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Undrafted Expansion Draft – AFC North

Draft season is upon us and the masterminds at Undrafted love this time of year. Our very own Adam posed the question… Who would you protect if the NFL added another expansion team and had an expansion draft? We decided to answer this question and take it one step further.

In a series of articles we plan to each take a team, Tom, Adam, Ant and Chris and save 10 players we believe are the cornerstones of each franchise. Everybody else becomes available for an eventual fantasy draft as we fill our new team with an offense and a defence. So, what makes one team better than the other, how do we quantify the results and decide who has the best expansion team. We load up a four-man fantasy football league and let the players decide.

The Writers

The team who will be putting together this piece are Tom, Adam, Ant and Chris, and we are all massive American Football fans with our own personal allegiances. We were brought together with the common goal of getting the NFL out to the masses from our own unique perspectives and I think that is something that is really being accomplished.

Antonio

Or Ant as he is better known is one of founders of Undrafted the Network and he is a massive Titans fan. He adores Derrick Henry, and as a fan was rewarded this season watching him rumble to over 2000 yards. He first found himself playing American Football and really taking an interest in the sport following his first training session with his local team the East Essex Sabres. Recording 10 interceptions in 3 seasons playing Defensive Back, he left an endzone littered with Receivers. When the NFL did not come calling, he instead started Undrafted the Network and the sky is the limit.

Tom

A huge fan himself and a Miami Dolphins mega fan. He first found his love for the game after watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and seeing the Oscar worthy cameo of the great Dan Marino. Following this he forged an allegiance to Miami and as a consequence the teams of the great city including the Hurricanes and the Heat. He had the opportunity to see them live from Dolphins Stadium and he credits that experience in 2009 with changing his sporting life. In his playing days he lined up all over the place for the Lancashire Wolverines and Bournemouth University Bobcats. Tight End or Defensive Line were his favourites and dropping a shoulder to crash through the opposition was his go to move.

Adam

Next up is Adam and not until 2013 did he find what is now his favourite sport. Bored on a night shift he turned on the NFL playoffs, and as a former teenage emo, the Baltimore Ravens in their Black and Purple spoke to his soul. They won the Superbowl that year and as he was a new fan, he did not know the significance of the biggest game in the sport. He started playing a few years later for South Wales Warriors, and although injury struck his first season at Running Back, his love for the sport had him persevere through a PCL and MCL tear to come back stronger. A fountain of all knowledge, Adam lives, breathes and loves the greatest sport in the world.

Chris

Last but certainly not least, we have Chris, the newest fan to the wonderful game of American Football. He took to watching the Superbowl in 2015 with a friend who was already a fan, and after a crash course in the rules, that was it, he was in. He researched the sport extensively and still picked the Browns. His reward in his debut season supporting Cleveland, an 0-16 record. Thankfully, they seem to have turned this around now and Chris is excited to follow them to the top. He has ambitions to start playing and we await his budding career with baited breath.

We begin with the AFC North, home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. Who should we save? Any shock survivors or glaring misses? Remember once we lock in those 10 picks, the rest of the league is free to draft. Join us on a journey into the teams, who stays, who goes, we decide.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Tom

2020 season

The Steelers were 11-0 this season, and without a doubt an 11-0 team should surely be the highlight of the year right? Well, actually no. They finished year on a 1-4 skid and ended the season 12-4. Still though they managed to win the AFC North based on this early season record, however it can be said that the Pittsburgh Steelers were not exactly value for their record. They had looked shaky throughout the early season wins, but they still won, so no one really checked their legitimacy.

Image Credit – USA Today

Once they started losing, they looked a shell of their former selves, losing twice to intra-division rivals, including the Bengals without their number 1 pick. They ended the season resting their starters and losing to the Cleveland Browns, but lightning surely would not strike twice, especially at Heinz Field. Well tell Cleveland that, because by the end of the first quarter, Pittsburgh was down by 28 and their season was over.

