IDP Post-Mortem: AFC North Defensive Breakdown

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It's a great time to look back at the 2021 NFL season. Check out my AFC North Defensive Breakdown for IDP managers.

Most fantasy managers have a good grasp on which NFL teams have an offense capable of supporting multiple fantasy options. I wanted to get an idea of the same thing for IDP fantasy options, so I created a database to rank all 32 NFL teams.

For a full look at where all the NFL's defenses — as well as each position group — ranked in 22 different statistics, check out my IDP Team Grades. Be on the lookout for a video version of the AFC North breakdown coming to YouTube as well.

Materials and Methods

Currently, the spreadsheets that I have created to make these evaluations were populated with data from Pro Football Reference. Once I populate my sheets with the data, I then have a template that makes several calculations for additional metrics and calculates certain statistics by position group.

Finally, a ranking is assigned for each team in every metric I've tracked, both as a whole defense and within a position group. For example, the total tackles of a team's linebackers are ranked in comparison to the other 31 linebacker corps.

For each team and position unit, I'll give my overall impression of their IDP value as a grade. This doesn't mean there aren't good assets on a badly graded unit, just that the overall opportunity and efficiency of that unit have less value than others. I hope you enjoy this AFC North defensive breakdown!

AFC North Defensive Breakdown

Cincinnati Bengals

Overall Team Evaluation: B

We open the AFC North defensive breakdown with the Bengals fresh off their Super Bowl loss. They are fairly middle of the road when it comes to total volume and tackles, ranking in the middle third of the league in multiple categories. Their pass rush statistics on the other hand were well above average.

As a team, Cincinnati recorded pressure on 16% of defensive plays, resulting in 175 total pressures ranking ninth and seventh in the league respectively. They were average at converting pressures to sacks (23%) resulting in the 11th most sacks in the league (41).

Cornerbacks: B-

The Bengals put their corners on the field at a higher than average rate (ninth) but were only average in combined tackles (14th). The cornerback unit was targeted 313 times (ninth) giving them plenty of opportunities to make some plays on the ball. Unfortunately, they were only able to turn 13% of their targets into a pass defense or interception (19th among CB units).

Overall, the Bengals' corners were a decent option in the right matchup but the team had involvement from several players, limiting any one player's upside.

Safeties: B

The safety position was utilized at a lower rate than most NFL teams (18th), but the position was average in combined tackles (16th). None of the other stats stood out for the safety group, but the Bengals basically split the work between just two safeties, Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates. Both players averaged more than 60 snaps per game and had a tackle rate near 10%.

Linebackers: B

The Bengals averaged just under two linebackers on the field in 2021, which was the 21st ranked rate in the NFL. Despite the fewer total snaps, Bengals linebackers were 14th in combined tackles with 317. They did not have a major effect on the team's pass rush and were average in targets among linebackers.

The linebacking corps gets a B from me because, despite the relatively low usage, the Bengals were consistent in which players they used. Logan Wilson (54.4) and Germaine Pratt (46.1) averaged a decent number of snaps per game with good tackle rates.

The comparison that came to my mind with the Bengals' LBs was a low-volume passing offense that only utilizes a couple of targets. The end result is decent consistent production that can be valuable for your fantasy team even if it isn't the sexiest option.

Defensive Tackle: A

The interior linemen ranked 10th in snaps and tackles (164), 9th in pressures (50), and sixth in sacks (14.5). The Bengals mainly relied on four players to anchor the middle of their line with Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill most of the pass rush combining for 12.5 sacks on 39 pressures. Ogunjobi, Hill, and D.J. Reader all had reasonable tackle volume with 40-50 tackles each.

Despite not having a household name interior lineman, the Bengals' were able to generate pressure and sack production. If one of the aforementioned roles needs replacing, there will be an opportunity for an under-the-radar DT in leagues that require one.

Edge: B+

The edge position for the Bengals is an interesting one. As a group, they did not play a large number of snaps (ranked 21st) but 70% of the snaps came from two players, Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson.

At this point, most IDP managers are aware that Hubbard's value primarily comes from tackles. This year was no exception as Hubbard recorded nearly twice the number of tackles as Hendrickson (62 versus 34).

