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AFC North projected starters for 2022 NFL season: Ravens set to rebound; question marks for Steelers

With the 2022 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 DE Calais Campbell
RB J.K. Dobbins DT Justin Madubuike
WR Rashod Bateman OLB Odafe Oweh
WR Devin Duvernay LB Patrick Queen
TE Mark Andrews LB Josh Bynes
TE Nick Boyle OLB Jaylon Ferguson
LT Ronnie Stanley CB Marlon Humphrey
LG Patrick Mekari CB Marcus Peters
C Tyler Linderbaum S Marcus Williams
RG Kevin Zeitler S Chuck Clark
RT Morgan Moses S Kyle Hamilton
  • Remember those first five games last season, when Lamar Jackson threw the ball all over the field? That's not how this team is set up to operate.
  • Jarvis Landry would have helped. I like Devin Duvernay and suspect the Ravens believe he can replace a lot of what Marquise Brown could do. But this wideout group remains too thin and will almost certainly add a veteran like Will Fuller or Julio Jones.
  • For now, it's a lot more likely that Nick Boyle plays more as a second tight end than any of the No. 3 receiver options like James Proche or Tylan Wallace.
  • The offensive line looks very strong and ready to be among the best run-blocking units in football with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards supporting Jackson.
  • The addition of center Tyler Linderbaum figures to mean more zone concepts for the Ravens, as if their running game needed to be any more versatile.
  • If the Ravens' defense has a weakness, it's either the edge rushers or off-ball linebackers. Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo will both help the team eventually, but won't be expected for the start of the season coming off big injuries.
  • There is quality beef up front that isn't even listed above. Derek Wolfe, old buddy Michael Pierce and rookie Travis Jones will all rotate in as interior defenders.
  • Patrick Queen is a polarizing player. He looked better after switching to weakside linebacker last year, but has given up a lot of big plays.
  • Marcus Peters will be a bellwether for a strong secondary. His career has been so up and down, but if he's in peak form, this team will be tough to throw on.
  • Recent pickup Kyle Fuller is now the top option at nickel back, but all three safeties (Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark and Kyle Hamilton) are too talented not to get starter-worthy snaps.
  • There is something funny about one of the most analytic-minded organizations being set up so well to run and stop the run. After one of the worst seasons of injury luck ever, the Ravens are primed to rebound.
Table inside Article
QB Joe Burrow DE Trey Hendrickson
RB Joe Mixon DT D.J. Reader
WR Ja'Marr Chase DT B.J. Hill
WR Tee Higgins DE Sam Hubbard
WR Tyler Boyd LB Logan Wilson
TE Hayden Hurst LB Germaine Pratt
LT Jonah Williams CB Chidobe Awuzie
LG Jackson Carman CB Eli Apple
C Ted Karras CB Mike Hilton
RG Alex Cappa S Jessie Bates III
RT La'el Collins S Vonn Bell
  • The entire Bengals starting defense from the Super Bowl is back and each player is a virtual locks to start again, with the exception of Eli Apple. Second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt should have a chance to displace Apple.
  • The offensive line, on the other hand, is projected to have three new starters. Ted Karras and Alex Cappa aren't necessarily high-end starters, but they are competent veterans who will push the Bengals' biggest weak spots from a year ago to the bench.
  • Right tackle La’el Collins could make or break this group. He has a chance to be one of the league's best free-agent bargains.
  • Joe Burrow's playing style includes holding the ball to see if he can make a play. But after taking 70 sacks last season, including the playoffs -- easily the most of any quarterback -- I wonder if he'll focus on making quicker decisions.
  • The Bengals might have the best starting receiver trio in football, yet the depth behind them isn't great. They could still use a veteran addition to safeguard against an injury.
  • Don't be surprised if Hayden Hurst makes a lot of big plays. C.J. Uzomah had a career-high 493 yards playing with Burrow a season ago and Hurst has better pure receiving skills.
  • If the worst thing you can say about a roster is questioning its depth, then it's usually a sweet roster. But I do worry about the back-end of the Bengals' roster. Their defensive line rotates less than most groups and was aided by great health last season.
  • The team's best depth -- and strength overall -- comes in the secondary. They are built to slow down the AFC's superpowers in Buffalo and Kansas City. I don't have first-round pick Dax Hill listed as a starter yet, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will find a way to take advantage of his versatile skill set in some three-safety looks. Hill can also play out of the slot.
  • Trey Hendrickson gets the most attention, but all four defensive line starters are excellent. The Bengals rewarded B.J. Hill, who outplayed Larry Ogunjobi last season.
