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NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About AFC North Teams

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger

After starting the season 4-5, Pittsburgh caught fire in the middle of November and won its final seven regular season games to capture the AFC North title. With its trio of Killer Bs (Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown) leading the way, it will be tough for another team to overtake the Steelers anytime soon.

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Baltimore, who finished 8-8 in 2016, will feature a lightning-fast receiving corps — including Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman — to flank veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. Cincinnati, meanwhile, will try to turn things around after a disappointing 6-9-1 season. In Cleveland, fans are wondering if Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and DeShone Kizer can rejuvenate the franchise and lead the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002. 

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In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC North looks heading into the 2017 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

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“Huge year for John Harbaugh in 2017 after the Ravens have missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons.”

“They keep trying to build around Joe Flacco but have not improved their run game, which is the biggest issue.”

“Flacco is not mobile enough to flourish without sound protection, and the offensive line will have two new starters.”

“While right guard Marshal Yanda is arguably the league’s best interior lineman, running back Kenneth Dixon will miss the first four games due to a PED suspension, so questions abound at running back.”

[Editor's note: Kenneth Dixon had surgery in late July to repair a torn medial meniscus in his knee and will miss the entire 2017 season.]

“Baltimore continues to wait on Breshad Perriman to emerge as a big-play wide receiver, but he has only flashed and is on the verge of being another wideout bust for this organization.”

“They spent huge dollars to extend Brandon Williams, but he is more of an early-down run defender than actual pass rusher.”

“Linebacker Zachary Orr led the team in tackles for 2016 but unexpectedly retired during the spring.”

“C.J. Mosley should return to top form with a healthy offseason.”

“The Ravens have constructed a veteran secondary after having some missed draft picks back there (Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks).”

“After they added Eric Weddle last year, corner Brandon Carr (Cowboys) and safety Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals were signed this spring.”

“In the draft, they stayed married to Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey at pick No. 16, despite there being better players on the board. He will be tested early and often because of his struggles playing the football in the air.”

“This is a classic 8–8 kind of club, caught between the tease of a veteran push to get over the top and the reality of a youth movement to start over.”

Cincinnati Bengals

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“The playoff meltdown of 2015 and the wide receiver losses in free agency of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu were too much to overcome in what became an injury-riddled, get-this-season-over-with kind of campaign.”

“Coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback  Andy Dalton get all of the blame for their winless playoff record, but those two are largely responsible for making them consistently competitive.”

“Jeremy Hill took a step back in 2016, while Gio Bernard only played in 10 games.”

“The fastest man in NFL Combine history, wideout John Ross (4.22), was a surprise top-10 draft pick, but he can force some coverage away from A.J. Green.”

“Left tackle Andrew Whitworth grew weary of leading a disinterested team, so he signed with the Rams, and now they have to figure out who will protect Dalton’s blindside.”

“Center Russell Bodine is very underrated and a rock in the middle of their offensive line.”

“Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins are still playing at a high level, and the Bengals drafted two meat-and-potato prospects in defensive end Jordan Willis and defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow.”

“Vontaze Burfict has not played a full season in three years, so Kevin Minter was added at inside linebacker from the Cardinals.”

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“It’s time for Darqueze Dennard to prove himself at corner, especially with Adam Jones always on the edge.”

“This team can contend again, but the offensive tackles must protect well and the skill players have to stay injury free. Andy Dalton is an NFL starter, but I’m not convinced he has the moxie and leadership to get Cincinnati beyond the divisional round, if that.”

Cleveland Browns

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“People inside the league continue to roll their eyes at the current leadership in Cleveland because their ‘analytics’ have not produced any consistency in player acquisition.”

“Last year, Robert Griffin III was the hand-picked reclamation project for Hue Jackson. Then, they ‘bought’ Brock Osweiler and his $16M contract for a 2018 second-round draft pick.”

“Now, it appears that Cody Kessler, a 2016 third-round pick, will battle this year’s second-round choice, DeShone Kizer, for the quarterback job.”

“Running back Isaiah Crowell is capable, but he doesn’t demand an eight-man front.”

“The offensive line should be a strength with guard Kevin Zeitler (Bengals) and center J.C. Tretter (Packers) being added in free agency.”

“Joel Bitonio was extended and will continue playing alongside ironman All-Pro Joe Thomas.”

“Danny Shelton is not dynamic but must impact their run defense more.

“New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ style is associated more with creating pressure and turnovers than controlling field position.”

“They wisely took defensive end Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, but many question whether his potential can turn into actual production.”

“Linebacker Jamie Collins was traded for and then extended, so he is part of the long-term plan, while corner Joe Haden has been sub-standard for two years.”

“Look for rookie Jabrill Peppers to end up in a ‘46’ kind of strong safety role in this scheme.”

“In analyzing their schedule, it’s hard to find more than four wins, so the question will be if Jimmy Haslam allows this regime to continue or will he pull the plug on this grand experiment?”

Pittsburgh Steelers

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“In a season that will certainly be dedicated to their late owner, Dan Rooney, the Steelers believe they are ready to make a run at the Patriots for supremacy in the AFC.”

“Ben Roethlisberger flirted with retirement, but the belief is that he will play at least three more years.”

“Landry Jones is the backup, but they made an interesting pick in Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs after he impressed Mike Tomlin at his pro day.”

“When available, Le’Veon Bell is one of the five best players in the league. He makes it look easy with his gliding running style and ability to catch out of the backfield.”

“Pitt’s James Conner, a cancer survivor, was added for depth among a host of candidates.”

“Antonio Brown is simply amazing with his work ethic, detailed pass routes and sticky hands.”

“They drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster from USC in the second round to give them a more consistent, big-bodied receiver, while Eli Rogers has proven to be a reliable slot.”

“The offensive line returns intact, and they have one job to do: protect Big Ben.”

“Defensively, they desperately need a healthy Cameron Heyward to return after playing in only seven games in 2016.”

“James Harrison led the team with five sacks, so they drafted Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt in the first round to add to their mix.”

“Bud Dupree has flashed (4.5 sacks in seven games), but this is a huge year for him.”

“Ryan Shazier takes over the leadership role after Lawrence Timmons left for Miami.”

“Their secondary depth is better after drafting Sean Davis and Artie Burns last year and Cam Sutton in the third round this past spring.”

“Barring injuries, I like this team to win the North; and if more pass rush can surface and the back end matures, the Steelers can contend for the Super Bowl.”