The 2021 season is kicking off, which means (almost) every franchise is undefeated and every fan base is full of excitement.
Given all that excitement, it’s easy to forget that only a handful of teams can truly argue their spot as the NFL’s top franchise.
But, what if we took a step back and analyzed divisions by their top-end talent?
With the majority of major roster moves set, the Sprint decided to do just that, taking the best players at each position to make eight super teams.
Today is the second day of an eight part series, where we’ll unveil a different division’s roster each day. But first, a few ground rules.
Each team was put together by a panel of one. I’ve tried my best to maintain a 13 man set (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) on offense and a 4-2-5 set (4 linemen, 2 LB, 5 DB’s) defensively, but have flexed some of the rosters to best fit the strength of each division. I’ve also strayed away from rookies, where possible, as they’re unproven in the professional environment.
*Additional note: injury status was taken into account on the day of this post (Sorry Ravens), so some players may miss the team due to status.
Today we’ll cover the AFC North, the only division to field three playoff teams last season.
Check out the AFC East super team if you missed the coverage this past week.
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson (BAL)
- Although he wasn’t in the same form in 2020 as his MVP season, Jackson is still an elite talent. Imagine the upside if he had legitimate receiving weapons at his disposal (more on that later).
Running Back: Nick Chubb (CLE)
- There was a case for the Ravens’ J.K. Dobbins before his ACL tear, but with two Pro-Bowls under his belt and a league leading 10+ YPC in the fourth quarter in 2020, it’s hard to shy away from Chubb.
- Also receiving consideration: Joe Mixon (CIN), Kareem Hunt (CLE)
Wide Receiver: Tyler Boyd (CIN), Diontae Johnson (PIT), Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE)
- Likely one of the weaker positions for the division, the group includes none of Lamar Jackson’s usual targets. However, Johnson, OBJ, and Boyd all provide a varying level of skill sets which compliment each other on the field.
- Also receiving consideration: Jarvis Landry (CLE), Ja’Marr Chase (CIN), Chase Claypool (PIT)
Tight End: Mark Andrews (BAL)
- Lamar Jackson’s security blanket over the past few seasons, Andrews has been one of the most consistent TE’s in the league with over 500 receiving yards in every season. He was just rewarded with a 4-year, $56 million contract for his effort.
Offensive line: Alejandro Villanueva (T - BAL), Joel Bitonio (G - CLE), J.C. Tretter (C - CLE), Wyatt Teller (G - CLE), Jack Conklin (T - CLE)
- The offensive line, like it has been for years, is an area of strength for the division. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland owns most of the spots after owning one of the top lines last year.
- Also receiving consideration: Ronnie Stanley (OT - BAL) before his injury.
Defensive Line: T.J. Watt (DE - PIT), Stephon Tuitt (DL - PIT), Cameron Hayward (DL - PIT), Myles Garrett (DE - CLE)
- There are few offensive lines who could handle the firepower this group could send, particularly off of the edge with Watt and Garrett. Watt was almost moved to LB in order to add Trey Hendrickson, but with the number of proven defensive backs in the dicvision, we decided instead to go with a 4-2-5 set.
- Also receiving consideration: Trey Hendrickson (DE - CIN)
Linebacker: Devin Bush (PIT), Patrick Queen (BAL)
- Devin Bush may be one of the best to play the position, able to cover the pass and stop the run with incredible efficiency. Queen is no pushover either, and looks like the next elite LB to be churned out of Baltimore.
Cornerback: Marlon Humphrey (BAL), Denzel Ward (CLE)
- Most teams can’t seem to have enough corners, but the AFC North is loaded with them, even after Marcus Peters’ injury. Both players are elite in man coverage, with the only worry in the group being Ward’s health, he’s missed 4+ games every year of his career.
- Also receiving consideration: Joe Haden (PIT)
Safety: Minkah Fitzpatrick (PIT), Jesse Bates III (CIN), John Johnson III (CLE)
- The Steelers couldn’t be happier following their trade for Fitzpatrick in 2019, and he pairs well with Bates to form a young but talented safety duo to pair with Johnson, a new addition to the division, who quietly rated as a top five safety in 2020.
This roster can be summed up in two words, old school. Filled with Pro Bowl talent on both sides of the ball, it will be hard to score against this group as they run out the clock behind a superb offensive line. Plus, Jackson’s dual threat adds another layer to the offense.
Defensive line. We saw in 2020 what a healthy Pittsburgh line would do to opposing offenses when healthy. But adding a DPOY candidate in Garrett would put the group over the top.
The receiving corps, while talented, doesn’t instill complete confidence. Barring a 2015 version of OBJ, the group lacks a top-tied wideout like Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams.
Joe Haden - CB, PIT. Haden, the eleven year veteran, can add plenty of value and was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2019. Ultimately, though, he loses his spot to a Safety trio with more upside and defensive flexibility.