This preseason positional ranking series will focus on the AFC North, looking at each position and where each team stands in comparison with its rivals. We’ve looked at each team’s quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and offensive lines, so now let’s take a look at the defensive lines and determine which D-line is the best in the AFC North.
To have success in the AFC North, teams have to run the ball. Conversely, in order to prevent opponents from gashing apart their defenses, AFC North teams need to rely on strong defensive line play to stop the run. In doing so, these defenses force opposing quarterbacks to make plays in the passing game, which can be much more difficult in stadiums like Heinz Field and Paul Brown Stadium, where conditions can be less than ideal for passers.
The Cincinnati Bengals run a 4-3 defense, while the rest of the division’s teams run 3-4 defenses (Depth charts per OurLads.com). This inherently gives Cincinnati an advantage over the other three teams because of the team’s four defensive linemen, but it gives the team a disadvantage at the linebacker position, where it can only field three linebackers in its base defense.
Defensive line is one of the AFC North’s few positions of weakness, but there are still a couple of solid defensive lines in the North. With studs like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Cam Heyward, the division has some Pro Bowl-caliber players. And with young and exciting linemen Danny Shelton and Timmy Jernigan looking to make an impact for their respective teams, the division could soon boast some of the NFL’s best defensive lines. Let’s take a look at the AFC North’s defensive lines and determine which one is the best.