In this series, Last Word on Sports will be analyzing the best players in each NFL division by position. This article will highlight the best defensive players the AFC North has to offer, in the AFC North All-Division Team.
AFC North All-Division Team: Defense and Special Teams
Defensive End: Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
As a 3-4 defensive end, Heyward is an absolute mauling presence on the Steelers defensive front. A high motor player, Heyward brings relentless pursuit to the football, and has the ability to bull rush the best offensive linemen in the game. A first round pick in 2011, Heyward has been selected to three straight Pro Bowls, and is a two time First Team All-Pro. One of the leaders of this Steelers defense, Heyward brings a workman like attitude to the team’s defense. One of the hardest workers on the team, Heyward brings this attitude to honor his late father and former NFL fullback Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Since coming into the league in 2010, Geno Atkins has been one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Atkins is an eight time Pro Bowler, and a two time First Team All-Pro. At 32 years of age, Atkins may be heading into the back nine of his career, but he is still playing at a very high level. Atkins plays with an abnormal amount of strength, bull rushing some of the best linemen of his era to disrupt plays in the back field. He has been one of the most consistent members of many sub-par Bengals teams, and is building his path towards Canton when his career is over.
Defensive Tackle: Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens
In a sport filled with large human beings, Calais Campbell is quite literally larger than life. At 6’8”, Campbell dwarfs his opponents, dominating offensive lines with his size and explosiveness. A true veteran of the sport, Campbell was drafted way back in 2008. Over his 12 year career, Campbell has been to five Pro Bowls, and was a First Team All-Pro in 2017. Heading into his first season with the Ravens, Campbell looks to improve on their already disruptive defensive front. If age hasn’t caught up with him, it could be a match made in heaven for Campbell and the Ravens. His hard nosed style of physical football will fit right in with the Ravens culture.
Defensive End: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Few players in the NFL are built quite like Myles Garrett. Standing 6’5” weighing 272, with six-pack abs, Myles Garrett is a truly unique specimen. As the first overall pick in 2017, Garrett came into the NFL with high expectations. Fortunately for Browns fans, Garrett has not disappointed. Totaling over 30 sacks in his young career, Garrett has been a consistent force on the Browns defensive line. Despite a missing six games in 2019 due to the infamous Mason Rudolph incident, Garrett was averaging a sack a game, finishing with 10 sacks on the season. If Garrett can continue at this rate, he will be a problem for offensive lines throughout the league for years to come.
Outside Linebacker: TJ Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
The first linebacker of the AFC North All-Division Team is a no-brainer. All-Pro outside linebacker and 2019 DPOY candidate, TJ Watt. Watt is coming off of a massive 2019 season. He recorded 14.5 sacks, and an insane eight forced fumbles. Watt was an absolute terror for offenses in 2019, and has been since being drafted in the first round in 2017. He shows extreme explosiveness in his first step off of the line, and relentless pursuit to the ball carrier. He plays with an extremely high motor, with pass rush moves rivaling those of his big brother JJ Watt. Watt is truly a young super star in today’s NFL, and aims to be a presence on the Steelers defensive front for years to come.
Middle Linebacker: Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers
Coming off of a sensational rookie season, Devin Bush heads into 2020 as the premiere middle linebacker of the AFC North. Drafted tenth overall in 2019, Bush burst onto the NFL scene with his blazing fast speed in the middle of the Steelers defense. After the devastating injury to Ryan Shazier, the Steelers defense had a major hole that needed to be filled. Fortunately for the team, Bush stepped up in his rookie season, and helped lead the Steelers to their best defensive season since their Super Bowl championship in 2009. Bush looks to continue improving, and hopes for a big 2020 season.
Outside Linebacker: Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers
Alongside teammate TJ Watt, Bud Dupree quietly had a phenomenal year with the Steelers. Totalling 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, Dupree had a career year during the last year of his contract. The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Dupree following the 2019 season. Steelers fans hope the team can resign the former first round pick, as Dupree and Watt could be the best linebacker tandem in the NFL.
Cornerback: Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens
House call anyone? Marcus Peters has been a pick-six machine since coming into the league in 2015. A former first round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, Peters has a whopping 27 interceptions in his career, and has been one of the best coverage corners in the NFL. Now a member of the Ravens, Peters had three pick-six touchdowns in 2019 alone. He is an absolute ball hawk in the Ravens secondary, and has been a great addition to their already solid defense.
Cornerback: Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
Alongside new teammate Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey has been tremendous for the Ravens. He has an innate ability to constantly be around the football, creating opportunities for the Ravens defense. While his coverage abilities are very solid, Humphrey truly shines in his ability to attack the ball carrier. It is very rare for a cornerback to have the tackling ability that Humphrey does, allowing him to fit in perfectly with the Ravens hard hitting defense. An All-Pro in just his second year in the league, Humphrey has a bright future ahead.
Free Safety: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
When the Steelers traded their first round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick during the 2019 season, many fans were worried that the team had given up too much. Fortunately for Steelers fans, Fitzpatrick has come to Pittsburgh and absolutely flourished. Fitzpatrick came to the Steelers and almost immediately turned their defence around. In 2018, the Steelers finished 29th in the NFL with just 15 turnovers. After adding Fitzpatrick, the Steelers finished atop the NFL with 38 turnovers. He helped turn the Steelers into a premiere NFL defense, and at just 23 years old, could be a staple in the Pittsburgh secondary for years to come.
Strong Safety: Chuck Clark, Baltimore Ravens
An extremely underrated piece in the Ravens secondary is safety Chuck Clark. Clark’s football IQ is off the charts, and has a tremendous sense of where the football is going to be. He has a knack of always being around the ball, and is one of the unsung heroes of the Ravens defense. A sixth round selection in 2018, Clark has greatly surpassed his draft selection. He has become a leader on the Ravens defense, and quietly one of the better safeties in the NFL.
Kicker: Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
This is without a doubt the easiest selection on the AFC North All-Division team. Justin Tucker is undoubtedly the best kicker in the NFL today, and one of the greatest kickers of all time. Tucker is a three time Pro Bowler, and a four time First Team All-Pro. He holds the record for the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and will be enshrined in Canton when his career is over. With a plethora of accomplishments and records to his name, Tucker will hope he can capture his second Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2020.
Punter: Sam Koch, Baltimore Ravens
Since being drafted by the Ravens way back in 2006, Koch has been one of the most consistent punters in the NFL. He has never missed a game, and has averaged over 43 yards per punt his entire career. Koch is as reliable as it gets for punters in the NFL, and one of the elite punters of the past 14 years.
Kick/Punt Returner: Dionate Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
A third round pick in 2019, Diontae Johnson had a very solid rookie season. As a punt returner, Johnson averaged a league leading 12.4 per return. The highlight of his rookie season came in week 14, where Johnson returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown. Johnson has the speed and elusiveness that make him difficult to tackle in the open field, and is one of the better punt returners in the NFL.
Embed from Getty Images