This team look every bit like this could be the end of their playoff run. With 5 Division titles in the last 11 years, the Steelers were the best of their division. With an aging Quarterback looking like he is losing a step, a Receiving corps with a bigger interest in being social media stars and a Coach looking like he might not know what he has anymore, it is a recipe for disaster.

Protected Players

  1. T.J Watt
  2. Chase Claypool
  3. Diontae Johnson
  4. David DeCastro
  5. Alejandro Villanueva
  6. Cameron Heyward
  7. Minkah Fitzpatrick
  8. Joe Haden
  9. Stephon Tuitt
  10. Avery Williamson

Well immediately you will see on my list that there are likely a couple of glaring omissions, however bear in mind that the players listed above are the protected players. Not protecting Big Ben Roethlisberger might seem like a mistake, however I can assure you that no one is building their budding new franchise around a 38 year old Quarterback who looks every bit of his age.

Image Credit – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Another omission on here will not be much of a shock to anyone watching the NFL this year and that is JuJu Smith-Schuster. All year we have seen JuJu care more about his social media and his TikTok than he does about the Franchise and it is beginning to rub off on the young Receiving corps. This will become a problem if Pittsburgh keep him around, and so this one is more about hoping someone else wants him.

The final point on the protected players is that they are young at the skill positions, while slightly older on the lines. I think it is important to keep the continuity and the leadership in the trenches, whilst keeping the other positions full of youth jumping at the chance to prove themselves.

Offense

Chase Claypool – Wide Receiver

The Rookie Claypool came into the league in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but more importantly he was the 11th Wide Receiver taken. Having something to prove, Claypool turned up for the season with 873 yards and 9 touchdowns in his Rookie outing and showed the Steelers that Smith-Schuster, who is up for free agency, was expendable. He also rushed for 2 touchdowns adding to his versatility and at 6ft 4 and 238lbs, he is going to be a real problem in the NFL.

Image Credit – Sportscasting

Diontae Johnson – Wide Receiver

Another young Receiver out of Pittsburgh, drafted in the 3rd round of the 2019 Draft, he has been slowly making a name for himself. The Steelers have some serious talent at Receiver with Johnson catching for 1,603 yards and 12 Touchdowns in two years. Partnered opposite Claypool, Johnson gets the save here because he and his counterpart can lock down the starting spots in Pittsburgh for the next 10 years.

David DeCastro – Offensive Guard

With young players on the outside, it is important to keep around some veteran leadership and David DeCastro is an excellent example of this. Having spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, DeCastro is a perfect example of a team leader. It helps that he is one of the better Offensive Guards in the league too. Going to 6 pro bowls in a row and having got himself 2 First Team All-Pro considerations, DeCastro is an absolute must to keep around.

Image Credit – Behind the Steel Curtain

Alejandro Villanueva – Offensive Tackle

Another member of the Steelers offensive line helps to lockdown the blindside of the Steelers Offensive Line. He is more solid than spectacular, someone who can help to solidify and lead the line. Villanueva is a pick here to have the blindside protected so if Big Ben stays it is business as usual. If however he leaves, then an incoming Quarterback will be in a dream situation.

Defense

T.J Watt – Outside Linebacker

In three of his four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers T.J Watt has broken the ten-sack barrier. He led the league with 15 sacks this year and is slowing becoming one of the better Linebackers in the league. If the Steelers are saving players, the T.J Watt is a must, he is a defensive cornerstone and is a piece that any coach would be lucky to be able to build around.

Image Credit – Behind the Steel Curtain

Cameron Heyward – Defensive Tackle

Playing in Pittsburgh his entire career, Heyward is someone who can be relied on early and often for Veteran leadership. He is still young at 31, but having been in the league since 2011 he knows his stuff. Following the Offensive Line structure with veteran presence is the way forward for Pittsburgh, understanding what the leadership would offer.

