With Hall of Famers such as Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu, the AFC North has long been known for its physical defense and spirited play, to say the least. While this generation hails superstars T.J. Watt and Myles Garret in the North, is it still the best defensive division that it once was?
For this exercise, I ranked all divisions in the NFL based on its teams’ collective pieces and rotational players. Where do the Cincinnati Bengals and the rest of the AFC North land?
8. AFC South
It feels like ages since Ryan Tannehill and the Titans had the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, being supported by their defensive line and elite running game. Oh, how the mighty fall I suppose.
Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry III are elite players on the defense, but they are unable to compensate for the thin secondary and depleted defense. In seven picks, the Titans' front office did not think to take a single defensive player, not even a developmental project. Perhaps they are banking on falling in love with a training camp star, but it appears this team is in win-now mode with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry instead of a full rebuild.
The Texans traded up to draft Will Anderson Jr. this past draft, but he is on an island for the front seven. The secondary does have high-upside players in Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre who showed flashes during their rookie season, but they both still have some developing to do.
Jags' fourth-round pick Dylan Horton, who notched 10.5 sacks his senior season at TCU, will have opportunities to contribute early, which he will have to take full advantage of. Doug Pederson's second year as head coach should hopefully allow some of these younger players to continue developing under a seemingly stable regime.
The Colts still have DeForest Buckner who they acquired from a trade with San Francisco in 2020, that has since been hailed as a steal. However, like with Tennesse, Buckner is one man who can only do so much.
Second and fifth-round cornerbacks Julius Brents and Darius Rush may develop into a consistent defensive duo in the league. Other players such as fourth-round selection Adetomiwa Adebawore will have to step up their rookie campaign if the Colts want any shot at the division during Anthony Richardson's first year.
This division has little on the defensive side of the ball. 2022 first-overall pick, Travon Walker, secured a measly four sacks in his rookie campaign for the Jags. Jacksonville does have Josh Allen on the edge and Tyson Campbell in the secondary who earned a highly respectable 82.1 grade on Pro Football Focus, but the rest of the roster lacks consistent playmakers.
Jacksonville did not address the defense until the fourth round, a decision that may come back to haunt them come playoff time if they are unable to pressure opposing quarterbacks.