The start of training camp is now here for the Ravens and other teams across the league, 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, moving one layer back on defense to the inside linebacker spot.
1) Cincinnati Bengals
Projected starters: Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt
Depth: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Markus Bailey, Joe Bachie
The Bengals have invested a number of mid-round draft picks at the inside linebacker position in recent years. In 2021, they finally got a good return on investment, as Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt developed into a formidable duo last season.
Both players had career-best campaigns and played key roles during Cincinnati’s unexpected Super Bowl run . Wilson played over 700 defensive snaps and, despite missing several games, finished with 100 combined tackles and four interceptions. Pratt started 15 games and had 91 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Akeem Davis-Gaither, a 2020 fourth-round pick, had his sophomore season cut short after suffering a foot injury in November. His return and potential improvement in Year 3 adds to the upside of this group, but Wilson and Pratt will continue leading the way.
It’s hard to declare any inside linebacker core in the division definitively the best, but you can give the Bengals a slight nod based on 2021 performance and 2022 projection.
2) Cleveland Browns
Projected starters: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Anthony Walker, Sione Takitaki
Depth: Jacob Phillips, Tony Fields II
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah headlines this Browns’ group. Last year’s No. 52 overall pick in the draft was an immediate contributor as a rookie. He was of Cleveland’s best defensive players and filled the stat sheet in 10 starts, totaling 76 tackles, two forced fumbles and four quarterback hits.
Next to Owusu-Koramoah is veteran Anthony Walker, who the Browns re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal. Walker was the team’s leading tackler in 2021 with over 100 despite missing several games. He’s not spectacular, but provides steady play.
Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips, the former of which started eight games last season, are also still in the mix. Owusu-Koramoah’s potential sophomore growth determines the ceiling for this group.
3) Baltimore Ravens
Projected starters: Patrick Queen, Josh Bynes
Depth: Malik Harrison, Kristian Welch
2022 could be the breakout year for Patrick Queen the Ravens have been waiting for. The former first-round pick showed some improvements in Year 2, particularly in the second half of the season, but was still up-and-down overall.
Queen’s play improved after the Ravens signed veteran Josh Bynes to start alongside him. Bynes, now entering his age-33 season, was once again a stabilizing force for the Ravens’ defense. Bynes totaled 76 combined tackles and finished the season with a PFF in the mid-70s. He should be a valuable presence again in 2022.
The X-factor of this group is Malik Harrison, who has shown promise at times but hasn’t broken through into a consistent contributor. The Ravens may opt to field an extra defensive back in place of two linebackers more often this season, given the strength of their safeties and cornerbacks.
4) Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected starters: Devin Bush, Myles Jack
Depth: Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson
If this list were based off name value, the Steelers would be No. 1. The team signed former No. 36 overall pick in 2016, Myles Jack, this offseason to pair with 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush. They also retained Robert Spillane via the restricted free agent tender.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Bush, who the team traded up for to select at No. 10 overall in 2019, has not met the billing of his draft status. He took a big step back in 2021, as did Jack, who previously had played solid football for a couple of seasons in Jacksonville.
Few linebacker duos can match the pure athleticism of Bush and Jack, but that means little if both players are struggling. The Steelers will need bounce-back performances from them, or an unexpected leap from a young guy like Buddy Johnson, to elevate the group overall.
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