Minkah Fitzpatrick – Free Safety

One of the better Free Safeties in the league, Fitzpatrick was acquired originally in a trade with the Miami Dolphins and since his arrival, he has hit the ground running. He is everywhere on the pitch, and is as cover in coverage as he is blitzing. With Watt already looking like a star, Fitzpatrick helps to bring legitimacy to the middle of the defense, showing his penchant for a big play in the process.

Image Credit – The Athletic

Joe Haden – Cornerback

Formally of the division rival Cleveland Browns, Joe Haden is a solid contributor, and while he is beginning to age somewhat, he still has gas left in the tank. Originally arriving after being cut from Cleveland with contract issues, the Steelers got a player in his prime and ready to play. He helps to lockdown the secondary and on his day can complete with everyone.

Stephon Tuitt – Defensive End

This Defensive End is ready to play on every down, one of the unsung heroes of this solid Steelers defence, Tuitt is a star. Arriving in Pittsburgh following the 2014 Draft, he quickly became a fan favourite with an excellent motor. At 27 years old he is the future of this Pittsburgh Defensive Line.

Image Credit – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Avery Williamson – Middle Linebacker

Another defender on this list and he is the Quarterback of the defence. Avery Williamson has played for three different teams since entering the league in 2014 and has looked very capable at each of them. Another player just entering his peak at 28 years old, he could be an anchor for years to come.

Baltimore Ravens – Adam

2020 Season

The 2020 season was a bit of a comedown after the roaring success the Ravens achieved in 2019. Nobody expected a repeat of the 14-2 however the early season wobbles were a little more extreme than Ravens fans were expecting. 11-5 is noting to be sniffed at in a league where anyone can beat anyone on any given Sunday but the lack of any consistent legitimate passing attack hampered Lamar and his crew for the early part of the season.

Image Credit – USA Today

Uninspired play-calling did not help at times as well and by mid-season the Ravens sat at 6-5. The second half of the season was redemption in many peoples eyes as the Ravens steamrollered through the last 5 games (including the official game of the season against the Browns) and expectations heading into the playoffs were high. Lamar won his first playoff game however possibly the poorest offensive team performance of his young career put paid to the good work in the Divisional Round against the Bills.

It was Murder on the Dance Floor

Image Credit – NFL.com

The team will be back next year, again as a strong contender for the Chief’s throne, as with most franchises however there are areas that could use improvement. New players, new schemes and who knows, a different end to the season?

Protected Players:

  1. Lamar Jackson
  2. Marlon Humphrey
  3. J.K Dobbins
  4. Mark Andrews
  5. Marcus Peters
  6. Justin Tucker
  7. Yannick Ngakoue
  8. Ronnie Stanley
  9. Patrick Queen
  10. Orlando Brown Jr

The biggest task here was deciding whether protecting some of the more experienced members of the squad was worth it in the long run for the franchise. Whilst the Ravens are in win now mode the protected players have been selected as such with an eye to the future stability of the franchise as well.

Image Credit – Baltimore Sun

Youth is one of the main themes of those protected, that and a balance of retaining play makers on both sides of the ball, young guys who can be the foundation of the franchise for the next 10 years. It helps that these guys are those who embody the ‘Play like a Raven’ mantra which is so important to the franchise.

Player such as Calais Campbell, Marquise Brown and Matt Judon are big names on this team however they don’t offer the value long term that the guys who made the cut do. It should also be said that the team is not going to lose all those who are not protected. The majority will return to the team regardless as they will not be drafted.

Offense

Lamar Jackson – Quarterback

On the offensive side of the ball I have protected one of the best Quarterbacks in the league (who is also one of the youngest) and that was a no-brainer from the outset. Lamar, although polarising for some NFL fans, is a game changer, an individual who alone possess the ability to flip a game on its head as we have seen more than once throughout his short career. He offers leadership and the X-Factor which keeps opposition co-ordinators up at night trying to game plan for him. This is a guy the league truly fears even if many armchair fans won’t, or can’t, admit it.

