2014 Depth Charts Update: AFC North
One 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.
– 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
– 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
– 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
– 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
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