AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh delivered the biggest compliment to Marshal Yanda in what has been an offseason of high praise for the right guard.

"He's just a special human being and a special player," Harbaugh said before adding, "and he's a Hall of Famer some day."

This shows the amount of respect Harbaugh has for Yanda. Whether Yanda actually receives a bust in Canton, Ohio, will likely be determined by how he plays over the next five to six seasons.

Marshal YandaPatrick Semansky/APMarshal Yanda is not only the best offensive lineman on the Ravens' roster, he's also one of the best in the league.

In looking at the Hall of Fame voting in recent years, guards need to reach double-digit Pro Bowls to get into the conversation. Since 2007, five guards have been voted into the Hall of Fame and four of them have gone to 10 or more Pro Bowls (Bruce Matthews, Randall McDaniel, Larry Allen and Will Shields). The only exception was in 2010, when Russ Grimm was inducted despite only four Pro Bowl appearances.

Yanda has been named to four Pro Bowls, but he's playing as well as he's ever played at the age of 30.

Grantland recently called Yanda as the best offensive lineman in the game. Pro Football Focus ranked Yanda as the fifth-best player in the NFL.

"Obviously, I take pride in working hard and being the best player I can be, but I'm more worried about the football team and us as an offensive line and us as an offense more than that," Yanda said. "You just go out here and do your job every day to the best of your ability, and you try to be great. I'm not going to lie; I come out here, and I want to be great in everything I do. So, you just work your tail off and you hope that happens."

Yanda is known as a dominating run blocker. There have been times when he has shoved three defenders on one play to single-handedly open a hole. He's also a top-notch pass protector, allowing four sacks over his past three seasons.

"This is at the highest level, and he's one of the best guys out there in the league," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "The physicality that he brings to the game, it's kind of weird to say, because that's all playing offensive line is, but he obviously just takes it up to another level."

Yanda grew up on an Iowa pig farm, and his straggly beard makes him look more like a member of "Duck Dynasty" than one of the better offensive lines in the league. Still, he's gone from being the 10th offensive lineman drafted in 2007 to becoming one of the best in the league.

"He's a special player; he's a leader, a hard-working guy," running back Justin Forsett said. "He just goes about his business the way a pro is supposed to, and [I'm] fortunate enough to run behind him. I've played behind a guy named Walter Jones, and [Jones'] work ethic was very similar to [Yanda]."

Jones, incidentally, reached the Hall of Fame in 2014.

The Baltimore Ravens aren't expected to pursue Reggie Wayne even though there's a report linking the team to the former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver on Monday.

Team officials don't consider wide receiver to be a pressing need entering training camp, and they don't want to push down younger receivers such as Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown or Michael Campanaro on the depth chart.

Plus, Wayne doesn't seem to be a good fit at this stage of his career. He is going to turn 37 during the season, and the Ravens already have a 36-year-old Steve Smith. Wayne has had three surgeries (anterior cruciate ligament, triceps and knee scope) over the past two seasons. And he wouldn't add any speed to a team that has enough possession receivers.

It's easy to see why the Ravens would be a popular candidate for Wayne. General manager Ozzie Newsome has a strong history with acquiring veteran receivers such as Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans and Steve Smith. He's also signed former Colts castoffs such as Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley.

But it just doesn't make much sense for the Ravens to add Wayne, whose 64 catches last season were his fewest in a full season since 2003.

The Ravens are also not expected to show interest in wide receiver-returner Ace Sanders, who was cut on Friday. Even though Baltimore doesn't have an established returner to replace Jacoby Jones, Sanders wasn't an impressive running back kicks for the Jaguars. In his two NFL seasons, Sanders ranked 35th in the league with a 7.1-yard punt return average.

NFL Nation reporter Jamison Hensley assesses which Ravens rookies could earn a starting berth this season.

[+] EnlargeBreshad Perriman, Baltimore Ravens
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Ravens will need someone to step in as the deep threat this season, and that receiver could be rookie Breshad Perriman.

Why Breshad Perriman could start: The biggest reason Perriman will be given a chance to start immediately is he's the only Baltimore wide receiver outside of Steve Smith Sr. who can score a touchdown any time he touches the ball. There's a possibility the Ravens will begin the season by starting Kamar Aiken or Marlon Brown. But this would happen only if the Ravens don't want to put too much pressure on Perriman, or if the first-round pick doesn't progress as expected this summer. The Ravens used the No. 26 overall pick on Perriman because they needed someone who can replace Torrey Smith's role as a deep threat. At Central Florida last season, Perriman averaged 20.9 yards per catch and 33.1 yards per touchdown. He caught a touchdown in seven straight games. His size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and speed (4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day) make him a potential No. 1 receiver. There are concerns about Perriman's hands and his consistency. Still, his speed is the perfect complement to QB Joe Flacco's strong arm. It would be extremely surprising if Perriman doesn't find a spot in the starting lineup at some point this season.

