Stacking the AFC North: Ravens, Steelers corner the market


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Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson (22) -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

You'll hear NFL teams talk a lot about winning their division as the first goal for their season.

The reason? The surest way to get into the playoffs is to win a division title, and it assures a home playoff game.

But to win that division title, teams should be as good as — if not better than — division opponents in a number of areas. That won't guarantee success, but it sure will help.

We continue our look at how the Steelers stack up against their AFC North opponents on a position-by-position basis.

Today, we look at cornerbacks:

The Steelers gave Steven Nelson the biggest free agent contract in team history last offseason when they signed him to a three-year $25.5-million contract to pair with Joe Haden at cornerback. Then they selected rookie Justin Layne in the third round of the draft.

The Browns then added Greedy Williams in the second round of the draft, while the Ravens made a midseason deal to acquire talented but troubled Marcus Peters to add to their secondary.

Not wanting to be left out of the cornerback makeover market, the Bengals added Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes both from the Vikings to team with talented William Jackson at the cornerback spot.

Needless to say, the AFC North teams are intent on having solid secondaries.

That's the name of the game in today's NFL. Despite teams such as the Ravens going to run heavy offenses, the majority of teams still want to throw the ball -- more than ever before. And you'd better have corners capable of stopping it.

The Steelers (third), Ravens (sixth) and Browns (seventh) were all in the top 10 last season in passing yards allowed, while the Bengals were 21st, making their secondary makeover a necessity.

But bringing in two of the Vikings' three corners might not have been the way to go. They were 15th in the league against the pass in 2019. Still, an improvement is an improvement.

As everyone knows, stopping the pass isn't all about the cornerbacks. But it's a good place to start.

So, there's a good chance the entire division ranks in the upper half of the league in terms of cornerback play in 2020.


  1. Ravens -- Marlon Humphrey, Peters, Tayvon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett
  2. Steelers -- Haden, Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Layne
  3. Bengals -- Jackson, Alexander, Waynes, Greg Maybin, Darius Phillips
  4. Browns -- Denzel Ward, Williams, Terrance Mitchell, Donnie Lewis Jr., Kevin Johnson

The Ravens get the edge here. Humphrey is the best corner in the division, and while Peters is a bit overrated -- he gives up as many big plays as he makes -- he's still solid. The Ravens get Young back as their nickel corner after he missed all of last season. They're deep enough that Smith, a longtime starter, has been pushed to being the No. 4 corner. Haden and Nelson are right there at the top in terms of cornerback duos in the league, and Hilton is a very good nickel, though he'll be pushed again this season by Sutton. The Steelers have high hopes for Layne, as well. Both teams are in the top five in the NFL when it comes to their cornerback rooms. The additions of Alexander and Waynes gives the Bengals a better top three than the Browns. Jackson had a tough season in 2019, but is talented and should bounce back. Ward is a top-notch corner, but Williams struggled as a rookie, getting picked on. We'll see if he makes the second-year jump. He was viewed by some as a first-round talent, though his tackling skills are lacking. Mitchell is just a guy as the No. 3 corner and there's little depth.


  1. Humphrey
  2. Ward
  3. Nelson
  4. Peters
  5. Haden


Stacking quarterbacks
Stacking interior defensive line
Stacking the running backs
Stacking the edge rushers
Stacking the wide receivers
Stacking the off-ball linebackers

Stacking the tight ends

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