2014 Depth Charts Update: AFC North

Our pass through the depth charts with an eye toward revisions now takes us to the AFC North.

| 3 years ago

2014 Depth Charts Update: AFC North

2014-depth-charts-update-AFCNOne of the things we wanted to do with the depth chart series was keep them updated and in most respects this article is about that – reminding you that we’ll be keeping things relevant until at least the season starts.

However, as we published the series and listened to your comments, something else became apparent. Beyond the section of fans who think half their starters are “elite” and for whom there is very little hope of cure, there were other groups too.

Firstly there are those who felt we see our own grades as absolutely definitive – that we believe they are carved on tablets of stone and the last word in player performance. Now while we are certainly proud of our work and think they are the most accurate view available (as the only people anywhere to watch and grade every player on every facet of play they really should be) they are far from perfect.

So on another level we wanted to let readers know that not only may you disagree with our ratings but internally we have a lot of debates too. If there are 20 players in a particular category, by its very nature, some are at the top and some the bottom and as such are also often a hair away from being in the adjacent group/s. We wanted everyone to understand from the debate points below just how narrow some of these bands are.

Finally these updates are also for another set of people; those who took the time to make well-argued points in the comments section for each team. I read every single one and found myself agreeing with many. This is also about addressing those concerns; those of the readers who like us have no vested interest other than in getting it “right”.

Our process now will be to take one division at a time and debate among our analysts where we need change. Below are the results for the third division up; the AFC North.


Baltimore Ravens

32-lineups-BAL– After some consideration, we opted to drop Courtney Upshaw to “Below Average”. This reflects the fact that he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, with grades of -15.2 in 2012 and -5.0 last year, but is more down to the fact that his run defense took a big step back in 2013, dropping from +17.0 to -4.5.

– We added both new additions to the secondary, Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks, to the roster and debated whether or not both should be in the “Average” category. However, with a coverage grade of -2.3 in his last full season in 2012, we couldn’t justify that for Ross. It was a similar story for Franks, who had a coverage grade of -1.5 from 241 snaps in coverage in 2011. For now we’ve left Chykie Brown as the starter, but appreciate that both Ross and Franks will likely push him for that job.

– The Ravens have shown in the past that they won’t simply hand a starting job to a rookie, and this looks to be the case with free safety Terrence Brooks, who is currently still behind Darian Stewart in the pecking order.

– With a grade that fell just shy of the other punters in the “Good Starter” category, we opted to take a closer look at how Sam Koch had performed in previous years. When we did that it was clear that “Average” was a bit harsh on him, with the Ravens’ punter finishing the previous two seasons as our 12th-highest graded punter.

See the updated depth chart: Baltimore Ravens


Cincinnati Bengals

32-lineups-CIN– We debated whether or not Jermaine Gresham was worthy of being a “Poor Starter” but, while that might have been true of previous seasons, he just wasn’t quite that bad last year. His grade as a run blocker (-6.5) isn’t great, but he’s also asked to do more in-line blocking than a lot of other tight ends.

– Reflecting the news coming out of OTAs we made some changes to the linebackers, though we didn’t swap any grades. Emmanuel Lamur is expected to start on the strong side, while Vincent Rey will likely see snaps across the group as a backup. Were it up to us, we would have Rey starting in the middle, but it looks like he’ll have to continue to impress as a second-stringer for the time being.

– One player we moved up to “Below Average Starter” was cornerback Dre’ Kirkpatrick. He wasn’t great by any stretch, but a -2.6 coverage grade from 224 snaps in coverage is pretty similar to both Ross and Franks in Baltimore, so it made sense to have them in the same group.

See the updated depth chart: Cincinnati Bengals


Cleveland Browns

32-lineups-CLE– Generally we didn’t find too many changes to make on the Browns’ roster, with just two players moving categories, though we did remove outside linebacker Quentin Groves after his release last month.

– We felt we were a little generous to wide receiver Miles Austin, after a poor final season in Dallas last year. With a receiving grade of -9.2, only 11 receivers graded lower, and he picked up just 244 yards through the air.

– Another player we were a little generous too in his rookie year was edge rusher Barkevious Mingo. With a -10.4 grade over the course of the year, grading negatively against the run, as a pass rusher and in coverage, there was little beyond the occasional splash play to have him any higher.

See the updated depth chart: Cleveland Browns


Pittsburgh Steelers

32-lineups-PIT– 2013 wasn’t his best year, but then tight end Heath Miller was also coming back from an injury which surely didn’t help his performance. When we looked back at 2012, only one tight end had a higher receiving grade than Miller’s +14.0 in that regard so a bump up to “Good Starter” felt fair.

– We were less forgiving of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has a Drop Rate of 16.58 over the course of his career. With hands like that, especially as a wide receiver, it’s pretty difficult to argue that he would be anything other than a “Poor Starter”.

-We were too hasty to call Markus Wheaton a “Below Average Starter”, though. He didn’t impress in limited duty as a rookie that’s for sure, but 161 snaps just isn’t enough to get a clear picture so we’ve moved him into the “Not Enough Information” category.

