Which players are worth keeping in 2018? AFC North Edition

Yesterday WFNY ran an article breaking the Browns roster into three tiers built around the concept of player value moving in the future. This concept was successful and sparked plenty of quality conversation about the depth and promise of the Browns future when analyzing the current state of affairs. The talent is there for the Browns but also a clear need to add more.

Now, having said that, it was brought to may attention that it might be wise to compare the current Browns tiered players and depth to those who are consistently competing atop the AFC North to see where the differences lie. Currently the Bengals are 5-7, the Ravens are in the Wild Card at 7-5, and the Steelers are tied at the top of the conference with New England at 10-2. These teams clearly have a deeper base of talent on their overall roster, but let’s dive in to see just how far off the Browns are.

Reminder of the criteria:

High Quality = Minimum of a likely starter on at least half of NFL teams
Roster Worthy = Minimum of a likely 53-man roster player on at least half of NFL teams
Replaceable = Can be fringe on future rosters, but can also be let go


Pittsburgh Offense

Position: Quarterback

High Quality: Ben Roethlisberger
Roster Worthy: None
Replaceable: Josh Dobbs, Landry Jones

Ben is obviously elite (and it still hurts). Jones and Dobbs are easily replaceable backup quarterback pieces.

Position: Wide Receiver

High Quality: Antonio Brown
Roster Worthy: Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers
Replaceable: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter

Antonio Brown is on a collision course with Canton, enough said. Martavis Bryant has immense talent but his attitude problems keep getting in the way of his overall development. Schuster has been really good in his rookie season, and Rogers is better than his overall numbers show this year. Heyward-Bey–who is well past his prime–and Hunter are easily replaced.

Position: Running back

High Quality: Le’Veon Bell
Roster Worthy: None
Replaceable: James Conner, Fitzgerald Touissaint

Le’Veon is another obvious elite talent. Bell’s free agency coming this off-season will be quite interesting. James Connor–whose personal story I urge you to look into if you have not–has potential, but has been very average in 2017 action. Touissant has 112 yards in four years in the NFL.

Position: Offensive Line

High Quality: David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva
Roster Worthy: Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney
Replaceable: Kyle Friend, Mike Matthews, Matt Feiler, Jerald Hawkins

DeCastro is about as elite as they come at the Guard position, and despite a down year from Ramon Foster, his track record has shown the same. Maurkice Pouncey is fringe high quality this year, but is still performing well enough. Alejandro Villanueva has also transformed into a high quality player as well. The Steelers are strong up front.

Position: Tight End

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Jessie James
Replaceable: Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald

Jessie James is adequate, but the Steelers could do much better here. Grimble provides a solid TE2 option, but both he and Vance McDonald are replaceable.

Pittsburgh Defense

Position: Safety

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Robert Golden
Replaceable: Sean Davis, J.J. Wilcox, Mike Mitchell, Daimion Stafford

Other than Robert Golden’s average play, this has been a position of major weakness for Pittsburgh.

Position: Cornerback

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, William Gay
Replaceable: Coty Sensabaugh, DaShaun Phillips, Greg Ducre, Antonio Crawford

Another just adequate position here from Pittsburgh. Mike Hilton has been a welcome addition in the slot, and Joe Haden was a solid pickup for the Steelers in their zone schemes before his leg injury. Artie Burns is the most consistent name at the position on the roster.

Position: Linebacker

High Quality: Ryan Shazier
Roster Worthy: Vince Williams
Replaceable: L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich

Obviously hoping Shazier continues to get healthy. He showed elite talent this year for the first time as he figured things out. Vince Williams has been solid alongside. Fort and Metekevich will be pressed into duty with Shazier down. Both are replaceable.

Position: Defensive Line

High Quality: Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt
Roster Worthy: T.J. Watt, Tyson Alualu, James Harrison
Replaceable: Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats, Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton

Steelers are deep up fron with veterans like Hargrave, Heyward, and Tuitt. T.J. Watt is showing rookie signs of immense talent and James Harrison doesn’t age.

