AFC North – Impact Additions

For every team, in every season, there’s a new guy that can make a huge difference.  Here are my picks to change the fortunes of all thirty-two teams. 

Next up – The AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Impact Addition: Linebacker Patrick Queen

Baltimore Arrival: Draft, First Round, 28th pick from LSU

The Ravens didn’t need a lot of help.  Teams that rank in the top five on both offense and defense seldom do.  Baltimore scored the most points in the league last season, while allowing the third fewest.  Apparently, their strategy was to try to catch New England and Buffalo in that that second ranking next season, as they spent three draft picks in the first three rounds on defense. 

Baltimore’s defenses over the years have always had a signature player or two, whether it was Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs.  Enter Patrick Queen. The LSU linebacker is a freakishly athletic converted running back that can get from sideline to sideline in a hurry and was the national champion Tigers’ defensive sparkplug.  Expect him to make splash plays all over the field for the Ravens early on.  Not that they’re going need it. 

Look out AFC.

Cincinnati Bengals

Impact Addition: Quarterback Joe Burrow

Cincinnati Arrival: Draft, First Round, 1st pick from LSU

Not much suspense here.  Cincinnati has been languishing since a 2015 season that saw them get knocked out of the playoffs without a win for the sixth time in seven seasons.  Since then, the Bengals have sputtered, the luster on Andy Dalton has faded, Marvin Lewis is gone, and the Bengals have finished behind the Browns in the AFC North for two consecutive seasons. 

I’ve said it before. 

I’ll say it again. 

I don’t always think that drafting your potential franchise QB first overall makes sense, since it’s clear that you have more than one hole to fill.  That being said, it’s hard to argue with Burrow’s 2019 season for LSU.  The soon-to-be Bengal threw 60 TDs to only 6 INTs to go along with 5,671 yards and a crazy 76.3 completion percentage.  He’s an electric passer who won it all at the college level.  The question in Cincinnati is: will it be enough to get the Bengals back into contention?  Or will the Bengals disfunction continue, just with a new quarterback under center?

Cleveland Browns

Impact Addition: Tight End Austin Hooper

Cleveland Arrival: Free Agency from Falcons

I know that I said that my favorite part of the Browns offseason was that they focused on nuts and bolts players that would help in the trenches and hopefully make a real difference in the win-loss column. 

That’s all true. 

Cleveland had some unrealistic expectations last season based, more likely than not, on the continuation of Baker Mayfield’s rookie success and the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr., who performed about as well as expected, virtually mirroring his output from 2018 in New York.  

As we know, last year wasn’t the quantum leap forward that many expected.  Partially because Baker Mayfield regressed slightly, completing a lower percentage of passes while throwing more interceptions and fewer touchdowns, and partially because the Browns couldn’t control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. 

What went wrong? 

My first suspicion is that the addition of Beckham took away any element of surprise in the Browns offensive scheme.  Defenses knew who Mayfield was looking for.  The addition of Austin Hooper could change that.  The 6’4”, 254-pound tight end had the best season of his career in 2019, hauling in 75 catches and 6 touchdowns, while averaging over 10.5 yards per catch.  He’s the type of pass catching TE that will need attention from defenses, especially on third down.  That’s going to open up some space for OBJ and Jarvis Landry to become far more dangerous down the sidelines. 

If the Browns can become more creative in the pass game in 2020, they could fulfill the potential that everyone saw in them before the 2019 campaign began.  

Pittsburgh Steelers

Impact Addition: OG Stefan Wisniewski

Pittsburgh Arrival:  Free Agency from Kansas City

If it seems like the Steelers best years are behind them with the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, it’s a fair assessment.  JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner did their best to fill in the big shoes left by the tandem, but it wasn’t quite enough.  That being said, Pittsburgh stayed in contention for a wildcard spot all season long, finishing the season at 8-8 after a three-game win streak. 

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about what veteran OG Stefan Wisniewski can bring to the table, but he’s a two-time Super Bowl Champion, having played left guard for both last year’s Chiefs and the 2017 Eagles squad that bested New England on the game’s biggest stage.  For a Steelers team that’s never really OUT of contention, I think it’s a very solid move to bring in a guy like Wisniewski.  Add that to the fact that he can provide stability all along the offensive line (he played center for the Raiders and Jaguars) and you’ve got one heck of an insurance policy in both pass and run protection. 

Will his stats jump off the page? 

Nope. 

But if Big Ben has more time to throw and Conner is seeing more daylight next season, you’ll know why.  

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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