Last week, we started to unveil our preseason All-Division teams. They were compiled largely by a panel of one, though there was significant input from the writing and editorial staff at after I took an initial run at the rosters on my own. 

We began last week with the NFC, going through each of the NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, and NFC West. This week, it’s on to the AFC. We began Tuesday with the AFC East, and continue today with the AFC North. 

Offensive skill positions

QB: Lamar Jackson (BAL)

RB: Nick Chubb (CLE), Joe Mixon (CIN)

WR: Odell Beckham (CLE), JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT), A.J. Green (CIN)

TE: Mark Andrews (BAL), Austin Hooper (CLE)

It seems highly likely that we’ll never see another season quite like the one Jackson just had — unless it comes from Jackson himself. He had the greatest rushing season in quarterback history, racking up 1,206 yards and seven scores on 176 carries. He finished sixth in the whole damn league in rushing yards and fourth in rushing first downs. He led all quarterbacks in rushing by 662 yards, giving him more than double the next-closest signal-caller (Kyler Murray). As if that weren’t enough, Jackson also led the NFL in passing touchdowns and touchdown rate, tossing 36 scores on just 401 attempts. Some of that production, like the touchdown rate, is simply unsustainable. Only four other times in NFL history has a quarterback thrown for a score on at least 9 percent of his passes, and on average, those players saw their touchdown rate drop by 3.1 percentage points the following season. Still, a 5.9 percent rate would be one of the highest in the league, so Jackson’s baseline expectation is damn good. And the rushing totals seem entirely replicable, given his skill set.

Chubb led the league in rushing for much of last season, and the Browns just signed right tackle Jack Conklin — who cleared the way for Derrick Henry to actually lead the league in rushing. He may not get as much work in the passing game because Kareem Hunt won’t be suspended for the first eight games, but he’ll be heavily involved in what should be one of the run-heaviest offenses in the NFL. Mixon got in a rhythm down the stretch of last season despite running behind one of the worst offensive lines in football and a horrid quarterback situation. Both of those aspects of the Bengals offense should be improved this year, and Mixon should remain the lead back there. He could be in for his best season yet. 

Beckham played all of last season injured and was supposedly terrible and yet he still ended up with 74 catches for 1,035 yards and four scores. If that’s terrible, you know a player is damn good. In what should be an improved offense, we expect Beckham to get back on track. Smith-Schuster struggled badly last season and Green was out injured all year, but with Ben Roethlisberger back and Joe Burrow under center, it’s reasonable to expect two of the most talented receivers in the league to get back on track. Mark Andrews was one of the most efficient producers at his position last year, and with Hayden Hurst now in Atlanta, Andrews should get even more opportunities. The man Hurst is replacing with the Falcons, Hooper, signed with the Browns and new coach Kevin Stefanski loves nothing more than his two-tight end sets. Hooper should be heavily involved, just like Beckham. 

Offensive line

OT: Ronnie Stanley (BAL), Alejandro Villanueva (PIT)

G: Joel Bitonio (CLE), David DeCastro (PIT)

C: Trey Hopkins (CIN)

Stanley was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded pass-blocking tackle last season, and that grade was not out of character for him. Like the rest of Baltimore’s offensive line, Stanley is also a plus run blocker, and though he gets some help from Jackson in that regard, he should continue excelling nonetheless. The second tackle spot here came down to Villanueva and Stanley’s teammate, Orlando Brown. Brown was quite good in protection last season and is deserving of a look, but Villanueva has a longer track record of success so we’ll lean in that direction. 

With the legendary Marshal Yanda retiring, both guard spots are up for grabs. Bitonio and DeCastro are each worthy successors, and two of the league’s better pass protecting guards. They don’t maul in the run game quite like Yanda, but there aren’t many that do. Hopkins was the lone bright spot on Cincinnati’s offensive line last season, emerging as an above-average starter despite a wreck on either side of him. 

Defensive front

EDGE: Calais Campbell (BAL), T.J. Watt (PIT)

IDL: Geno Atkins (CIN), Cameron Heyward (PIT)

LB: Matt Judon (BAL), Vince Williams (PIT), Devin Bush (PIT)

There is a lot of edge talent to choose from in this division. We were able to sneak Judon onto the roster as a linebacker because he does drop into coverage fairly often (about 20 percent of passing snaps last season), but decisions had to be made between Campbell, Watt, and Myles Garrett. 

Garrett might be the best pure pass rusher of the three, but neither he nor Watt combines pass defense and run defense like Campbell, who continues to be one of the most underrated players in the league. Now joining an even better defense in Baltimore, he can hopefully get more recognition. The choice came down to Watt and Garrett, and Watt just seems like a slightly more complete player, excelling as a rusher, a run defender, and on the rare occasions where he is asked to drop into coverage. Atkins is still a superstar. Still. Heyward is the best player on Pittsburgh’s defense, in my humble opinion. He just does everything well, and he almost never comes off the field. 

One of the better linebackers in this division last season (Joe Schobert) signed elsewhere, narrowing the list of potential options a bit. Williams has been an above-average cover guy for as while now, so he makes sense. Bush had a strong rookie season playing alongside him, and he should only get better. They seemed like better picks than a rookie like Patrick Queen or second-year Browns linebacker Mack Wilson, who struggled last season and suffered an injury this week. 

Defensive backfield

CB: Marcus Peters (BAL), Marlon Humphrey (BAL), Denzel Ward (CLE)

SAF: Minkah Fitzpatrick (PIT), Chuck Clark (BAL)

The first two cornerbacks were pretty much locks. Peters was ridiculously good after arriving in Baltimore last year. In 10 games, he allowed just 34 catches on 61 targets, for only 347 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. That’s a passer rating south of 70. Insanity. He’s been either that good or damn close to it for his entire career except his stretch with the Rams at the start of last season, so we’ll bet on him remaining one of the best in the league. Humphrey was already really good, but he hit a new level as a shutdown guy last season, moving all over the field and looking particularly excellent in the slot. For the third corner spot, any of Ward, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, or even William Jackson III would have made good picks. We went with the rising star in Cleveland. 

Fitzpatrick was so good last season that he emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate despite not arriving with his team until a few weeks into the season. He forced an insane amount of turnovers and that number will almost certainly come down, but that doesn’t mean he can’t approximate the same level of impact. The other safety spot was set to go to Earl Thomas, but he punched Chuck Clark in practice and got released, so Clark gets the nod. 


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