Image Credit – The Ringer

Mark Andrews – Tight End

Mark Andrews is possibly the most important piece of the Ravens offense, Lamar aside. His big body as a target in the middle of the field is one which Lamar looks for often. In a pretty one-dimensional passing offense Andrews is the outlet that allows Lamar to take the ball down the field though the air, he is also the only pass catcher I have protected. Already a Pro Bowler, I expect him to be back at that game more than once in his career. As far as pass catchers go Marquise Brown did receive solid consideration but his spot was better used elsewhere.

J.K. Dobbins – Running Back

I have also protected Lamar’s number one running back, J.K. Dobbins is a back who possess speed and toughness in spades and for a franchise who wholeheartedly accepts its position as a run first team it is important to keep hold of this major weapon for the team. Going into his second year the sky is the limit for Dobbins in this offense and I fully expect him to achieve multiple Pro Bowl awards over his career.

Image Credit – Fake Teams

Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr – Offensive Tackles

Protection for Lamar is also paramount, if the game against the Bills showed us anything it is that Lamar needs a clean pocket to allow him to work through his reads. Stanley and Brown Jr are both A+ tackles and retaining both was an easy decision. They provide stability on the edges which allows for the work in progress interior O-Line to grow and develop with an element of a safety cushion next to them.

Justin Tucker – Kicker

I would not be surprised if Tucker is the only kicker who is protected in this whole series but he is such a game changer I was not going to even allow a new franchise to get a sniff at taking him. He is clutch in every situation, the most accurate kicker in NFL history and someone who can be relied upon 999 times out of 1,000 to make the all important kick as time expires when needed.

Image Credit – Sportscasting

Defense

Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters – Cornerbacks

Keeping two corners is a calculated risk here. These are the two superstars on the back end of what is a very good Ravens defence. Both are Corners who can be left to cover guys one on one and who have a knack for making huge plays when required, whether they be interceptions of those forced fumbles that Humphrey has become synonymous with. I did not keep a safety as I believe the starters there are less likely to be taken by the new franchises.

Yannick Ngakoue – Outside Linebacker

This is another pick based on age and potential. Matthew Judon had the better season this year however I believe Ngakoue possess a far higher ceiling, we have seen it in his career to date. He stepped into the Ravens mid-season and had to jump straight in. I think with more time to familiarise himself with the schemes and players around him we see a step back towards the dominating player we saw in Jacksonville. He is young as well, and offers a legitimate Edge presence for the franchise.

Image Credit – InsideHook

Patrick Queen – Middle Linebacker

Bit of a risk this one as we have only seen one year from Queen and, whilst playing well, he is clearly raw and in need of some development. I have based this more on how much he came on at LSU, if he can show that kind of speedy development again with a full off-season then he could be the next great Middle Linebacker for the Ravens.

Cleveland Browns – Chris

2020 Season

As a Browns fan, I naturally got given them to cover! After a fantastic season in Cleveland, the Browns managed to finish the season 11-5, making it to the playoffs. The Browns successfully beat the Steelers to set up a match with the Kansas City Chiefs, ultimately being defeated by the reigning champs.

Image Credit – Browns Wire – USA Today

However things are currently looking bright in Cleveland, and these sure aren’t the same old Browns!

Protected Players:

  1. Nick Chubb
  2. Jarvis Landry
  3. Myles Garrett
  4. Baker Mayfield
  5. Joel Bitonio
  6. Denzel Ward
  7. Jack Conklin
  8. Olivier Vernon
  9. Austin Hooper
  10. Jedrick Wills

Cleveland are building something special on offense, and this past year and as an extension this fantasy draft is proof of this. Littered with offensive weapons, the Browns look ready to compete with even the best teams in the league.

Image Credit – Yardbarker.com

With players like Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb in the line up, Odell Beckham and Kareem Hunt are luxury players and therefore they do not survive this list. Cleveland has some extremely good football players and with a coach like Kevin Stefanski on the sideline, it is difficult to see where the limit can be.

