As the 2021 season approaches, we will be breaking down the top talent at each position in every NFL division. The AFC North is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. On offense, there are good young quarterbacks, a great group of running backs, and a plethora of offensive line talent. The 2021 AFC North offense all-divisional team is a fun one, that’s for sure. Be sure to catch up on the division’s all-defense team as well.
2021 AFC North All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
If the question was, “Who’s the best thrower of the football in the AFC North?” then the answer would likely be Joe Burrow. But in today’s NFL, it’s no secret that being a quarterback is about much more than arm talent. Lamar Jackson is still the premier talent at quarterback in the AFC North. Despite his 2020 campaign being worse than his 2019 MVP campaign, Jackson’s stock is still high entering the 2021 season. His weapons are better and the Baltimore running game should remain potent to help him out. There are some question marks along Baltimore’s offensive line, which could hurt Jackson’s production. But at least for one more year, Jackson enters the 2021 season as the division’s best quarterback.
Running Back: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Despite the AFC North being a strong division for running backs, this one still isn’t much of a discussion. Nick Chubb of the Browns is clearly the best running back in the division, and he’s right in the thick of the discussion for the best back in the NFL. In every aspect of being a running back, Chubb is an elite player. Despite only playing in 12 games in 2020, Chubb totaled over 1,000 yards for the season on a very healthy 5.6 yards per attempt. He wasn’t used a ton in the passing game, but was still productive when his number was called. If he didn’t share carries with Kareem Hunt, Chubb would likely be one of the best statistical running backs in the league. But when you look beyond the numbers, he’s clearly the most talented running back in the AFC North.
Wide Receiver: Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more dependable wide receiver in the division than Jarvis Landry. He’s not much of a big play threat, but he has very dependable hands and is a favorite target of Baker Mayfield. His route running and physicality make him a valuable weapon in any offensive system. In 2021, the Browns should have one of the best offenses in the NFL. As long as Baker Mayfield doesn’t regress, they will have a big year on that side of the ball, and that should be big for Landry’s production. If Odell Beckham Jr. comes back full strength and takes some defensive attention away from Landry, then he could be looking at a career year.
Wide Receiver: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Though he spends a lot of time in the slot, Smith-Schuster splits out enough to qualify him here. If you look at his 2020 statistics, you probably wouldn’t throw him on this list. But 2021 should be a better year for Smith-Schuster. The Steelers offense will undergo a major transformation this season, with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada coming in and taking a much more modern approach to coaching an offense. Smith-Schuster’s route tree was abysmal in 2020; he was incredibly misused. He’s still a high quality receiver who can make a lot happen with the ball in his hands. Barring injuries to himself or key teammates, 2021 has all the makings of a bounce-back year for Smith-Schuster.
Slot Receiver: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
Consistently underrated on a national scale, Tyler Boyd has been nothing short of excellent during his time in Cincinnati. He is comfortably in the conversation for the best slot receiver in the NFL. Despite being on horrible teams, Boyd racked up 2,074 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns combined in 2018 and 2019. Last year, despite a lower snap count due to injuries, Boyd totaled 841 yards and four touchdowns. Before Joe Burrow went down with a torn ACL, the two were forming a nice connection. The Bengals have a very strong group of receivers. Combine that with the return of Burrow, and their offense should be explosive in 2021. Tyler Boyd should be a major beneficiary.
Tight End: Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
This is another one that doesn’t require much thought. Mark Andrews is head and shoulders the best tight end in the AFC North. 2020 was a “down year” compared to 2019 and Andrews still produced 701 yards and 7 touchdowns on 12.1 yards per reception. Lamar Jackson loves to throw the ball his way. Thanks to an improved group of receivers, Andrews shouldn’t have to be the Ravens main source of passing offense. With a little less focus on him, Andrews should be able to make plenty of plays across the middle. And there are no signs that point to Jackson looking his way less, so 2021 should be another very productive season for Mark Andrews.
Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens
His health is a question mark, but Ronnie Stanley is expected to be cleared to start the regular season. Even if he’s not, Stanley is still the best left tackle in the AFC North. He faces some stiff competition in the form of Jedrick Wills, but Stanley emerged in 2020 as one of the best tackles in the NFL. Unfortunately, Stanley only played six games in 2020 before suffering a gruesome ankle injury. During that time, though, there’s a strong argument to be made that Stanley was the best pass-blocking tackle in the NFL. At the very least, he’s one of a few in the discussion. Hopefully Stanley can get fully healthy for 2021 and resume his domination of opposing pass rushers.
Left Guard: Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
He is the less-talked about Browns guard, but Joel Bitonio was phenomenal for Cleveland in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, Bitonio did his best work in the passing game, allowing just one sack over the course of the entire season. And he certainly was no slouch as a run blocker; look no further than the success of the Browns rushing attack as a whole. Their offensive line is loaded. He’s not the last Brown you’ll see on this list, but Joel Bitonio is head-and-shoulders the best left guard in the AFC North.
Center: J.C. Tretter, Cleveland Browns
In 2020, Pro Football Focus had Tretter graded as the second best center in the NFL. Even if you don’t agree with that, it’s hard to deny the success he had last year. Like Bitonio, Tretter does his best work as a pass blocker and that dates back to the beginning of his career. However, he had the highest run blocking grade of his career in 2020. That not only speaks to his individual talent, but also the dominance of the Browns entire offensive line in the running game. The next guy embodies that more than Bitonio and Tretter, but regardless, Tretter stands out as clearly the best center in a division not loaded with talent at the position.
Wyatt Teller, Cleveland Browns
This is not just our third Brown in a row, but it’s our third unquestionable Brown in a row. Wyatt Teller had a career year in 2020 en route to a second-team All-Pro selection. He somehow wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl, which speaks more to the Pro Bowl voting system than anything else. Teller was an absolute mauler of a run blocker in 2020. We’ve already established that the Browns run blocking was perhaps the best in the NFL in 2020, and Teller was by far the biggest reason for that. He wasn’t as good of a pass blocker, but that doesn’t matter. Right guard is one of the deeper offensive line position in the AFC North, and Wyatt Teller stands out from the pack.
Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns
We round out the Cleveland quartet with one this is a little more debatable. There are some other contenders at right tackle between Alejandro Villanueva and Riley Reiff, but Conklin takes the cake. Looking at his 2020 campaign, it was arguably the best season of his career. He was another huge factor in the success of the Browns rushing attack last year. His performance in the passing game was solid as well. Between Conklin and Wills, Baker Mayfield has to feel comfortable with the pass blocking abilities of his tackles. Barring an unexpected change, Conklin should be in for another good year in 2021.
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