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Thread: AFC North Q&A

  1. #1

    AFC North Q&A

    AFC North Q&A: Who is the rising star in the division?

    JuJu Smith-Schuster put up 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. AP Photo/Don WrightJul 10, 2018
    • staff

    Who is the AFC North's biggest rising star? Our roundtable reporters give their picks.

    Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: Bengals RB Joe Mixon. He’s primed for a breakout year in his second season. Mixon delivered a promising rookie campaign, leading Cincinnati with 626 yards rushing. He capped it off with a 96-yard effort against the Ravens, which could carry over into a season with a heavier workload. While Mixon needs to improve his consistency, his 3.5-yard average was also a reflection of his blocking. Mixon's production should increase with a much-improved Bengals offensive line, which added left tackle Cordy Glenn (trade with Bills) and center Billy Price (first-round pick). The upside is there with Mixon. He has big-play ability and 4.45 speed. A second-round pick in 2017, he was Pro Football Focus’ No. 16 running back last year, ranking ahead of Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman and Mark Ingram. Mixon is reportedly in better shape as he prepares to take over as the Bengals’ full-time feature back, which means his arrow is pointing up.

    Katherine Terrell, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: Bengals DE Carl Lawson. Lawson quickly proved his fourth-round draft status wrong with 8.5 sacks last season, despite playing less than half the defensive snaps. Lawson will contend that he actually should have had 9.5 sacks, but lost one on a technicality. That would have tied Carlos Dunlap’s rookie record with the Bengals. One of the Bengals’ goals this season is to get Lawson on the field more, and if they let him line up and do what he does best, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be able to generate similar numbers. Lawson certainly has the talent to become one of the best pass rushers in the division one day.

    Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. The guy who plays opposite Antonio Brownwill never get a ton of catches; Brown is too good and will always lead the Steelers. That does not mean that the guy who plays opposite him is not a good player, and in drafting Smith-Schuster the Steelers got an excellent player to pair with Brown. Smith-Schuster finished with 917 receiving yards; at the age of 21 he was the youngest player ever to top 1,000 all-purpose yards in a season. With Martavis Bryant traded to Oakland, Smith-Schuster steps into a bigger role. His complete game – blocking, running, route running – will help him have another strong season opposite Brown.

    Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Smith-Schuster.
    Though William Jackson might be a Pro Bowl corner for years to come in Cincinnati, the stage is set for Smith-Schuster to outshine all AFC North risers in year two. Smith-Schuster earned Pittsburgh’s No. 2 receiver job thanks to a 917-yard, seven-touchdown rookie performance, and with that elevated role should come at least 100 targets in 2018. Smith-Schuster will have every chance to notch his first 1,000-yard season despite a mysterious offseason knee injury that is worrisome (Smith-Schuster says he’ll be 100 percent for training camp). Pass-rushers Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt have a chance to explode with double-digit sacks, but they don't catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger and play alongside Antonio Brown. The benefits of lining up with that tandem will be plentiful for Smith-Schuster. Brown’s presence creates passing lanes, and Roethlisberger exploits them.

  2. #2
    surprised not to see William Jackson mentioned.

  3. ^^^ ha ha - surprised or not surprised?

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
    surprised not to see William Jackson mentioned.
    He is in Fowler’s part

  5. #5
    I wonder which half of Smith-Schuster will be a star once Burfict is done with him. Torso or Legs?

  6. #6
    I pimped JJSS pretty hard before the draft so I don't need a reminder of how good he can be. That said, I don't know how much more he can do. It's not like he lacked opportunities last season, and if the Steelers really do throw his way 100 times this season that likely means fewer touches for Brown and Bell.

    As a Bengal fan I'd be thrilled to see Mixon blow up but I honestly don't think he's that good. I found it interesting to see Hensley predict great things, but in retrospect maybe not that surprising. After all, Mixon only had one good game last year and it was against Baltimore.

    Far more confident in Carl Lawson. As noted, he came close to double digit sacks while playing about 40% of snaps. Has so much upside remaining and has the personality needed to reach it. Best, good natured competition with Carlos Dunlap will drive both players.

  7. #7
    I think Mixon, especially at a slimmer 220 pounds, has a chance to have a great season. I think he’s one of the most talented all-around backs in the league but of course, he needs to show it. It took him awhile to synch up with the OL last year and take what he could get, instead of going for a home run and dancing around too much/being indecisive. To my eyes, he was clearly better late in the year.

    One area where he didn’t show as much as I think he can is as a receiver. At Oklahoma, Lincoln Riley talked about how he could run the entire WR route tree, so he can/should do a lot more damage in the pass game.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by texbengal View Post
    I think Mixon, especially at a slimmer 220 pounds, has a chance to have a great season.
    I don't disagree. Most of my criticism of Mixon has to do with his lack of elusiveness as a runner, his inability to break tackles, and his inability to control contact when being tackled. For a 230lb guy he goes down pretty easy. Compounding the problem is Mixon admitted he wasn't very good at getting everything out of his blocking. Add it all up and you end up with a below average back.

    But as an air back I thought he was as advertised. For example, his catch rate was outstanding. Caught 30 out of 34 targets, enough to dwarf Gio Bernards catch rate, and Gio is no slouch at catching the ball. And there's the rub because Mixon at 220lbs could be an even better air back than he was last season. Imagine him getting 20-30 more targets this season.


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