Steelers Depot: Ranking The Rooms: AFC North iOL

It took some relative pain and suffering by a couple of teams in the AFC North in recent seasons to realize how important interior offensive line play is in today’s game, even in a pass-first NFL.

After some struggles, teams are starting to invest heavily in the offensive line once again, especially on the interior. That led to an increase in overall talent at the center and guard positions in the AFC North iOL , which will certainly change my rating for Steelers Depot this season.

Last season, it wasn’t close with the Cleveland Browns far ahead of the rest of the AFC North at center and guard. After an offseason full of changes for all four teams, that won’t be the case before the 2022 season.

Previously, I only focused on the offensive lines as a whole, but for the second year in a row, I have decided to split my Quarter Rankings: pieces of the AFC North on the offensive line into offensive tackles and interior offensive linemen.


I had the Browns way ahead of everyone else in the division this time last summer. This year, it was a real debate for me between the Browns, Bengals, and Ravens, who all made significant changes to the interior of the offensive line.

However, I’m sticking with the Browns as the best team in the AFC North, at least for another season, because of the excellent point guard tandem Cleveland has at its disposal. Although veteran center JC Tretter left as a cap casualty this offseason, standout guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller remain. That alone should be able to help the Browns continue their high level of play in the trenches.

Bitonio remains one of the most underrated guards in the entire NFL, while Teller has been quite dominant since joining the Browns and their high-powered ground attack.

Behind Bitonio and Teller, the Browns have relatively solid depth with players like Michael Dunn and Drew Forbes, who have performed well in spot openings. Hjalte Froholt is an intriguing option in the Browns’ powerful ground attack after joining Cleveland following a season with New England, while David Moore, Blake Hance, and rookie Dawson Deaton will battle to be the pivot guard/center combination in Cleveland.

The only real concern here on the inside eyebrows is at the center after cutting Tretter. Cleveland previously invested in center Nick Harris in the 2020 NFL Draft as a zone scheme center, but his short arms and smaller stature raise some concerns. Ethan Pocic was signed in free agency as a veteran option, while the Browns added undrafted free agent Brock Hoffman at the position, fitting the mold of a nasty, physical run blocker on the interior.

However, Cleveland’s offensive line will significantly miss Tretter’s leadership at center, at least in 2022.


One season after finishing last in these rankings, the Bengals jump to No. 2 on the list, largely because of their activity in free agency following a surprising Super Bowl run.

Cincinnati added veteran center Ted Karras opposite Joe Burrow, and inked guard Alex Cappa away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, giving Burrow serious protection on the interior. Karras may not move the needle much at the center, but he’s a solid overall veteran who won’t miss assignments and is good at communicating protection calls.

Cappa is a physical run blocker at guard and has held up well in pass protection over the years, with a 68.8 rating in 2020 and 69.6 in 2021 against Tom Brady.

At left guard, the Bengals will look to D’Ante Smith, Jackson Carman, and Hakeem Adeniji to battle for the starting job. Adeniji started at right guard in the Super Bowl, but with Cappa in the fold, the Bengals will likely ask him to switch sides. Carman and Smith were major draft capital investments, so having one of them win the job would be ideal for Cincinnati’s future.

Behind Karras at the center, Trey Hill, Lamont Gaillard and Ben Brown will battle for the backup spot. Hill has the inside track overall, while Gaillard is an intriguing and powerful people mover at the position, though he is on his second team in three NFL seasons.


For a long, long time, the Ravens were right there with the Steelers as the cream of the crop on the interior of the offensive line. That’s no longer the case, as the two longtime AFC North powers find themselves at the bottom of my rankings here.

However, the Ravens are reinvesting heavily, starting with the decision to draft Iowa standout center Tyler Linderbaum in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Widely considered the best interior lineman in the class, Linderbaum slipped a bit in the first round due to his size and general lack of fit in most offenses. However, he’s a great leverage player, one who thrived at Iowa in the Big Ten.

Linderbaum should start right away for the Ravens among players like Kevin Zeitler and Patrick Mekari. Both are veteran presences who played well for stints throughout the 2021 season, though Mekari is likely to slide inside from right tackle to left guard, where he is much more comfortable.

Behind the projected starting trio, the Ravens have decent depth overall. Center includes Trystan Colon and Jimmy Murray behind Linderbaum, while guard sees the Ravens deploy Ben Powers (844 plays in 2021), Ben Cleveland, Tire Phillips and Kahlil McKenzie. Powers would probably be a starter on half the teams in the league, but in Baltimore, he’s a solid swing interior lineman overall, one that fits Baltimore’s run-intensive approach perfectly.


The Steelers did a very good job of heavily addressing the interior offensive line in free agency with the signings of Mason Cole and James Daniels. Still, the group lags behind the rest of the division overall.

A year after being forced to cut star David Decastro due to injury and roll with Trai Turner at right guard, the Steelers are in better shape overall at the position with Daniels, who is still just 24 years old and a solid starter overall. With Cole, the Steelers are confident in placing him at center full time, which will allow him to find his game.

He’s only 26 years old, but he’s a veteran with 39 starts at guard and center with the Cardinals and Vikings, so the experience is not an issue at all. Both are much better run blockers than pass protectors, which fits what the Steelers will try to do offensively with Najee Harris in the backfield.

At left guard, Kevin Dotson is healthy again and looks to keep 2021 third-round pick Kendrick Green at bay in a training camp battle after Green returned to his natural position this offseason following a disastrous 2021 season at center. Dotson is the better player, but Green brings more athleticism and could thrive in the Steelers scheme, where he is more on the move.

Behind Cole and Daniels, the Steelers have some question marks. JC Hassenauer was pretty solid at times in 2021 at the center, so there is some comfort there if he has to play extended plays inside. After that, though, it gets a little dicey.

Steelers Depot Ranking The Rooms AFC North iOL

The Steelers liked what John Leglue did down the stretch last season filling in for Dotson, but asking him to replicate that play again in 2022 is a stretch considering how often he jumped around the league before settling in Pittsburgh.

Nate Gilliam is in the mix, as is undrafted free agent Chris Owens out of Alabama, who the Steelers want to see at center, though he has experience playing all over the offensive line with Nick Saban.

Not excellent overall, but better than what the Steelers implemented in 2021 on the interior, though that’s not saying much.

Leave a Comment