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AFC North projected starters for 2024 NFL season: Justin Fields to emerge for Steelers?

With the 2024 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams, because that's his idea of fun. Check out the AFC North breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Lamar Jackson Edge Odafe Oweh
RB Derrick Henry DT Michael Pierce
WR Zay Flowers DT Justin Madubuike
WR Rashod Bateman Edge Kyle Van Noy
TE Mark Andrews LB Roquan Smith
TE Isaiah Likely LB Trenton Simpson
LT Ronnie Stanley CB Marlon Humphrey
LG Andrew Vorhees CB Brandon Stephens
C Tyler Linderbaum CB Arthur Maulet
RG Ben Cleveland S Kyle Hamilton
RT Roger Rosengarten S Marcus Williams
  • Josh Johnson turns 38 years old this week, but he'll be entering the season as the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback for the first time now that Tyler Huntley is gone. And for the AFC's No. 1 seed from a year ago!
  • Derrick Henry grew accustomed to running behind shaky offensive lines in Tennessee. The Ravens have a far better history of coaching their guys up, but this group has major questions.
  • The right tackle and starting guard spots are up for grabs. Former Cardinals and Texans lineman Josh Jones is an interesting reserve name to watch. He's talented. Second-round pick Roger Rosengarten could start from Day 1.
  • The Ravens' full-throated support of Rashod Bateman all offseason in words, action (a new contract) and inaction (not adding more to the position) spoke volumes. They are counting on him.
  • Isaiah Likely is listed as a starter above because he matters more to this offense than slot receiver Nelson Agholor or rookie Devontez Walker. Expect a lot of two tight end sets.
  • If first-round cornerback Nate Wiggins is ready in time, he could start on the outside with Marlon Humphrey moving to the slot. Wiggins doesn't bring the physicality that Ravens corners are known for.
  • Injuries crushed this secondary last year. If they can stay healthy and Wiggins or T.J. Tampa add anything as rookies, it could turn into a strength.
  • No team is more likely to find quality snaps from free agents still on the market. The Ravens could add help at edge rusher, guard and receiver.
  • The Ravens are one of the few teams that look worse on paper after the offseason. Losing defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald also hurts. Then again, John Harbaugh, Eric DeCosta and Lamar Jackson usually have a way of making roster holes look better once it's time to suit up.
Table inside Article
QB Joe Burrow Edge Trey Hendrickson
RB Zack Moss DT B.J. Hill
WR Ja'Marr Chase DT Sheldon Rankins
WR Tee Higgins Edge Sam Hubbard
WR Jermaine Burton LB Logan Wilson
TE Drew Sample LB Germaine Pratt
LT Orlando Brown Jr. CB Cam Taylor-Britt
LG Cordell Volson CB DJ Turner II
C Ted Karras CB Mike Hilton
RG Alex Cappa S Geno Stone
RT Trent Brown S Jordan Battle
  • The Bengals offense profiles deep everywhere except wide receiver, which is quite a change.
  • Then again, third-round receiver Jermaine Burton is probably more talented than Tyler Boyd, who departed in free agency. It's asking a lot of a middle-round pick with an inconsistent college career to take that role, so incumbents Trenton Irwin and Andrei Iosivas have a shot, too.
  • Even if this does turn out to be Tee Higgins' last season in Cincinnati, I like the decision to attempt squeezing one more great year out of him and Ja’Marr Chase together. They complement each other so well.
  • Chase Brown showed enough late last season to believe he'll be a great partner with Zack Moss. They can both excel in the screen game. It's a better setup than what the Bengals had a year ago. Brown is developing and Moss replaces Joe Mixon.
  • Jake Browning earned a multi-year contract as Joe Burrow's backup after performing so well late last season. The Bengals just hope they won't need Browning so much.
  • The Bengals have incrementally improved their offensive line in the Burrow era, going from dreadful to average. This year they have a chance to be good, with solid continuity on the interior and boom-or-bust talent at tackle in starter Trent Brown and first-round backup Amarius Mims.
  • I keep seeing Mike Gesicki being touted as a big addition, but Drew Sample has been in the Bengals system for years and Gesicki struggled to earn playing time in New England last year.
  • The Bengals are not fulfilling Trey Hendrickson's trade request, so he'll be back. Last year's first-round pick, Myles Murphy, needs to contribute more as the third edge rusher.
  • The defensive tackle position is way deeper after the signing of Sheldon Rankins and selections of Kris Jenkins and McKinnley Jackson on Day 2 of the draft.
  • The Bengals are moving 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill to cornerback, where he projects as a backup. He'd be no higher than fourth on the safety depth chart with old friend Vonn Bell back in the mix.
