Just because a team finishes fourth it its division doesn't make it a bad team. That's especially true in the AFC North, perhaps the most competitive division in the NFL. The Browns are reinvigorated after adding Amari Cooper and Deshaun Watson, who will miss at least six games due to suspension, and the Ravens are welcoming back plenty of injured Pro Bowlers. Plus, the Steelers haven't had a losing season since 2003 and figure to hvae an upgrade at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement. That's before mentioning the reigning AFC champions, the Cincinnati Bengals. All of this makes coaches' gossip about the division even more interesting.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the AFC North heading into 2022, 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.
"Lamar Jackson doesn't want to sign a new contract with the Ravens, at least not yet. I'm beginning to wonder if it even makes sense for the Ravens to sign him long-term. He's got to prove he can take them deep into the playoffs to earn the big deal. Hollywood Brown wanted out, and he got what he wanted: a trade to Arizona. Brown wasn't feeling the offense the way Greg Roman sets things up, running the football a lot. One of the reasons why Baltimore does that is because Lamar isn't a great passing quarterback. He's a great runner and a great athlete who can make big plays. There's a big difference."
"Mark Andrews doesn't get enough respect. The guy can flat-out play."
"Devin Duvernay is really solid."
"Ronnie Stanley needs to get healthy and stay healthy."
"I really like the Tyler Linderbaum pick. He reminds me of Marshal Yanda. Very tough guy."
Related: Baltimore Ravens Depth Chart
"Having J.K. Dobbins back could get the Ravens over the top. Between him and Gus Edwards, they've got an excellent running game."
"The defense just had bad luck last year with the injuries to Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Between drafting Kyle Hamilton and signing Marcus Williams, this secondary is big-time."
"I think they'll trade Chuck Clark eventually."
"That was important that they re-signed Calais Campbell. He's got real leadership qualities."
"Odafe Oweh is a special young player."
"Patrick Queen hasn't lived up to his potential yet."
"There hasn't been a kicker like Justin Tucker. Ever."
"Joe Burrow has proven his point. The guy is a total gunslinger. This is what you want from a modern quarterback. He's going to win multiple Super Bowls as long as he stays healthy. I believe in him 100 percent."
"Ja'Marr Chase is electric. And he has good complementary pieces with him in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd."
"I love what Duke Tobin has been doing to fix a bad offensive line. Getting La'el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras are major upgrades."
"Joe Mixon is one of the best running backs in the league. I think he should get even more touches."
"Hayden Hurst is actually underrated."
Related: Cincinnati Bengals Depth Chart
"Evan McPherson: total stud of a kicker."
"For a guy who sacks the quarterback and hits him as much as Trey Hendrickson does, he doesn't get talked about nearly enough. Pound for pound, this guy has so many moves, and he's relentless."
"DJ Reader, stout as it gets inside."
"Logan Wilson is smart, tough, instinctive. He has proven himself and then some. That was a heck of a draft pick."
"I don't know if they're going to be able to sign Jessie Bates III to a long-term deal. What I do know is they need him for this season until Dax Hill is ready to go. I think they'll be good enough at corner, but just barely."
"Deshaun Watson is dynamic. I mean, he led the NFL in passing yards for a bad Texans team [in 2020]. What he can do, depending on what the league does with as far as punishment for the cases [Watson faces a likely suspension for at least part of the 2022 season], turns Cleveland into a legitimate playoff team. It's such a big difference as far as level of play from Baker Mayfield."
"[Browns GM] Andrew Berry pulled off a great trade to get Amari Cooper. That was huge."
"They've built a great offensive line. That sets the Browns apart."
"Between the push they get and the kind of running backs they have with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D'Ernest Johnson, the play-action game and run-pass option stuff that head coach Kevin Stefanski can pull off is going to be epic."
Related: Cleveland Browns Depth Chart
"Myles Garrett is basically unblockable. His get-off is incredible."
"They need to get Jadeveon Clowney back under contract. I believe they will. It's just a matter of time."
"The cornerbacks are special on this team. Denzel Ward deserved that payday [Ward became the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history in the offseason with a five-year, $100.5 million contract]."
" They need to get a full season out of Grant Delpit. That would push this defense over the top."
"Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is about as quick as there is at linebacker."
"Ben Roethlisberger's retirement sets up a real transition time. I don't like how small Kenny Pickett's hands are. I know his floor is solid, but I question how high is the ceiling. I'm just not sure if they're aiming high enough, but at least they have a solid bridge quarterback with Mitchell Trubisky. He's not bad, but not great obviously."
"Diontae Johnson is pretty darn close to a No. 1 wide receiver, in my book."
"Having George Pickens on the roster gives the Steelers a ton of upside. I don't think the maturity issues are anything to be that worried about."
"Najee Harris is a beast. Great tackle-breaker."
"The offensive line is solid, nothing special."
Related: Pittsburgh Steelers Depth Chart
"That Pat Freiermuth pick keeps looking better and better."
"T.J. Watt is getting to a point where he's almost as good as J.J. Watt in his prime years."
"Stephon Tuitt's health is in question."
"Cameron Heyward keeps going strong."
"I'm not feeling good about their inside linebacker situation with Devin Bush and Myles Jack."
"It's a really good thing that they signed Levi Wallace. He can run and cover and is really good."
"Minkah Fitzpatrick is their only real playmaker besides Watt and Alex Highsmith. Fitzpatrick keeps making the big play time and time again. He's got a real nose for the football."