Offense

Nick Chubb – Running Back

As a Browns fan, I may be slightly biased when I say that Nick Chubb is one of, if not THE best running back in the NFL. I believe a certain Derrick Henry may disagree however…Missing 4 games in the 2020 season, Chubb still managed over 1000 rushing yards for the year, scoring a career best 12 touchdowns for the Dawgs.

Image Credit – Browns Wire – USA Today

During the season Chubb also amassed an average of 5.6 rushing yards per attempt. Another career best.A model professional both on and off the field, Nick Chubb is the first in my top 10.

Jarvis Landry – Wide Receiver

Rashard Higgins issued a warning before the playoff tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, saying Landry ‘Is a grown man with 2 kids. Do not play with him’. Landry proved Higgins right. Yet again being the go to receiver for Baker Mayfield, with hands like glue.

A true leader both on the field and in the locker room, Landry is a massive part of Cleveland’s success, and like Chubb, one of the key components in the Browns offense.

Baker Mayfield – Quarterback

Baker Mayfield. Heisman Trophy Winner. 1st Pick NFL Draft 2018. Finally Mayfield has shown us why he was the first pick of the draft. After struggling in his first two years in Cleveland, 2020 was a make or break year for Baker. He proved a lot of doubters wrong.

Image Credit – GQ

With a final record of 12-6, leading the Browns to their first playoff season since 2002, Mayfield produced a number of standout performances, silencing the critics and proving he is in fact our franchise quarterback and is here to stay. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski spoke highly of Baker after the season ended, and insists he will only improve year after year, staying in Cleveland.

Joel Bitonio – Offensive Guard

An absolute stalwart for the Cleveland Browns. Joel Bitonio is the longest current serving player, after joining in the 2014 draft. With Bitonio, what you see is what you get. A hard working member of the team, he’s made 3 consecutive Pro Bowls. His teammates think highly of him, proved by the fact most were upset he would miss the Steelers playoff game on the COVID list.

Bitonio did however return for the Kansas City Chiefs game, getting his first action in the NFL Playoffs. Bitonio will undoubtably play many more post season games in years to come.

Jack Conklin – Offensive Tackle

Quite simply one of the most talented right tackle in the game, Conklin joined the Browns before the 2020 NFL season, and a fantastic acquisition he turned out to be! Consistent throughout the season, Conklin played 15 games in total, earning himself another first team All-Pro call up. He will continue to be a critical part of the Browns defence for next season, with another 2 years on his $32m contract.

Image Credit – Titans Wire – USA Today

Austin Hooper – Tight End

Another one of the standout performers of the season, Hooper was a serious weapon for Baker Mayfield to use and reload over and over again. Making massive plays in pretty much all the games he started, Hooper proved to be a shrewd signing for Cleveland.

Despite missing 3 games due to an appendectomy, Hooper recorded over 400 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in 2020. A great pickup for a free agent, Hooper will be back for an even bigger 2021.

Jedrick Wills – Offensive Tackle

The Browns drafted Jedrick Wills in the first round of the 2020 draft, at pick 10. Coming from Alabama, Wills played right tackle for the Crimson Tide, however the Browns signed him as a left tackle. This makes his breakthrough season even more impressive. Not only has he transitioned from right to left, he forged his way into the side and is now a consistent starter in the Browns O-Line.

Image Credit – AL.com

Wills’ first NFL season didn’t go unnoticed either, with a call up for the 2020 All Rookie team. I expect Wills to continue his progression into one of the best left tackle’s in football.

Defense

Myles Garrett – Defensive End

Notorious for his part in the 2019 Browns v Steelers brawl, where he forcibly removed the helmet of Steelers QB Mason Rudolph, proceeding to swing it and hit Rudolph round the head, it’s easy to forget that Myles Garrett was in fact the first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Having described his actions at ‘out of character’, there was a fair amount of interest to see how Garrett would redeem himself. He done so by being outstanding this season.