Pittsburgh Special Teams

Position: Kicker, Punter, Long-Snapper

High Quality: Chris Boswell
Roster Worthy: Kameron Canaday
Replaceable: Jordan Berry

Chris Boswell is about as good as they come in the NFL at kicker, usually over 90% accuracy each season. Berry is in the bottom five punters in the NFL in NET average.


Baltimore Offense

Position: Quarterback

High Quality: Joe Flacco
Roster Worthy: None
Replaceable: Ryan Mallett

We can argue whether Flacco is elite or not, sure, but he is certainly high quality that 15 other teams would love to have. Ryan Mallett is a lost cause.

Position: Wide Receiver

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin,
Replaceable: Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Quincy Adeboyejo

Jeremy Maclin keeps this group afloat, while Mike Wallace is a shell of his former self. This group has to get better for the Ravens in the future as they struggle in the pass game.

Position: Running back

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Alex Collins, Danny Woodhead
Replaceable: Terrance West, Javoris Allen, Kenneth Dixon

I can be convinced that with the year Alex Collins is having, he can be high-quality. I just need to see more. Woodhead, when healthy, is a welcome addition to any roster. West and Allen can be replaced easily.

Position: Offensive Line

High Quality: Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, Marshal Yanda
Roster Worthy: Austin Howard
Replaceable: James Hurst, Matt Skura, Brandon Kublanow, Maurquice Shakir

Marshal Yanda is at the top of his craft at the guard positon, absolutely elite. Stanley, Jensen, and Howard are all nice pieces up front as well. This isn’t a top notch group, but it gets the job done for Baltimore.

Position: Tight End

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: None
Replaceable: Benjamin Watson, Vince Mayle, Nick Boyle

Another position of weakness for Baltimore. Watson has been serviceable, but he can be improved upon. Yes, Browns fans, that is the Vince Mayle you think it is.

Baltimore Defense

Position: Safety

High Quality: Tony Jefferson, Eric Weddle
Roster Worthy: None
Replaceable: Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine Sr.

Weddle and Jefferson are a dynamic backfield duo – really elite. I can be talked into Chuck Clark as roster worthy, but need to see more.

Position: Cornerback

High Quality: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr
Roster Worthy: Marlon Humphrey, Maurice Canady
Replaceable: Lardarius Webb, Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Another positon of strength. Jimmy Smith–on injured reserve–is elite at corner, and Brandon Carr is high quality as well. Need to see more of Humphrey and Canady to grade them higher, but PFF has enjoyed their rookie season work.

Position: Linebacker

High Quality: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor
Roster Worthy: None
Replaceable: Albert McClellan, Steven Johnson, Bam Bradley

Mosely and Onwuasor for a nice interior linebacking duo. The depth behind them is unchallenged, so it’s tough to see them anything other than replaceable.

Position: Defensive Line

High Quality: Terrelle Suggs, Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams
Roster Worthy: Matthew Judon, Carl Davis, Tim Williams, Brent Urban, Willie Henry
Replaceable: Chris Wormley, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser

Raven 3-4 scheme has always been dominant due to their front. Nothing has changed with Terrell Suggs elite play. Pierce and Brandon Williams are dynamic inside as well. This is a nasty group to run the football against, and can pressure any quarterback.

Baltimore Special Teams

Position: Kicker, Punter, Long-Snapper

High Quality: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch
Roster Worthy: Morgan Cox
Replaceable: None

Justin Tucker is a top five kicker each year, and the same can be said of Sam Koch’s punting this year. Special kicking duo for Baltimore.


Cincinnati Offense

Position: Quarterback

High Quality: Andy Dalton
Roster Worthy: A.J. McCarron
Replaceable: None

Another debate similar to Flacco here for Dalton. He isn’t elite, but there are plenty of NFL teams who could benefit from his services. A.J. McCarron is roster worthy for his upside thought to be there, but we haven’t yet seen in action. He will be on another NFL roster competing for playing time soon.

Position: Wide Receiver

High Quality: A.J. Green
Roster Worthy: John Ross, Tyler Boyd
Replaceable: Brandon LaFell, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core

A.J. Green might also be on a collision course for Canton someday, he’s really special. John Ross and Tyler Boyd both get roster worthy distinctions because Boyd had a really solid rookie season and is coming back from a knee injury, and John Ross has immense skill but there is something missing this year. His talent will be utilized by their next coach. The Bengals have let too many talented players walk in this department of late.