Hendrickson, meanwhile, nearly doubled Hubbard's sacks recording 14 sacks on the season compared to 7.5 for Hubbard. So long as Hubbard is in Cincinnati I expect the edge rusher opposite him will have lots of pass rush opportunities.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

Team Evaluation: A

The Steelers were sixth in snaps with an average of 68 per game and ninth in combined tackles with 1,152. They ranked well in pass rush statistics as well with 175 pressures (seventh), 55 sacks (first), and a 31% sack conversion rate (second).

They were more average in coverage stats ranking 20th in targets (561) but managed a high rate of passes defended totaling 80 PDs (eighth). All in all, this is a defense that you'd like to have a piece of, especially at edge and at safety.

Cornerback: D

Of all of the positions for the Steelers, this is probably the weakest. The Steelers' corners were 24th in snaps and 21st in tackles. Their one bright spot was being ranked 11th in interceptions with six. Not an overly impressive number and without a large increase in volume, not likely to repeat.

Safety: A-

The Steelers utilized the safety position nearly as much as their corners, leading to the seventh-most snaps, fifth-most tackles, and fifth-most targets in the league. The position also ranked 8th in PDs and 10th in interceptions. The most valuable part of the Steelers' safeties in 2021 was that you knew who was going to play.

The team had two full-time players Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds who each put together excellent tackle numbers for safeties (124 and 89 respectively).

Linebacker: D

The Steelers' linebacking core was the most surprising to me in this AFC North breakdown. The inside linebackers as a whole were just not productive. The group ranked 21st in snaps and 24th in tackles (271). The saving grace of the Steelers' linebacking core is that it was mostly one player that put up tackles.

Joe Schobert ended the season with 112 combined tackles which were 41% of the position group. He was the lone bright spot for IDP managers, while Devin Bush was disappointed with 70 tackles in 14 games.

Edge: A

The edge rushers for the Steelers were much better as a group for IDP. The position group ranked ninth in snaps, eighth in tackles (229), 10th in pressures (98), and third in sacks (33). This group delivered on what you want from a group of edge rushers.

T.J. Watt was the obvious leader for IDP with 22.5 sacks on 52 pressures, but teammate Alex Highsmith provided IDP value as well. Highsmith turned 26 pressures into 6 sacks while adding 74 combined tackles. This puts the Steelers' edge group at the top of the AFC North for IDP managers.

Defensive Tackle: A

The Steelers' defensive tackle position was 14th in total snaps, eighth in tackles (171), seventh in pressure (59), and third in sacks (19). The only hesitation is that the group had a high sack rate (32% ranked second) that may not be sustainable.

Cameron Heyward is the current player to roster in this group (positional designation may vary between leagues) but if his role opens up, there may be an opportunity for another player to step into his production.

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Cleveland Browns

Team Evaluation: B

Up next in our AFC North defensive breakdown are the Cleveland Browns. The Browns were middle of the road in many categories including snaps, tackles, and pressure. They did, however, rank ninth in sacks (43) and 11th in passes defended (79).

Big play potential ultimately led to the Browns grading above average for me with multiple position groups ranking as high targets for IDP production.

Cornerbacks: A

The Browns used their corners at the 6th highest rate in the league averaging 2.9 CBs per play. They also appear to expect their corners to be involved in tackling leading to 254 combined tackles (sixth). The Browns corners were also targeted the 10th most in the league and had the fifth-most passes defended (40).

The drawback for the Browns' cornerback group was that no player was able to play in all 17 games and only Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II averaged over 50 snaps per game. The Browns' CBs were still game-script dependent but the volume and opportunity are there.

Safeties: D

The Browns' safeties were near the bottom in multiple categories as a group including 26th in total snaps, 27th in snap ratio, and 27th in combined tackles. John Johnson was the clear snap leader, averaging 60.3 snaps per game.

However, Johnson had just a 7% tackle rate leading to 61 tackles on the season. Overall, it looks like at most one player will be useful for IDP but it may be likely that the team continues to utilize their safeties in ways that limit their tackle numbers.

Linebackers: A

The Browns used their linebackers at the 10th highest rate in the league, averaging 2.1 LBs per play. The position group was also seventh in combined tackles with 358. The linebacking core had issues with health this year with no players able to play in all 17 games.

Anthony Walker led the way in snaps averaging 53.9 snaps per game with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah coming in second with 42.7. Both players had good tackle rates (16% for Walker and 13% for JOK) giving hope that IDP managers may be able to utilize two Browns linebackers in the future.