  • The development of the young defensive backs (Cam Taylor-Britt, DJ Turner II, Jordan Battle, Hill) could be the key to the whole defense.
  • It's on director of player personnel Duke Tobin to make Burrow's take that his championship window is his entire career look smart. This roster qualifies for being good enough.
Table inside Article
QB Deshaun Watson Edge Myles Garrett
RB Nick Chubb DT Dalvin Tomlinson
WR Amari Cooper DT Shelby Harris
WR Jerry Jeudy Edge Za'Darius Smith
WR Cedric Tillman LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
TE David Njoku LB Jordan Hicks
LT Jedrick Wills Jr. CB Denzel Ward
LG Joel Bitonio CB Greg Newsome II
C Ethan Pocic CB Martin Emerson Jr.
RG Wyatt Teller S Grant Delpit
RT Jack Conklin S Juan Thornhill
  • The Browns' starting quarterback, running back, and top three tackles are coming off major injuries. That's something to monitor, especially at tackle, but they all hope to be ready for the season.
  • Deshaun Watson's absence from OTAs could allow Jameis Winston to learn the offense faster. Tyler Huntley is also onboard for depth, along with second-year quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
  • Jerry Jeudy hasn't been consistent as a pro, but he gets open and upgrades this receiver group's talent. His hefty contract shows the Browns believe in him. Cedric Tillman and Elijah Moore figure to battle for the WR3 spot.
  • Jack Conklin is the biggest concern of the injured tackles because of his age and the severity of his knee injuries. It's possible last year's rookie revelation Dawand Jones, also coming off a knee injury, winds up winning the right tackle job long-term.
  • The injuries, in addition to the departure of coach Bill Callahan, make the offensive line a bigger question mark than usual after a steady run as one of the best groups in football.
  • The Browns have great edge depth with Ogbo Okoronkwo and Alex Wright behind perhaps the best starting tandem in football.
  • The interior line is less exciting, although Dalvin Tomlinson was another smart acquisition by Browns GM Andrew Berry last offseason.
  • The blowout AFC playoff loss was a reminder that dominant defenses have a hard time staying that way. Any decline in Year 2 under Jim Schwartz, however, should be mitigated by an excellent cornerback depth chart.
  • This is an 11-win team with plenty of talent and continuity that just needs better quarterback play to be in the AFC title mix.
Table inside Article
QB Justin Fields Edge T.J. Watt
RB Jaylen Warren DE Cameron Heyward
WR George Pickens DT Keeanu Benton
WR Roman Wilson DE Larry Ogunjobi
WR Calvin Austin III Edge Alex Highsmith
TE Pat Freiermuth LB Patrick Queen
LT Troy Fautanu CB Joey Porter Jr.
LG Isaac Seumalo CB Donte Jackson
C Zach Frazier S Minkah Fitzpatrick
RG James Daniels S DeShon Elliott
RT Broderick Jones S Damontae Kazee
  • Justin Fields and Russell Wilson are such similar players. I expect the Steelers will go with the younger, more explosive version once they see them side by side. Even if Wilson wins the Week 1 job, Fields is my pick to play the most games.
  • This wide receiver room is among the worst in football. Van Jefferson was a letdown in Los Angeles and Atlanta, struggling to track the ball. He's not a lock to make the team. Third-round pick Roman Wilson is the most likely option to be the second receiver. Calvin Austin III and Quez Watkins profile as decent No. 4 options.
  • It was a surprise to see the Steelers pass on the fifth-year option for Najee Harris at the relatively low price of $6.8 million. That's a sign Jaylen Warren could wind up with more snaps after a near even split between the two players last season.
  • Troy Fautanu and Zach Frazier profile as Day 1 starters, even though the Steelers usually slow play their rookies. This group should be among the league's best at pulling on runs.
  • Third-round rookie Payton Wilson will have a chance to challenge veteran Elandon Roberts for linebacker snaps next to Patrick Queen. I'm a little worried about Queen declining away from Roquan Smith, especially with the Steelers swinging and missing so often at this position.
  • The Steelers always seem to have future defensive stars simmering. Both Keeanu Benton and Joey Porter Jr. are candidates to make the leap this season.
  • I listed three safeties because cornerback doesn't have a logical nickel starter. Look for the Steelers to seek out veteran players who could challenge for immediate snaps at cornerback and receiver. Stephon Gilmore? Some defensive line depth could help, too.
  • Put the Steelers in the NFC South and they'd easily be the favorites. In the AFC North, they could finish fourth, but there's enough talent here to take a big step forward if Fields surprises.

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