On the field, Garrett recorded an excellent 12 sacks in his 14 starts for the Browns. Off the field he has been working closely with the Waterboys Foundation, earning him a nomination for the 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year, proving the incident against the Steelers was hopefully, a one off mistake.

Denzel Ward – Cornerback

The Warden. Does exactly what the name suggests. Ward patrols the deep defence and sniffs out danger, with his sheer cleverness.

Image Credit – Bleacher Report

Ward missed 4 games of the 2020 season due to injury and COVID protocols, however still had a standout season in Cleveland. With 46 tackles, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble, he is clearly a talented cornerback and still only 3 years deep in his NFL career.

Olivier Vernon – Defensive End

A true seasoned pro. Vernon joined the Browns after spells in Miami and New York, and soon made his mark in Cleveland.

After a consistent first season in 2019, he improved again in 2020 with a massive 9 sacks in the 13 games he played, and a forced fumble. In a fairly ropey Browns defence, Vernon and Garrett are two standout performers, and both love to put a quarterback on their backside!

Cincinnati Bengals – Ant

2020 season

It’s easy to sit here and say it was a complete disaster. However, with a losing record of 4 – 11 – 1 it as still an improvement on the year before when they went 2 – 14. It’s currently a losing franchise which must get tiring. One positive to take was the team had opportunities in every game which shows belief in what the team is trying to achieve moving forward under the current management.

Image Credit – EssentiallySports

I heard their Head Coach Zac Taylor say in an interview ‘We put in a lot work and believe in a lot of the players that we have and the coaches we have. Certainly expect to win a lot more football games than we have. That’s the standard that we have to set going forward’. So Zac Taylor says he believes in a lot of players they have.

Protected Players:

  1. Joe Burrow
  2. Tee Higgins
  3. Tyler Boyd
  4. Jessi Bates III
  5. Vonn Bell
  6. Sam Hubbard
  7. Carl Lawson
  8. Joe Mixon
  9. Jonah Williams
  10. Geno Atkins

The Bengals have a lot of pieces that you could put together into a good team, but they are currently lacking that real competitive edge. They are young though which bodes well for the future. As long as Joe Burrow can return at full speed, following his brutal injury in 2020, look for this Bengals team to be ready to go.

Image Credit – Bengals Wire – USA Today

A.J Green may seem like a glaring omission from the list, however he is struggling to keep up with the league as his age advances. With Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd clearly surpassing him this year, it makes sense that the Bengals are going for youth as opposed to experience to push forward into the future.

Offense

Joe Burrow – Quarterback

With Joe Burrow expected to be back for the 2021 season, after tearing his ACL and MCL in a week 11 loss at Washington, this was an easy decision. The number one pick in last year’s NFL draft showed so much promise and added a much-needed winning mentality to the team which is something that cannot be overlooked. He was on pace for over 4500 yards, 22 touchdowns with only 8/9 interceptions and a completed pass rating of 65% or higher.

Image Credit – Bengals Wire – USA Today

The Bengals just need to do everything in their power to protect Joe Burrow moving forward. It’s line 1 basic’s in the O-Line Handbook – protect your QB! Entering his final game of the season, Burrow had taken 72 hits so it’s clear to see why he suffered that injury.

Tee Higgins – Wide Receiver

Higgins was the 33rd Pick back in April. His production took a significant hit this season when burrow suffered his injury, which was inevitable. Burrow and Higgins are not on Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adam’s level or anywhere near yet but the communication and timing was definitely there. Higgins had both his 100 yard games with Burrow under centre.

He still finished the season with a combined 908 yards. He’s still going to grow and could be a great receiver for the Bengals in the years to come.

Tyler Boyd – Wide Receiver

I do think the Bengals will be adding more players in skill positions in the 2021 NFL draft this year. However, Tyler Boyd is the Bengal’s current no 1 option at receiver.

