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NFL Draft

AFC North Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

  • The Draft Network
  • July 19, 2020
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Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

Sixth in a division-by-division series, I analyzed the AFC North and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players across the division.

Here are the results.

(AFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC East Superlatives can be found here.)

Most pressure to succeed: Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns

After an extremely impressive rookie season, everything came crashing down for Mayfield and the Browns in 2019. Struggling with abysmal coaching and disastrous pass-blocking, Mayfield failed to rise above the poor atmosphere surrounding him, turning into a turnover-prone mess throughout the 16-game schedule. It was a pure nightmare scenario for everyone involved, especially considering the Super Bowl hopes that Cleveland fans came into the season with.  

Now, it’s easy to completely write him off heading into Year 3 given this, but there’s also plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Armed with an improved offensive line and a returning cast of extremely talented weapons, everything is aligned right for Mayfield to return to his rookie self and prove himself as a franchise QB in the process.

It’s a make-or-break season for the passer. Whether or not he’s able to return to rookie form remains a question mark, but Year 3 is crucial for his future outlook and overall development.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to trash talk

Most likely to disappoint: Miles Boykin, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Putting forth a minor 13-198-3 line as a rookie, it seems on the surface that anything Boykin does as a sophomore is not a negative and rather an unexpected gift. However, with the team shipping off pass-catching tight end Hayden Hurst and failing to add any significant weapons on the outside, Boykin is now aligned to be one of the team’s de facto top three wideouts (along with Marquise Brown and Willie Snead) in 2020. Fantasy analysts are using both this, along with Boykin’s terrific NFL Combine testing numbers, as reasons to forecast a huge breakout in Year 2.

Although he may do exactly that, I just don’t think Boykin has shown enough as a pure wideout, both at the collegiate level and the professional stage, to be banked on as a legitimate contributor at this point. This also doesn’t even factor in the argument that Jackson loves his tight ends and running backs as secondary passing options and that Boykin’s vertical skill set isn’t an ideal fit with Jackson at the helm.

Ultimately, Boykin might produce reasonable numbers, but if anyone drafts him in fantasy to produce more than a 30-400-4 line, I feel like they’re going to be disappointed. Heck, rookie Devin Duvernay might even out-target him when it’s all said and done.  

Set your expectations accordingly.

Best Offensive Player: Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Not much to say here. Jackson is in a perfect spot with offensive coordinator Greg Roman catering to his unique skill set and there’s no reason to expect any sort of significant regression in Year 3. He’s a special talent who will be at the forefront of the league for years to come. I would be lying, however, if I said I didn’t at least give Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley consideration for this spot.

Could also win:  

  • Best highlight reel
  • Most dynamic player

Best Defensive Player: Myles Garrett, EDGE, Cleveland Browns

Steelers fans are going to be upset that T.J. Watt wasn’t the choice here, but hear me out (or don’t). Although Watt admittedly did put forth a better 2019 season (factoring out Garrett’s suspension), I think Garrett’s overall toolbox on the edge is just a little bit better, and thus his ceiling is higher as a result.

Recently signing the most lucrative deal ever for a defender, Garrett is a franchise-type presence along the defensive front who is only continuing to grow into his extraordinary frame. Winning early on in his career with just a few pass-rush moves, Garrett has continued adding to his arsenal over time and is now one of the most complete defenders in the game. As long as he doesn’t get himself in any trouble with the league office, he’ll be a front-runner for DPOY in 2020.

Could also win:  

  • Most versatile use of his helmet
  • Richest defender

Underrated Star: Steven Nelson, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers

This is a bit of a peace offering for Steelers fans given the Watt snub above.

Overshadowed in Pittsburgh’s secondary by big names like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden, and even former first-round pick Terrell Edmunds, Nelson had a breakout 2019 season, proving to be not only the Steelers’ best corner, but one of the best in the entire league.

Often picked on during his Kansas City career, Nelson has done a complete 180 with Pittsburgh, proving to be a newfound player capable of finding the football and playing wide receivers in a lockdown fashion.

Regression is certainly possible in 2020 given Nelson’s past, but after not allowing a single touchdown in coverage last season, he’s more than worthy of a spot here.

Could also win:  

  • Best Steelers CB

Most likely to Breakout: Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

The commander for arguably the league’s top defense, Bush is primed for a big 2020 in literally every single way possible. Showcasing the types of traits that got him drafted 10th overall in his rookie season, he’ll need to prove more consistent in coverage and with his overall tackling efficiency in 2020, but the speed, intensity, toughness, and pursuit are all there in spades.

His hair game may be a little rough at the moment, but Bush's future outlook is nothing but stellar.

Could also win:  

  • Best rat tail

Rookie of the Year: Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow will likely be in for a rude awakening at the start of his rookie season, particularly due to Cincinnati’s abysmal offensive line. He’s shown he can handle stress in the pocket and create enough outside of structure, however, so he should be able to mask the pass protection issues much more than Andy Dalton or Ryan Finley ever could. Thus, Burrow is likely to respond favorably, even with the tough conditions and it makes him an easy Rookie of the Year candidate as a result. 

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