All-32 Series: AFC North’s Breakout Players for the 2018 Season


Written By- Team Blitz

Baltimore Ravens

Hayden Hurst (TE)

Hayden Hurst was one of the Ravens’ 1st round draft picks on Thursday night, and the first tight end off the board this year. The team has been searching for an answer for their tight end position since Dennis Pitta’s unfortunate career ending injury. As their first pick in the draft, the Ravens are planning on Hurst contributing and being a big part of their offensive unit in 2018. Hayden is coming off a season where he had 44 receptions, 559 yards, and 9 touchdowns at South Carolina. He has the skill set to become a utility tool due to his ability to line up all over the field. Hurst will be a 25 year old rookie, and I believe the Ravens will look to get the most out of him early in his career, setting him up to be a breakout star for Baltimore this upcoming season.

-Cody Manning

Cincinnati Bengals

John Ross (WR)

John Ross needs to be the breakout star he was drafted to be for the Bengals this season. He had one touch as a rookie, and he fumbled the football. I look for him to become the vertical threat that the Bengals expected him to be when they drafted him in the first round last year.. Durability was a problem when he was drafted out of Washington, and Ross seemed to be hurt most of last season. The Bengals have mentioned the possibility of maybe playing him at cornerback, but don’t expect that to happen this year. Look for Ross to be the player that takes the top off defenses and makes the Bengals’ offense more explosive than it was last season.

-Ryan Goudy

Cleveland Browns

David Njoku (TE)

The Cleveland Browns were the worst team in football last year, but they did have several young players that showed some promise. During the 2017 NFL Draft, the Browns traded back up into the first round to take tight end David Njoku out of the University of Miami. He was a very raw athlete that projected to be a prolific pass catching tight end in the NFL during his collegiate career. During his first season with the Browns, Njoku started only five games, but he did play in all sixteen. He caught 32 passes for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also had a 12.1 yards per catch average, proving that he has some playmaking ability from the tight end position. Njoku did all of this with a bottom of the barrel quarterback leading a poor offensive unit.

Things will be much different for him this season. Many NFL analysts say that the tight end position is the most difficult position for a rookie to come in and play right away. Not many rookie tight ends are successful. Njoku was fairly successful with DeShone Kizer as his quarterback. In his second season, he will be playing in an offense that added Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Carlos Hyde. Defenses will not be able to focus on him because of all of these playmakers. Todd Haley will be much more creative in trying to get Njoku the ball as well. He is also a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He is too big for safeties to defend him, but he is also too quick for a linebacker to matchup with him too. Tyrod also loved his tight ends in Buffalo, so Njoku could quickly become one of his favorite targets. I would expect Njoku to have more receptions, yards, and touchdowns during his second season in Cleveland.

-Jake Leicht

Pittsburgh Steelers

Vance McDonald (TE)

For the past few seasons, the Steelers have been searching for their next great tight end. When Heath Miller retired, they lost a very big part of their offense and one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets. They have had a reliable option in Jesse James for the past few seasons, but they brought in an even better option in the passing game last season. Last season, the Steelers acquired Vance McDonald in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. During his 10 games with the Steelers, which included 7 starts, McDonald accounted for 14 receptions for 188 yards and one touchdown. McDonald was a better vertical threat in the passing game than James and provided the Steelers with a big play threat at the position for the first time in several years. With a full offseason working with Roethlisberger, I believe that McDonald will be able to establish himself as a top tight end in the league. The more time McDonald and Roethlisberger have to work together, the better his chances are of becoming the safety-net tight end that Heath Miller once was.

-Ryan Lippert