Will the upcoming draft produce a new AFC North player rivalry?
The AFC North contains some of the best rivalries in the NFL. The Steelers and Ravens lead the way with these two teams having been enemies for years and frequently playing in high stakes game. Some of the Steelers most thrilling games in recent history have come again the Ravens. The Steelers and Bengals rivalry is more based on hate than respect, but these games are always intense nonetheless. Ever since the Steelers defeating the Bengals in the 2016 Wildcard game, the Bengals have had it out for the Steelers.
The rivalries among these teams go beyond the games though, it also extends to the draft picks. In recent history these teams have drafted players of the same position with nearby picks. While historic rivalries such as Troy Polamalu vs Ed Reed are still debated today, we have gotten many new rivalries over the past few years.
Artie Burns vs William Jackson III
The Steelers had pick 25 and the Bengals had pick 24. One of the Steelers biggest needs was cornerback and one of the players many projected the Steelers to draft was William Jackson III. It was pick 24 and many were excited for the Steelers to get their guy, but almost out of nowhere the Bengals drafted Jackson III. Bengals fans rejoiced, feeling pride in having apparently stolen a player from the Steelers. Following the pick, with almsot no hesitation the Steelers drafted cornerback Artie Burns.
From the start, these 2 players were destined to be rivals. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, Jackson III suffered a torn pectoral muscle and missed the entire 2016 season. Meanwhile Artie Burns played a significant amount of snaps during his rookie season and secured his starting position. This rivalry will be one to watch in 2017.
Ryan Shazier vs CJ Mosley
Going into the 2014 draft, the Steelers were looking for an inside linebacker to play alongside Lawrence Timmons. Many thought this player would be CJ Mosley, but with pick 15 the Steelers surprised many and took linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State. A mere 2 picks later, the Ravens selected linebacker CJ Mosley from Alabama.
As mentioned before, these players were seen as rivals. Over the last 3 season, these 2 have been frequently compared to each other. Mosley was seen as the better player initially, being voted to the pro bowl his rookie season. Shazier’s career was unfortunately plagued by injuries during his first 2 season, missing a handful of games. Shazier turned things around in 2016 though and played the majority of games at a high level. Both Mosley and Shazier made the pro bowl in 2016.
The story of these 2 isn’t close to being over. With both getting their 2nd contract next season, they will be compared on a financial level alongside their level of play.
Looking to 2017
Looking ahead to the 2017 NFL draft, we may get some more player rivalries. The Steelers have pick 28, the Ravens have pick 16, and the Bengals have pick 9. While, barring trades, we won’t see the Steelers pick closely with either teams, they share similar needs with both teams.
Some of the Ravens top needs mirror the Steelers: cornerback and edge rusher. Given the depth at both positions in the draft, both the Steelers and Ravens can get good players in the 1st round. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see these teams pick the same position. Similar to Ryan Shazier vs CJ Mosley, and looking even farther back at Troy Polamalu vs Ed Reed, a new player rivalry could be conceived. An edge rusher rivalry seems entire plausible.
Edge rushers such as Tak McKinnley of UCLA, Charles Harris of Missouri, Carl Lawson of Auburn, and Derek Rivers of Youngstown State will all be in play for both teams. The cornerbacks both teams will be eying likely include Marlon Humphrey of Alabama, Chidobie Awuzie of Colorado, Sidney Jones of Washington, and Quincy Wilson of Florida. Any of the players listed could headline the next great rivalry.
The Bengals aren’t as likely to pick a similar position as the Steelers. With their needs they are more likely to draft a wide receiver or off-ball linebacker. You can never say never though with the draft, and the Bengals could easily once again steal of player Pittsburgh had their eye on.
Rivalries are part of the reason that makes competition so great. These future rivalries will surely only add fuel to the fire of the AFC North rivalries.