Defensive Tackle: C-

The defensive tackle position was utilized at the 13th highest rate (2.0 per play) and ranked 22nd in tackles (123). The position was low in pressures with 27 on the season (27th) and in sacks with 5.5 (21st).

The team also had involvement from multiple players with three linemen playing over 450 snaps. Generally, I think of an interior lineman paired with a prolific edge rusher as having potential for IDP but it doesn't appear to be the case for the Browns.

Edge: B

As a group, the Browns edge rushers were 18th in snaps and tackles (145), fourth in pressures (108), and sixth in sacks (29). Over half of those sacks (55%) were provided by Myles Garrett, who also led the position in tackles with 51.

Jadeveon Clowney was the next most prolific edge rusher with 37 tackles and nine sacks. Overall, the Browns' edge position should continue to produce with an opportunity for the pass rusher behind Garrett to return value as well.

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Baltimore Ravens

Team Evaluation: C

The final team in our AFC North breakdown is the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens IDP assets were limited in volume since the team ranked 26th in snaps (64 per game). The team also ranked low in combined tackles with 1,008 (28th).

The team was low in pass rush stats as well ranking 24th in pressures (154) and 23rd in sacks (33). There may be some hope for positive regression in sack rate as a team but the low-pressure numbers are concerning.

Cornerbacks: C-

The Ravens' corners were utilized at the 18th highest rate averaging 2.7 CBs per play. The group was 21st in combined tackles (215) but was 4th in targets (335). The saving grace of this group is that the snaps were mostly distributed between just two players when they were healthy.

Marlon Humphrey averaged 62.3 snaps per game while Anthony Averett averaged 57.7. Neither were great sit and forget options but had the playing time in the right matchups.

Safeties: B-

The safety group was above average in usage averaging 2.2 safeties per play (12th) and in tackles with 232 on the season (13th). The group was also targeted the 12th most (135) and recorded the fourth most passes defended (21). Chuck Clark was the clear snap leader averaging 64.1 snaps per game and also led the position with 80 combined tackles.

Brandon Stephens recorded the highest tackle rate (10%) of the safeties but averaged 43.8 snaps per game resulting in a lower tackle total. Overall the position seems to be able to support an option or two, especially in deeper leagues even though an elite option is not present.

Linebacker: C

The Ravens ranked 29th in linebacking snap ratio averaging 1.8 linebackers per play. The LBs ranked a mere 28th in tackles (254) and were underwhelming as a whole statistically. The snap leader was Patrick Queen with 48.6 snaps per game with Josh Bynes trailing with 38.5 snaps per game.

The deeper story was Queen's reduced role as the year went on. In the first four games of the season, Queen was playing virtually 100% of snaps but from Week 5 on reverted to more of a rotational role, topping 90% of snaps only twice in 13 games.

The Ravens appeared early in the season to want a full-time linebacker, they just didn't have a player on the roster they felt was capable. Someone would have to take complete control of the position in order to return IDP value next year.

Defensive Tackle: D

Not much to see here. The Ravens DT group was last in snaps and pressures, 31st in combined tackles, and 28th in sacks.

Edge: C

The edge rushers for the Ravens ranked second in snap ratio with 3.4 edge rushers per play. They were also high in combined tackles with 233 (fourth) and pressures with 106 (fifth). The Ravens were unable to capitalize on their high-pressure numbers, ranking 22nd (20) in sacks. This is actually where I think there is potential for positive regression.

The sack conversion rate of the Ravens' edge rushers was 28th in the league. If the group is able to post even an average sack rate in 2022 there is potential for a large increase in sack numbers. There were still several aging veterans on the roster in 2021 including Justin Houston and Calais Campbell. All of this makes Odafe Oweh a good buy-low candidate in my opinion for 2022.

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Thanks for reading my AFC North defensive breakdown for IDPs ! If you want to read more of my work, you can do so on my IDP Guys Author Page! If you are ever looking for some fantasy feedback, hit me up on Twitter at @DynastyDVM and follow @IDPGuys for more great content.

Aaron Maberry

I am a veterinarian who has been playing fantasy football off and on since high school. About 12 years ago, I got more competitive and serious about fantasy football when I started a league with some other friends who were in vet school with me at the time. I started playing IDP about 3 years ago and have become even more obsessed with fantasy football. I have what I would call an evidence-based approach to fantasy football and love to track data in spreadsheets. I began writing for IDP Guys in the summer of 2021 and look forward to contributing to the amazing team moving forward. Thanks for reading!
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