ben-titans.png
Getty Images

Each offseason, NFL teams undergo a self-assessment. They identify the areas in which they are strong and weak, and for the most part, they plan their free-agent and draft strategies accordingly. 

Filling needs, shoring up weaknesses, and accentuating strengths are all on the agenda, for everyone. But the coaches and players tabbed to fill those needs, shore up those weaknesses, and/or accentuate those strengths carry varying degrees of intrigue. 

That's why we're here. Over the next several weeks, we are going to identify the most intriguing newcomer on every team in the NFL. For some teams it might be a coach. For others it might be a rookie or a free-agent signing or something else entirely. 

We began last this week with the NFC East and the AFC East. We moved on earlier this week with the NFC North and continue below with the AFC North. 

Baltimore Ravens

Last season, the Ravens offense got all the attention. It was well-deserved, what with Lamar Jackson destroying everyone in sight. But his MVP season overshadowed what ended up being a fantastic Baltimore defense. The Ravens finished the year fourth in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders' DVOA. They had one of the best coverage units in the league, led by Earl Thomas, Marlon Humphrey, and Marcus Peters, and they aggressively utilized blitzes (their 54.9 percent blitz rate was highest in the league by more than 10 percentage points, per Pro-Football-Reference) to generate a pass rush. 

Now, they're adding one of the best and most versatile defensive linemen in the NFL to the mix: Calais Campbell. Criminally underrated during his time in Arizona, Campbell finally began getting some recognition during his stint with the Jaguars, making three consecutive Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. His incredible size and strength make him a spectacular run defender, but he's capable of rushing the passer from both the edge and the interior, notching at least five sacks in each of his 11 seasons as a starter and 39.5 over the past four years. His addition, as well as the ability to utilize personnel in a variety of ways, are why I picked Baltimore as the team most likely to have the best defense in the NFL this season.

Cincinnati Bengals

Uh, yeah. It's Joe Burrow. When you have arguably the greatest passing season in the history of college football, you're the most intriguing newcomer on your team. That's just the way it goes. 

The numbers defy belief: 402 of 527 (76.3 percent) for 5,761 yards (10.8 per attempt), 60 (six-zero) touchdowns and six interceptions. Burrow has the good fortune of joining an offense that actually has some playmakers on it, with A.J. Green returning from injury, Tyler Boyd working in the slot, Joe Mixon coming out of the backfield, and more. If Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan can scheme those guys into open space, Burrow will deliver the ball on-time and on-target. 

Cleveland Browns

The 2019 Browns were kind of a disaster. Coming into the year with a ton of hype, Cleveland was a disappointment from the jump, with horrific offensive line play and even worse coaching combining to undermine the entire offense. Baker Mayfield was forced to either throw to his first read or run for his life, and it got to the point where he'd start running before even getting to that read. It was bad. So, out went Freddie Kitchens, along with general manager John Dorsey. Andrew Berry took over as GM, while Kevin Stefanski is the new head coach. 

This offseason, Berry built the Browns in the image of Stefanski's former team, the Vikings. He went out and signed tight end Austin Hooper, who will paid with David Njoku in dual-tight end sets. Mayfield had his greatest success out of 12 personnel during his terrific rookie season, and Stefanski coached a 12-heavy offense in Minnesota last year. To ensure that Mayfield is better-protected this time around, the new braintrust brought in Jack Conklin from the Titans to man the right tackle spot, then drafted Jedrick Wills to protect their quarterback's blind side. We still have to see how this all looks on the field, but the post-hype version of the Browns looks better on paper than the one that was making all the noise last offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

I'm just gonna come right out and admit that we're kinda cheating on this one. The Steelers traded their first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick during 2019 season and didn't add any impact free agents, so the biggest newcomer to the team this year will be Healthy Ben Roethlisberger. As we wrote last week: 

Pittsburgh damn near made the playoffs last season despite fielding one of the league's worst offenses. The Steelers scored on only 28.6 percent of their possessions in 2019, the third-worst rate in the NFL. Of course, that happened with Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline. In four of the previous five seasons, the Steelers ranked inside the top 10 in percentage of possessions that resulted in a score, and they were inside the top five in three of those campaigns. It's extraordinarily likely that their offense is among the most improved units in the league in 2020 -- assuming Roethlisberger can play more than a game and a half. 

Ben should have JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and Eric Ebron to throw to on the outside, with James Conner coming out of the backfield. He still has one of the best offensive lines in the league protecting him. If his elbow really has healed, simply inserting him back into the lineup should help stave off any dip the defense experiences from the surely-coming regression of their unsustainable turnover rate.