With training camps about to begin, it’s time to see the biggest stories in the NFL. Here’s what to watch for in the AFC North:
THE GREATEST SURPRISE WILL BE… | Najee Harris, RB, Steelers: Harris quietly put together two solid seasons with the Steelers to start his NFL career, rushing for 1,200 and 1,034 yards. However, those numbers are more a product of workload than productivity, as he has yet to reach four or more yards per carry.
Pittsburgh upgraded its offensive line this offseason with the additions of rookie left tackle Broderick Jones, a first-round pick, and veteran guard Isaac Seumalo, giving Harris the five most talented forwards he’s had since entering the league. league. Harris battled a toe/foot injury last season, so we should see the best version of him yet if he is fully healthy.
Running backs have never been valued less, which is why Harris is among the many who have something to prove.
THE HOTTEST SEAT | Deshaun Watson, QB, Browns: The Browns signed Watson to a fully guaranteed, $230 million, five-year deal last offseason, but he didn’t look like a franchise quarterback. He went 3-3 after returning from an NFL suspension, passing for 1,102 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
In the offseason, the team traded to WR Elijah Moore and recruited WR Cedric Tillman to help remove the rest of his rust. Watson is paid like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, so he has to play like one. If he doesn’t, the Browns will regret their all-in decision on the controversial 27-year-old.
THE MOST SURPRISING CUT | Patrick Queen, LB, Ravens: It won’t come in release form, but the Ravens could move on from Queen, a 2020 first-round pick. Maybe they’ll trade him during camp. Queen is productive: The 23-year-old had a career-high 117 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions in 2022. But Baltimore declined his fifth-year option and selected his potential replacement in Trenton Simpson in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Baltimore also signed fellow LB Roquan Smith to a five-year, $100 million deal. There is so much money to go around in this position.
THE BIGGEST QUESTION | Can anyone dethrone the Bengals? Cincinnati has won the division the past two seasons and appeared in back-to-back AFC title games and a Super Bowl during the span. The Bengals have the second best quarterback in the league in Joe Burrow and a young team that has shown no signs of slowing down.
However, every other team in the AFC North seemed to improve this offseason. The Ravens have finally given quarterback Lamar Jackson a multitude of weapons. The Browns have built around Watson and strengthened their defensive line. And the Steelers built their offensive line in hopes that quarterback Kenny Pickett would make a leap in his sophomore season. The AFC North may be the most competitive division in the NFL. Completion of the photo, anyone?
THE GREATEST HEADLINE TO LEAVE CAMP | The Ravens’ health remains the biggest hurdle: Baltimore has been plagued by the injury virus in recent seasons, derailing its postseason aspirations. In 2022, Jackson missed several games to end the season, including the team’s wild card loss to the Bengals. Staying healthy should be a priority for the Ravens.