top edge rusher. Alex Highsmith has shown a lot of promise opposite him on the edge, and Cameron Heyward remains a stalwart defensive end at the age of 33.

The acquisition of Larry Ogunjobi was important, also, to help compensate for Tuitt’s departure. Chris Wormley proved himself as a valuable reserve last season with a career-high seven sacks.

San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

2) Cincinnati Bengals

Projected starters: Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard

Depth: Cam Sample, Tyler Shelvin, Joseph Assai, Khalid Kareem

Acquiring Trey Hendrickson last offseason proved to be one of the better moves from any team. Hendrickson was a force on the edge for the Bengals all season, totaling 14 sacks, three forced fumbles and 75 pressures. Sam Hubbard is a worthy counterpart, as he 7.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits on the opposite side of the line.

In the middle, D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill make for a formidable duo. Reader was one of the better run-stoppers in the NFL last season, while Hill recorded 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks in his first season with the team.

The development of some of their young depth pieces behind this starting front will be important in 2022.

Los Angeles Chargers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

3) Baltimore Ravens

Projected starters: Tyus Bowser*, Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, Odafe Oweh

Depth: Justin Houston, Travis Jones, Brent Urban, Daelin Hayes, David Ojabo*

The Ravens have two edge rushers recovering from torn achilles injuries: Tyus Bowser, their leading sack-getter in 2021 and starting SAM linebacker, and David Ojabo — who they just drafted as a second-round pick. Bowser is much more likely to return for 2022 action, possibly by Week 1.

If Bowser is healthy and returns to peak form, that’s a huge boost for this group. Without him, and with Ojabo on the mend, the Ravens are thin on the edge, although re-signing Justin Houstin gives them much-needed insurance and depth.

In the middle, re-signing Calais Campbell, adding Michael Pierce and Brent Urban, and drafting Travis Jones should provide an upgrade from last season. The potential for a second and third-year breakout from Odafe Oweh and Justin Madubuike, respectively, may determine the ceiling of this group.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

4) Cleveland Browns

Projected starters: Myles Garrett, Jordan Elliott, Taven Bryan, Jadeveon Clowney

Depth: Chase Winovich, Stephon Weatherly, Perrion Winfrey, Sheldon Day

If T.J. Watt wasn’t the 2021 defensive player of the year, it would have been Myles Garrett instead. Garrett too is one of the league’s elite edge rushers and since the Browns just re-signed Jadeveon Clowney, they return a formidable defensive end duo.

That’s where the strength of the Browns’ defensive front lies, as their interior duo of Jordan Elliott and Taven Bryan leaves some to be desired. Drafting Perrion Winfrey is a solid acquisition, but a fourth-round rookie isn’t likely to become an overwhelming force inside in Year 1.

Garrett is easily the second-best edge rusher in the division, and Clowney ranks highly as well. But, The Browns’ weakness at defensive tackle and lack of great depth, though, is a limitation.

What are your thoughts on this order? Share below and join in on the conversation!