Image Credit – FantraxHQ

Tyler Boyd is Tyler Boyd. He is a very underrated receiver in my eyes. I’ve heard people describe him as a ‘freak’ and the way he runs his routes are unbelievable. Boyd recorded two straight 1,000-yard seasons prior to this one which is big numbers – especially for a guy trying to operate with little weapon around him.

Joe Mixon – Running Back

Really rate Mixon as a Running Back. Injuries have limited him this year but that’s part and parcel of being a RB. Only 6 games he managed, it does unfortunately add him to the list of RB’s that have been paid and not produced. If you’re the Bengals though, he’s a piece of the puzzle you would want to hold on to. That’s why they signed him to a four year, $48 million dollar extension this season.

The talent he possesses is too good to ignore. I remember having this argument when doing my fantasy draft. The presence of a healthy Joe Burrow will only make Mixon better moving forward to.

Jonah Williams – Offensive Tackle

Williams is the man who has been tasked with protecting Joe Burrow’s blindside, for what the organisation hopes is a long time to come. Taken with their top pick the years before Burrow, Williams has the pedigree to be a serious contributor and is the reason he has made this list.

Image Credit – Stripe Hype

Since entering the NFL, Williams has struggled to be 100% healthy, undergoing surgery for a torn Labrum last year and then he was lost for the season in week 12 of the 2020 season to a knee injury. The Bengals hope he can come back soon and stronger, because they have big plans for him.

Defense

Jessie Bates III – Free Safety

Bates is going to be a tremendous player in the NFL for years to come. Having played in the safety role I can completely understand the difficulty of the position and this man makes it look so easy. Defensive Back/Safety in my eyes is the hardest position on a football field and the foot work that goes into the adjustment’s required to deal with the tricky WR’s entering the league these days is an artwork.

From week 4 to the end of the regular season Bates was PFF’s top safety for coverage grade. No other safety was more consistently dominant in coverage which says a lot. Being the last line of the defence as well, I think it says a lot about why the Bengals seemed to stay in games a lot more this past year, rather than the opposition running the score up. Absolute goat and an easy decision this one.

Vonn Bell – Strong Safety

Another baller in the Safety position. Probably better known for ending JuJu Smith Schuster’s life a couple of weeks back. You must have seen the meme’s by now? Still makes me laugh!

Image Credit – Steelers Depot

No question about it. Leadership and football run through Vonn’s veins. He brings a bunch of energy and juice to the defensive group. Alongside Jessi Bates I think you personally have one of the best partnerships in football. Hard to leave him out – so he’s made the list!

Sam Hubbard – Defensive End

My next two picks are going to go hand in hand. Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson. Sam Hubbard is essentially providing Carl Lawson with the help he needs upfront.

2020 started slow for Hubbard but as the year went on he has become a major contributor. He’s great against the run and his ability such as against the Steelers on MNF is allowing other team mates to thrive.

In only his second year I definitely see the potential for Sam Hubbard to grow and become more consistent. With the right playbook/coaching/players around him I can see the Bengal’s benefiting heavily.

Carl Lawson – Defensive End

Indispensable star edge rusher. I think that pretty much sums this choice up. He burst onto the scene in his rookie year with 8.5 sacks. After a rough 2018 with injuries he is really showing his value right now. He’s frequently causing havoc in the backfield and applying pressure on the oppositions QB. Just ask Big Ben……

Image Credit – WCPO

Geno Atkins – Defensive Tackle

Mr Cincinnati for the best part of 10 years, Atkins has been a star on their defensive line since his arrival in the league in 2010. While he is getting older now at 32, he brings a veteran presence that cannot be undervalued. He is an expert on the division and has seen it all, a fountain of knowledge and still a serious player on the defence.

And there you have it. What begins a weekly series, culminating in the biggest fantasy draft of all time… Well, four massive football fans and their yearly fantasy league. Stayed tuned to see how this all plays out.

Let us know your thoughts, who is missing? who should not be included? And join us again soon for the AFC East.

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