Position: Running back

High Quality: Joe Mixon
Roster Worthy: Giovani Bernard
Replaceable: Cethan Carter, Ryan Hewitt, Brian Hill

Joe Mixon is having a really good rookie season, and Giovani Bernard is still very serviceable in the right situations.

Position: Offensive Line

High Quality: Clint Boling
Roster Worthy: Andre Smith
Replaceable: Cedric Ogbuehi, Eric Winston, Russell Bodine, Trey Hopkins, Alex Redmond, Christian Westerman

The Bengals lost so much up front when they let Kevin Zietler and Andrew Whitworth walk. The Bengals are hurting up front, and the only bright spot has been Clint Boling. I think they look heavily at Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson in the upcoming draft, or even a tackle like the Irish’s Mike McGlinchey. They need serious help up front.

Position: Tight End

High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Tyler Croft, Tyler Eifert
Replaceable: C.J. Uzomah

If Tyler Eifert could only stay healthy. Croft has done really well filling in for Eifert as TE1, but there could be an even better receiver at the position someday.

Cincinnati Defense

Position: Safety

High Quality: George Iloka
Roster Worthy: Clayton Fejedelem, Josh Shaw
Replaceable: Shawn Williams, Brandon Wilson

Iloka is a really quality NFL safety and Fejedelem has been solid as well. Shaw has been playing more safety than corner, and he is learning the nuances of the position.

Position: Cornerback

High Quality: William Jackson, Darqueze Dennard
Roster Worthy: Dre Kirkpatrick
Replaceable: Adam Jones, Sojourn Shelton, Keivarae Russell

This group is deep for Cincinnati due to William Jackson’s surge as a rookie. He is fun to watch. Dennard is tough in the slot as well. The Bengals could stand to see more consistency from Kirkpatrick and Jones – they have been points of weakness this off-season.

Position: Linebacker

High Quality: Vontaze Burfict
Roster Worthy: Kevin Minter, Vincent Rey
Replaceable: Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson, Brandon Bell

Nobody truly like Vontaze Burfict, not even Bengals fans, but he has been really good for three straight years when on the field. Kevin Minter and Vincet Rey have been solid as well.

Position: Defensive Line

High Quality: Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson
Roster Worthy: Michael Johnson, Chris Smith, Jordan Willis
Replaceable: Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, Pat Sims

Geno Atkins as an elite yearly performer. Carlos Dunlap is much the same. The surprise has been rookie Carl Lawson who has looked spectacular for this group. Michael Johnson is up and down, but he gives a presence and depth they need.

Cincinnati Special Teams

Position: Kicker, Punter, Long-Snapper

High Quality: Kevin Huber
Roster Worthy: Randy Bullock, Clark Harris
Replaceable: None

Randy Bullock is proving himself this year, and Kevin Huber is a top end of the NFL punter.

Overall, here are the comparative numbers:

Cleveland Roster

High Quality: 11
Roster Worthy: 19
Replaceable: 29

Pittsburgh Roster

High Quality: 12
Roster Worthy: 16
Replaceable: 26

Baltimore Roster

High Quality: 14
Roster Worthy: 15
Replaceable: 26

Cincinnati Roster

High Quality: 12
Roster Worthy: 17
Replaceable: 26

This is tough to have as a perfect science with a 53 man roster due to important inures that affect the long-term roster, but you can see the numbers are close, just not exact. Do with the numbers as you will, as it is clear they don’t tell the whole story. It’s a subjective list the is certainly up for discussion and debate. It’s easy to see the Steelers get more out of their High Quality talent with far more elite players within that group than the others. The talent gap there is obvious despite how these particular categories shake out. The Ravens get the most out a defense that is solid on every level. The Bengals are slipping but the High Quality talent is in the right places to win. The Browns haven’s seen their High Quality talent perform to the level needed quite yet, and their weak positions are so valuable to the win/loss record.

Let me know what you think!