NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About AFC North Teams

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Scouts discuss the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers

NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About AFC North Teams

For the first time in five seasons, the AFC North sent just one team to the playoffs in 2013. Cincinnati is the reigning division champion, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh both have won Super Bowl titles within the last six seasons. Can the Bengals hold off the Ravens and Steelers again in 2014? And what about Cleveland, which hasn’t made the postseason since 2002 and has had a revolving door at both head coach and starting quarterback since rejoining the NFL in 1999?

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC North looks heading into the 2014 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers.

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff. 

 

Baltimore Ravens

 

“Very few teams enjoy more dependable, consistent leadership at the top than the Ravens. Despite their disappointing 8-8 record in 2013, head coach John Harbaugh was extended through 2017 during the offseason and GM Ozzie Newsome soldiers into his 19th year as the final decision-maker in Baltimore.” …

 

“Gary Kubiak takes over as offensive coordinator and his task will be to make QB Joe Flacco a more consistent performer. When Flacco is protected and ‘hot,’ he throws it as well, if not better, than anyone in the league. When the protection is not there, he looks uncomfortable, will force the football into coverage and does not have much mobility in trying to escape the pocket.” …

 

“RB Ray Rice ran into some legal problems stemming from a physical altercation with his fiancée (now wife) back in February, but it sounds as if he will be given another chance to demonstrate his ability to be the lead back for another season.” …

 

“The Ravens love Torrey Smith on and off the field, and with the addition of veteran Steve Smith from the Panthers, they may have found the ideal compliment to his game.” …

 

“The Ravens were derailed offensively almost from the outset of last year when TE Dennis Pitta went down with a fractured hip.” …

 

“Offensive line play was ineffective at the line of scrimmage and the team averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry for the season. Baltimore gave up multiple mid-round picks for LT Eugene Monroe and then was able to re-sign him in March to a long-term deal. During free agency, the club also acquired OC Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay who will replace Gino Gradkowski after his struggles in 2013.” …

 

“Defensively, Baltimore had its lowest statistical rankings since 2002, but remember they lost both LB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed, two of the most iconic modern-day players in recent history. Leadership was an obvious issue and LB Daryl Smith returns after he stepped into the huge void left by Lewis.” …

 

“Other than hybrid Terrell Suggs, the Ravens really do not have a legit pass-rusher on the opposite side. Without that consistent pressure, the secondary is young and mentally inexperienced.” …

 

“FS Matt Elam and CB Jimmy Smith both have talent and upside, but need better attention to detail and more in-game focus to improve.” …

 

“Baltimore drafted with the intent of shoring up the middle of its defense with LB C.J. Mosley, DT Timmy Jernigan and FS Terrence Brooks, but can only hope Rice returns to previous form and they are not left with Bernard Pierce as the lead back.” ...

 

Cincinnati Bengals

 

“The Bengals have one of the most balanced rosters in the entire NFL.” …

 

“Marvin Lewis has been in place for 12 years and don’t discount the impact that Duke and Bill Tobin have had on their personnel decisions. They actually have a scouting philosophy, do their homework and pick good players in every draft.” …

 

“There is no question this team will win again in 2014, but the pink elephant in the room is Andy Dalton, is he good enough to win a Super Bowl? His regular season numbers are as good as any that have played the game in their first four years, but his performances in the playoffs have been so bad, that this has been a constant topic of conversation around the league during the offseason.” …

 

“Dalton has weapons galore with A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and the backfield combo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard.” …

 

“the offensive line is solid in four places and they picked Russell Bodine from North Carolina as a potential fourth-round rookie starter.” …

 

“Defensively, with the return of Geno Atkins, they should be more disruptive on the inside.” …

 

“Vontaze Burfict has emerged as a legit ILB after his character/work ethic was crushed coming out of Arizona State. Rey Maualuga can flash, but the inconsistency is always a concern.” …

 

“The Bengals would love to see Dre Kirkpatrick elevate his play and become a bona fide starting corner this year, but they also drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round to address the age issues of Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones.” …

 

“Danieal Manning was signed in free agency to provide Chris Crocker-like insurance to Taylor Mays and Reggie Nelson.” …

 

”in a tough division, the Bengals have the most complete team, but need Dalton to respond to the pressure in order to end all of the talk by advancing in the playoffs and to the Super Bowl. Barring another rash of injuries, this team is a favorite again in the AFC.” …

 

Cleveland Browns

 

“No organization in all of professional sports has gone through as much upheaval over the past decade as the Browns. Since 1999, they’ve had 20 different starting quarterbacks, eight head coaches and seven general managers, just incredible.” …

 

“After one year with Rob Chudzinski as head coach, CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi dumped him, went on a 25-day coaching search and settled on Mike Pettine, the former Jets’ and Bills’ defensive coordinator as their best option. Ten days later, Banner and Lombardi were both shown the door and Ray Farmer was elevated to the top football decision-making spot by owner Jimmy Haslam.” …

 

