AFC North Defensive Changes


Baltimore Ravens

2014 Ranks - Pass: 17th; Run: 4th

CB Jimmy Smith is one the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His return from injury will do wonders for the secondary. 

CB Jimmy Smith is one the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His return from injury will do wonders for the secondary. 

Key Losses:
OLB Pernell McPhee (+26.0)
DE Haloti Ngata (+18.4)

Key Additions:
S Kendrick Lewis (+1.8)

Notes:

  • OLB Pernell McPhee and DE Haloti Ngata are fantastic pass rushers, but the Ravens have sufficient depth in the front seven and can afford to lose them.
  • CB Jimmy Smith, their #1 CB, returns from injury to stabilize the secondary which should keep them competitive. Smith's return is a big deal as he is arguably a top 10 cornerback in the NFL. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Neutral; Run: Unfavorable

Even with the loss of such accomplished pass rushers, upgrades in the secondary should keep the Ravens respectable against the pass. They won't be quite as formidable against the run as they were last year but should still represent a relatively unfavorable matchup. 


Cincinnati Bengals

After just one season in Tampa, the Bengals get DE Michael Johnson back at a discount. 

After just one season in Tampa, the Bengals get DE Michael Johnson back at a discount. 

2014 Ranks - Pass: 6th; Run: 20th

Key Losses:
CB Terence Newman (-1.2)
DE Robert Geathers (-29.0)

Key Additions:
LB AJ Hawk (-14.4)
DE Michael Johnson (-12.6)

Notes:

  • Last year, the Bengals fielded one of the deepest cornerback groups ever, consisting of Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, and Dre Kirkpatrick- all former 1st round picks. Newman departs but the 36-year-old is on his last legs. 
  • DE Michael Johnson seems like a better fit in Cincinnati than he was in Tampa and will improve the pass rush.
  • LB AJ Hawk won't be enough to aid the run defense that was average at best. 
  • LB Vontaze Burfict played in just 5 games in 2014. When healthy he's productive both as a run stopper and in coverage. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Unfavorable; Run: Neutral

In the end, the Bengals lost few players of note on the defensive end while choosing to spend most of the draft investing in the offense.


Cleveland Browns

2014 Ranks - Pass: 3rd; Run: 31st

CB Joe Haden is elite at shutting down opposing receivers but the Browns still can't stop the run. 

CB Joe Haden is elite at shutting down opposing receivers but the Browns still can't stop the run. 

Key Losses:
OLB Jabaal Sheard (+8.2)
CB Buster Skrine (-6.3)
S Jim Leonhard (+4.7)
NT Ahtyba Rubin (-14.3)

Key Additions:
CB Tramon Williams (+1.6)
DE Randy Starks (-1.1)
NT Danny Shelton (Round 1, Pick 12)
OLB Nate Orchard (Round 2, Pick 19)

Note:

  • Incredible disparity - elite against the pass, embarrassingly bad against the run in 2014
  • CB Joe Haden is still an elite, shut-down corner. Haden had a rough start in 2014, grading at -7.5 in the first 3 games but recovered and finished strong with an overall grade of +10.9 thereafter.
  • Lost CB Buster Skrine but gain CB Tramon Williams- a decent upgrade
  • Lost DE Jabaal Sheard who was one of their best performers against the run (+9.4)
  • DE John Hughes was hurt for much of 2014 but looked good when he played. In 2013, Hughes graded at +11.2 overall and +9.6 in run defense. A healthy Hughes balances out the loss of Sheard.
  • Drafted nose tackle Danny Shelton with the 12th overall pick. Shelton will be the biggest contributor to improving the defense against the run. He will start and contribute immediately. 
  • Drafted DE Nate Orchard in the 2nd round - could help with the pass rush.

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Unfavorable; Run: Favorable

Will the Browns run defense improve? Maybe, but not enough. It will take more than just rookie NT Danny Shelton. Meanwhile, losing Sheard is a step backward in that department. Meanwhile, the secondary, with Gipson, Whitner, Haden, and Williams, remains elite. 


Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 Ranks - Pass: 28th; Run: 16th

The end of an era as the iconic Troy Polamalu retires after 12 years with the Steelers.

The end of an era as the iconic Troy Polamalu retires after 12 years with the Steelers.

Key Losses:
DE Jason Worilds (+11.7)
DE Brett Keisel (-0.6)
CB Brice McCain (-2.8)
CB Ike Taylor (broke his arm in week 5, out for season)
S Troy Polamalu (+0.1)

Key Additions:
OLB Bud Dupree (Round 1, Pick 22)
CB Senquez Golson (Round 2, Pick 24)
CB Brand Boykin (+6.5)

Notes:

  • Lost DE Jason Worilds, CB Ike Taylor, and S Troy Polamalu to retirement (Worilds was still good). 
  • 1st round pick Bud Dupree serves as Worilds’ replacement and should fortify the front 7.
  • 2014 first round pick, LB Ryan Shazier returns from injury. For a rookie, he did quite well in limited time last year. 
  • Poor secondary addressed in the draft with 2nd and 4th round picks CB Senquez Golson and CB Doran Grant - we’ll see if they can start right away. Update: On August 31, Senquez Golson was placed on season-ending IR.
  • Desperate for cornerback help, the Steelers traded a conditional 5th round pick to the Eagles for CB Boykin. However, Boykin was relegated to playing nickel corner in Philadelphia. It is unclear if the Steelers will try to us him on the outside. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Neutral

This old defense lost a lot of players and is in the process of rebuilding. There will be growing pains.