  • I like so much about this roster. But the Bengals' chances of getting back to the Super Bowl come down to Burrow and his skill-position friends. They make this team special and if they can take another step together, they will be right back in the title mix.
Table inside Article
QB Deshaun Watson DE Myles Garrett
RB Nick Chubb DT Taven Bryan
WR Amari Cooper DT Jordan Elliott
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones DE Jadeveon Clowney
WR David Bell LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
TE David Njoku LB Anthony Walker
LT Jedrick Wills Jr. CB Denzel Ward
LG Joel Bitonio CB Greg Newsome II
C Nick Harris CB Greedy Williams
RG Wyatt Teller S John Johnson III
RT Jack Conklin S Grant Delpit
  • Deshaun Watson's availability is the biggest uncertainty in the entire NFL heading into the 2022 season. Presumably, Jacoby Brissett will start if Watson is suspended to start the year. 
  • The offensive line should be among the best in football again and the backfield remains outrageous. I'm surprised, however, so little attention has been paid to the receiver depth. They need rookie David Bell to be a hit in the slot.
  • The defensive line makes a lot more sense after bringing back Jadeveon Clowney. He's a perfect pass rusher to complement Myles Garrett, while Chase Winovich could turn into a smart pickup as a rotational edge rusher. 
  • The Browns were too easy to run on last year and the defensive tackle depth chart is still not a strength. 
  • Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah played like a burgeoning star as a rookie. He has instincts and movement that is rare for his position. The 2021 second-round pick could emerge as one of the Browns' best players.
  • Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II make for a terrific cornerback duo. They are a little thinner at the position after trading Troy Hill, with Greedy Williams and rookie Martin Emerson battling for the No. 3 role.
  • John Johnson didn't provide an impact commensurate with the big contract he signed a year ago. One more season in Joe Woods' system should help or it could wind up being a short stay in Cleveland for Johnson.
  • This is still a good roster overall, but is it great? If Watson misses time, the Browns figure to start the season in a hole. I'm not sure the rest of the group is special enough to make up for that lost time.
Table inside Article
QB Kenny Pickett DE Cameron Heyward
RB Najee Harris DE Stephon Tuitt*
WR Diontae Johnson OLB T.J. Watt
WR Chase Claypool LB Devin Bush
WR George Pickens LB Myles Jack
TE Pat Freiermuth OLB Alex Highsmith
LT Dan Moore Jr. CB Cameron Sutton
LG Kevin Dotson CB Ahkello Witherspoon
C Mason Cole CB Levi Wallace
RG James Daniels S Minkah Fitzpatrick
RT Chukwuma Okorafor S Terrell Edmunds
  • *UPDATE: Following the publication of this piece, Stephon Tuitt announced his retirement from the NFL after eight seasons.
  • Mitchell Trubisky is the slight favorite to start in Week 1. However, in this exercise, I'm projecting which players will get the most snaps this season, and the Steelers didn't draft Kenny Pickett to sit for long. I'm setting the over-under for Pickett's first start at Week 4.
  • Whoever starts at quarterback has a unique group of weapons around him. Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens can all get deep. Pickens might have the most traditional No. 1 X receiver profile of any prospect in this year's rookie class.
  • Pat Freiermuth should be a great red-zone weapon. A lot of tight ends improve greatly in Year 2, so there is real upside here.
  • The Steelers had a productive offseason beefing up their interior line with James Daniels and Mason Cole. They have options and depth at guard and center.
  • The offense could come down to how successful their self-scouting is at tackle. They trust Dan Moore Jr. on the outside after a decent rookie year. The Steelers surprisingly paid Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle. There aren't any other options. What am I missing?
  • The defensive line doesn't look nearly as good without Tuitt, who posted a career-high 11 sacks in 2020.
  • Tuitt missed all of last season. Tyson Alualu missed most of it. He'll be back as the nose tackle run-stuffer on running downs.
  • Alex Highsmith gets better every season, and in the wake of Tuitt's retirement, Pittsburgh's pass rush needs that trend to continue in 2022.
  • Myles Jack was a savvy pickup, especially because the Steelers can't be sure what they are going to get out of Devin Bush after a poor 2021 season.
  • Cornerback, like offensive line, is a longtime trouble spot. None of the starters above are major problems, but it's not great when the best-case scenario is for the group to be average.
  • Mike Tomlin always finds a way and the formula here (great offensive weapons and pass rush) is familiar. I'd like this roster's ability to survive with a rookie quarterback better if it was in a different division.

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