Time to look at the reigning champs and the rivals working to keep them out of the chase this year.
Arthur Brown ILB: Brown is big shoes to fill as he was drafted in response to Ray Lewis' retirement. He will be hard pressed to have near the effect as the player who was the face of Ravens franchise, but he does bring some of the same skill set to the field. He is the same kind of sideline to sideline linebacker as Lewis was and is a leader in his own way. His performance is one of the limiting factors when we look at how good this defense could be.
Matt Elam S: Elam is a stud, but he just hasn't beat out James Ihedigbo. I expect to see him on the field early and often, perhaps even as the Ravens nickel back.
Brandon Williams DT:
Williams is a huge, raw, talent at nosetackle. He is coming out of a small school, but should be a space eater to keep the linebackers clean, at worst. He was a nice piece for the Ravens to add as they rebuild their depth on defense. If they decide to go big, they can put Haloti Ngata, Williams, and Terrance Cody on the field together to have a 3 man line weighing 1015 lbs.
Ricky Wagner OT:
Wagner is a technically proficient Tackle with a lot of experience. He projects as a marginal Left Tackle, but could easily start at the other positions. He is slotted as the understudy to Mount McKinnie at left tackle.
Projected Starters : None
Tyler Eifert TE:
Eifert has shown well at Tight End to this point, but the Begnals depth chart is a tough one crack. He will be on the field when the Bengals put a 2 tight end set on the field. I expect this to be a big year for the rookie out of Notre Dame.
Giovanni Bernard RB:
Bernard is getting rave reviews as a pass catching running back and some predict that he will take a considerable number of snaps from the Law Firm. He is just one more weapon in a young and dynamic Bengals offense.
Margus Hunt DE:
I am very high on Hunt and expect to see more and more of him the further into the season that we get. He is a unique athlete and has the size to play up and down the line. Look for him to make a contribution on special teams in the early going.
Tanner Hawkinson OL:
Last year Hawkinson was a jewel for a very bad Kansas Jayhawk team. The Bengals think he can play up and down the line, and have him penciled in as the understudy to Kevin Zeitler at right guard.
Projected Starters: None
Barkevious Mingo OLB:
Mingo has the potential to be a difference-making athlete for a Brown's defense which is dire need of them. He has had a rough go of it early with what the Browns hope are fluke injuries. He will be in the rotation at outside linebacker early.
Leon McFadden CB:
McFadden is an agile and quick athlete who was well schooled at San Diego State. The Browns think he will be a fine nickel back and one of the final pieces of a good young secondary.
Le'Von Bell RB:
Bell had taken a solid hold on the starting spot for Pittsburgh before his injury. Look for him to take the spot back when he returns to the field.
Jarvis Jones OLB:
Jones is behind Jason Worilds right now, but don't expect that to keep him off the field. His speed is custom made for the Steeler's attacking style.
Markus Wheaton WR:
Wheaton has already worked his way to second string, working behind Antonio Brown. He is faster than is expected and is a polished young receiver.
Shamarko Thomas SS:
Thomas is behind Troy Polamalu, but the Steelers love his attacking style and big-time speed.
Vince Williams ILB:
Williams is a physical specimen who performed on a consistent basis at Florida State after recovering from injuries early in his career. He was a steel in the 6th round.