Friday, May 10, 2013
AFC North position ranks: Offensive line
By Jamison Hensley
The AFC North blog is continuing its rankings of each position for the next week. This is a projection on how the group will fare this season. It's not an evaluation based on last year. For Friday, let's look at the offensive line.
1. Cleveland Browns: The Browns have the best lineman in the division, and perhaps the league, in left tackle Joe Thomas. The other star on the line is center Alex Mack. The biggest improvement should be at right tackle, where Mitchell Schwartz starts his second season. The guards are average, especially if John Greco has to replace Jason Pinkston, who is returning from a blood clot in the lung.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have the No. 1 tackle combination with Andrew Whitworth on the left side and Andre Smith on the right. By the end of the season, Cincinnati's top lineman will be right guard Kevin Zeitler, who looks like a Pro Bowl player. The question mark -- and the soft spot of this line -- is at center, where Kyle Cook and Trevor Robinson will compete for the starting spot.
3. Baltimore Ravens: The top guard tandem of the division is Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. Yanda is among the grittiest linemen in the league, and Osemele ranks among the most versatile. It was a smart move to re-sign left tackle Bryant McKinnie because it allows Michael Oher to stay on the right side. Still, there is uncertainty whether McKinnie can hold up for a 16-game schedule and whether Gino Gradkowski can adequately replace Matt Birk at center.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: This line has the potential to make more strides this season than any other in the division. But, until the unit proves itself, there is more optimism than confidence. Like the Steelers' quarterback position, the key is staying healthy. Pittsburgh has certainly made an investment, using two first-round picks (center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro) and two second-rounders (tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert) on the offense line. The biggest decision facing the Steelers is determining who will start at left tackle, which happens to be the most important spot on the line.
In case you missed the other AFC North position rankings this week, you can click here for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.