The strength of the AFC North can be seen in the all-divisional team, a unit that has two Cincinnati Bengals representatives.
As we continue our deep dive into the strength of the Bengals’ roster in comparison with their division rivals, one fact has become clear: there is overwhelming talent present throughout the AFC North.
There has been a distinct lack of Bengals making the first team. Only A.J. Green made the cut on offense and just two Bengals make the final eleven on defense. This is not a slight on the Bengals, but rather the strength of talent across the division.
Non-Bengals omitted from the list include Earl Thomas, Brandon Williams, Bud Dupree, and Denzel Ward. That sentence in itself depicts the talent present.
Defensive Ends – Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens, Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
The defensive line is deep with talent division-wide as honorable mentions are necessary for Carlos Dunlap and Olivier Vernon.
The Ravens picked up a blue-chip talent in Calais Campbell from the Jaguars. Campbell is approaching the twilight of a potential Hall of Fame career, however, last year’s performance was strong enough to warrant a Pro-Bowl berth.
Garrett is the division’s most talented D-Lineman, recording 10 sacks in a season that ended for him in mid-November due to that incident with Mason Rudolph.
Defensive Tackles – Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers, Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Once again, hugely talented omissions are present in the form of Brandon Williams of the Ravens and the newly signed Bengal, D.J. Reader.
Cam Heyward remains a force against both the run and the pass, recording 9 sacks last season and Geno Atkins is arguably the Bengals’ greatest defender in franchise history. Atkins is entering the latter stages of his career, however, he remains an ever-present force in the interior.
Linebackers – T.J Watt & Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers take this position hands down. If I had projected a standard 4-3 base defense another Steeler in Bud Dupree would have taken the final spot.
T.J. Watt has arguably outplayed his superstar brother J.J. since coming into the league. His 14.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 8 forced fumbles made him a strong defensive player of the year candidate.
Devin Bush was originally projected to be drafted by the Bengals in 2019 prior to Pittsburgh trading up with the Broncos to snag him from the Bengals’ clasp. Bush evidenced his draft pedigree with a rookie season that showed his eye for the football against both the pass and the run.
Cornerbacks – Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens, Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers, Marcus Peters (Slot), Baltimore Ravens
Corner is an area that the division is flush with talent as Browns and Bengals’ first-rounders in Denzel Ward and William Jackson III narrowly miss out.
Marlon Humphrey has a remarkable strength against the deep ball and his mixture of strength and speed means that quarterbacks are forced to throw underneath.
Joe Haden has not let up since the Browns ridiculously cut him over a $4 million difference in salary expectations. It could be argued that Denzel Ward and Steven Nelson had better seasons statistically, but Haden played one-on-one with many of the league’s best wideouts last year and more than held his own.
Marcus Peters is placed in the slot as he could not be omitted for last year’s performance and would fill this role best of the three. Peters had the best spell of his career for Baltimore last year after being traded (or frankly, stolen) from the Rams, recording 3 interceptions and returning 2 of them to the house.
Safeties – Vonn Bell (Strong), Cincinnati Bengals, Minkah Fitzpatrick (Free), Pittsburgh Steelers
It may be a little narrative-driven to say that Minkah Fitzpatrick transformed the Steelers’ defense last year. However, an improvement was visible when he was traded from the Dolphins in the early weeks of the season. His ability in coverage and field vision make him one of the best at his position, enough for him to overthrow Earl Thomas from the list.
Strong safety as a group is less talented. Vonn Bell looks a sneakily good pick up for the Bengals recording 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception last term.