See the updated depth chart: Pittsburgh Steelers



Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • Chris

    Thank you for dropping Bricks For-Hands to Poor Starter.

  • Chris

    I feel like Andre Smith and Zeitler both could be Great Starters, and Boling I think has earned a Good Starter. This is one of the top OLs in the league – other than center every position is great. That’s about all I can complain about on offense.

    On defense I think Dunlap should be a Great Starter. And I’m curious about Leon Hall. Of all CBs to play at least 25%, he had the best Grade Per Snap of anyone. He also plays the slot so he’s versatile. I’d personally rank him Elite – is the worry about him returning from the Achilles injury, or do y’all just not agree from a skill standpoint?

    • Kyle

      Smith and Zeitler can become great starters, but I don’t think they have earned that yet, although I do think Smith is closer than Zeitler (which is awesome because I had almost no positive expectations when he came into the league at about 600 pounds). Boling I am not a huge fan of, he probably needs some more time to earn that Good Starter spot. Losing Anthony Collins was my least favorite move by Cincinnati this season.
      Dunlap, strangely enough, dropped to negative in a pass rush grade this season, but for the most part he has been significantly better as a rusher than a run stopper. Good Starter is probably fair for him, although I am a huge fan of his ability. I love Leon Hall, particularly his ability to be physical, but even if I was someone who tended to use the ‘Elite’ label, I don’t think I’d put him there. I also don’t consider it an insult to him, just that he isn’t there… But this is all just me haha.

      • Chris

        I didn’t exactly go into in depth research when I posted that, so I’m not positive on a lot of what I’m about to say.

        But haven’t Smith and Zeitler both graded pretty well into the positive the last two years? And that’s all Zeitler has to his career – he’s been very good since he entered. Smith was dominant in 2011 and still really good last year. And Boling has had decent positive grades the last two years – that seems like worthy of Good ranking to me.

        Dunlap I could go both ways on. Yes I agree his pass rushing dropped, but and he’s never replicated his early sack numbers, but he still had gotten pretty good pressure numbers until this year. And he’s improved against the run every year and was one of the best this year. One year of average pressure on top of steadily improving run defense isn’t enough to make me drop him to just Good. I think he’s on the low end of Great.

        And Hall, my question was more for the staff. On a per snap basis he was the best CB in the league last year. Coming back from injury certainly is worrisome, but if he played all last year at the same rate he’d have been the top ranked CB. How is that not Elite, unless you make the injury argument?

        • Chris

          2011: -5.9 in only 172 snaps
          2012: +8.8 in 1133 snaps
          2013: +6.0 in 788 snaps

          He’s only been in the league 3 years. Sure he was terrible his rookie year. But he’s improved each year and graded graded decently positive. If he didn’t get injured last year he’d have graded over +10 if he played at the same rate. That sounds like Good Starter to me.

          +15.1 in 1128 snaps
          +8.5 in 878 snaps

          Didn’t play as well in his 2nd year, but that’s only because his rookie year was Great. If he didn’t get injured last year he could have finished over +10.0 as well. Given that he’s never had a bad year (or even an average year), I’d think that deserves Great Starter.

          +3.8 in 994 snaps
          +25.2 in 1124 snaps
          +13.5 in 1201 snaps

          Going to ignore his first 2 years because we both know he struggled. But since being handed a starter role he’s done very well. He improved immediately in 2011, posting what I would call st least an Average line. In 2012 he was one of the best at his position, and last year he regressed back to more of what I’d call a normal level for him.

          2 straight years of double digit positive grades and no bad years since becoming a full time starter would lead me to tagging him as a Great Starter as well.

  • Madi

    Good call with all three changes to the Steelers. DHB is no starter at all, but he wasn’t signed to do that like he was for Oakland and Indy. In Pittsburgh he’ll have to fight just for a roster spot. Way too soon to judge Wheaton, who will probably be as good or better than Emmanuel Sanders by 2015.
    And Heath had just torn his ACL, MCL, and PCL. He had no offseason and was noticeably weaker. 2013 was not representative of the player he really is in the least. And he STILL made a huge difference to the offense. Hell, before the injury, I’d have called him elite.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki
    • Maurice Durant

      Dalton under a new, run-heavy coordinator. Won’t be seeing throws like that too often these days.

  • Edward

    All you need to know to formulate an opinion on this article is that Jah Reid is rated as merely “below average”.

    Jah Reid is terrible. He hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup even with a litany of injuries depleting the line, and to make matters worse, he’s unwatchable when he does play, with back ups in pre season (having said that, I am surprised he has enough regular season snaps to qualify).

    The only reason he is still on the team is because we wasted a third rounder on him (Ozzie’s ego), and further, we might as well allow his cheap 4 year deal to finish while hoping he eventually becomes serviceable enough as a backup to hold on to.

    My only regret is that, assuming he makes the team this offseason (I have my doubts), he will qualify for an NFL pension, having delivered nothing but off-the-field issues and middling backup play.