“That’s all the bad news, the good news is that this roster has been piecemealed together over time by different regimes and there is some talent on hand.” …

 

“The biggest question mark has been and will be the QB position and the Browns maneuvered themselves into position to take Johnny Manziel in the first round. The Johnny Cleveland era will begin sooner rather than later, so maybe ‘21’ will be the magic number for them. Brian Hoyer was expected to serve as the ‘bridge’ QB, but that is up in the air now.” …

 

“In addition to QB, after Banner/Lombardi traded former first-round pick Trent Richardson last September, there was a huge void at RB. They signed Ben Tate from the Texans and he will be reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. If healthy, he can provide a downhill run threat, but they also added Terrance West from Towson in the third round to provide some insurance.” …

 

“Tight end Jordan Cameron, had a Pro Bowl season in 2013 and should continue to progress as a player. He can threaten the seam vertically and stretch the field horizontally with his speed and athleticism.” …

 

“Josh Gordon had a breakout year despite catching 87 passes from three different QBs last fall. He has an incredible mix of size, speed and skill, and when he is ‘on,’ he is a big-time player, but the immaturity off the field has never gone away, as evidenced by his potential one-year suspension in 2014.” …

 

“Greg Little has been a major disappointment in terms of his development, so this WR corps is depleted without Gordon.” …

 

“Joe Thomas has been a Pro Bowl-level mainstay since being the No. 3 pick in the 2007 draft and the Browns first tagged than eventually signed center Alex Mack in order to retain continuity on the OL.” …

 

“Mitchell Schwartz had some struggles athletically at right tackle, but the Browns addressed that side of the line by taking Joel Bitonio from Nevada in the second round.” …

 

“Defensively, the core elements for a 3-4 are in place with Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant on the interior with Paul Kruger and last year’s first-round pick Barkevious Mingo as the outside linebackers. Kruger was a high-priced disappointment in ’13 and Mingo has to develop a better repertoire of pass rush moves to go along with his outside speed.” …

 

“Cleveland released D’Qwell Jackson, but signed Karlos Dansby from the Cardinals as his replacement.” …

 

“Joe Haden made the Pro Bowl, but people around the league see him as an up-and-down player.” …

 

“The Browns selected Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State ahead of Manziel in the first round because CB was such a huge need for them. Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden are only backups at this time.” …

 

“Safety T.J. Ward tested free agency and landed in Denver, but they brought Donte Whitner ‘home’ from the 49ers and Tashaun Gipson returns, so they are probably OK back there.” …

 

“Three things have plagued this franchise since its return in 1999: no leadership stability at the top with multiple owners, coaches and GMs, solving the QB riddle and competing in a very difficult division. Two of those three can be answered this season, but the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are not going away anytime soon.” …

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

 

“The Steelers are caught betwixt-and-between as a team with enough aging ‘stars’ to win now, but not enough youthful talent to go into a full rebuilding mode.” …

 

“Pittsburgh has gone 8-8 the past two seasons and some are beginning to wonder if Mike Tomlin is part of the problem. The traditional strong running game has disappeared and the defense is a shell of its former self.” …

 

“On offense, ‘Big Ben’ Roethlisberger always gives them a chance because of his size, ad-lib ability and will to win. Word has it that he and OC Todd Haley are in a better place as they head into 2014.” …

 

“RB Le’Veon Bell began to emerge down the stretch of his rookie campaign and Pittsburgh added LeGarrette Blount in the offseason as an alternate ball-carrier.” …

 

“The wide receiver group is led by a big-time playmaker in Antonio Brown and the organization is looking for Markus Wheaton to take a big step forward this season. In order to protect their defense, the Steelers signed former Saint Lance Moore and are hoping to get one more solid season from TE Heath Miller.” …

 

“the offensive line is the concern, not necessarily Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro on the interior, but on the edges with Kelvin Beachum (who has an OG build) and Marcus Gilbert (who has never lived up to his second-round draft status).” …

 

“Unless you are in an NFL personnel department, you probably couldn’t name more than one DL in this front. Cameron Heyward is a former first-round choice, they inked Cam Thomas from the Chargers during free agency and drafted Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) and Daniel McCullers (Tennessee). People are intrigued about NT Steve McClendon, but he is off the field when the Steelers are in sub packages.” …

 

“Lawrence Timmons is one of the most underrated defenders in the league and, in many ways, it’s his defense now. Jarvis Jones recorded one sack as a rookie and that in and of itself probably forced the Steelers to tag OLB Jason Worilds, just to make sure they will have some kind of pressure from the corner in 2014. Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) was their first-round pick and he can fly.” …

 

“Troy Polamalu has had an unbelievable career, but it’s almost over, especially where his durability and range are considered. Mike Mitchell comes in from Carolina, but he’s only an average pro.” …

 

“The corners are past their primes when looking at Ike Taylor and William Gay and Cortez Allen has been more tease than player thus far.” …

 

“Everything needs to go right for the Steelers to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and with so many aging vets, I’m not sold that it can happen, which will turn up the temperature on Tomlin.” …

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