Why Maxx Williams could start: Williams' role in the Ravens' offense should come with an asterisk. It all depends on the health of tight end Dennis Pitta. If Pitta can't play this season or is limited because of issues with his hip, Williams becomes a bigger factor in Baltimore's passing attack. The Ravens traded up in the second round in order to get Williams, the draft's best insurance policy at tight end. Beyond Pitta, the only experienced tight end on the roster is Crockett Gillmore, who had 10 catches as a rookie last season. It was essential for the Ravens to get a dependable pass-catching tight end like Williams. Even if Pitta does play at some point this season, there will be a role for Williams. He is a rising playmaker who can stretch the field more than any other Baltimore tight end. Last season, 77.7 percent of his receptions at Minnesota (28 of 36) resulted in a first down or a touchdown. Williams led all college tight ends with nine catches of 25 yards or more. The Ravens have relied on second-round picks to make an impact immediately in recent years. Since 2011, three second-rounders (wide receiver Torrey Smith, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele) started eight-plus games as rookies. There's a chance Williams will add his name to that list in 2015.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome suggested to Steve Smith that the wide receiver should take some time in the offseason before deciding whether he wanted to play a 15th NFL season.

In Smith's mind, there were no thoughts about walking away from the game.

"I left [the Ravens' facility] here knowing what my plans were, and my family knew what the plans were," he said.

At age 36, Smith shows how much he loves the game in everything he does. He attended the Ravens' first voluntary organized team activities when many veterans chose not to show up. He reported in excellent shape and made a couple of leaping catches, including a one-handed one, over the middle.

It takes a special player to last this long in the NFL and continue to perform at a high level. Only three players (Jerry Rice, Jimmy Smith and Joey Galloway) have topped 1,000 yards receiving in a season at 36 or older, and Steve Smith would become the first to accomplish this since 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information, if he can do so this season.

"I think age is a number," Smith said. "Right now, I feel good and I’m playing well, so I think 36 is good.”

One reason Smith has excelled for so long is his attitude and energy level. He's carried a chip on his shoulder throughout his career, whether it was because of his size (5-foot-9) or the fact he wasn't drafted until the third round.

Smith practices at a different intensity level than most players, and it took his Ravens teammates a year to adjust to that. Now, he's a tone-setter. Quarterback Joe Flacco said Smith's presence at OTAs pushes everyone to work hard.

"He’s one of the guys that everybody kind of looks at and says, ‘OK, how is Steve doing on this play?’ And they feed off of that and learn how to practice," Flacco said. "So, any time you can get guys out here of his nature, it does things for the whole team, just because all the young guys learn from it.”

Smith, who is 10 years older than any of the Ravens' other receivers, does have an endgame in mind. He is in the second year of a three-year contract with the Ravens, and it's possible he could retire after the 2016 season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesAt age 36, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith isn't worried about questions regarding his age.

All he knows is he's not going to compete with the longevity of a certain Hall of Fame receiver.

“Jerry Rice is, obviously, the greatest wide receiver to ever play, and I really don’t have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest," Smith said. "I have a lot of things on my ‘to do’ list that don’t have to do anything with football. So, I’m going to take it day by day, but I will not be playing until I’m 40.”

The challenge for Smith this season is consistency. Last season, he was among the top receivers in the NFL for the first eight games, totaling 675 yards receiving (seventh most in the NFL). He didn't sustain that level of productivity in the last eight games, putting up 390 yards (53rd in the league). Ravens coach John Harbaugh mentioned at the end of the season that the team might want to lessen Smith's snaps to save on his wear and tear.

Still, Smith led the Ravens in receiving with 1,065 yards, which was 298 more than any other player on the team.

"Yes, I’m 36, and I remember last year when I signed here [the media were not] expecting anything from a 35-year-old," Smith said. "Now, [the media have] to pick on me, because I’m 36. I’m just going to play football and practice. I think I look halfway decent. I think there are teams that probably [are] drafting wide receivers hoping that they can get a guy fresh out of a college [who is] able to put up 1,000 yards [like] I did at 35."

So, when did Smith start hearing questions about his age?

“Probably after the height questions stopped," he said.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro injured his quadriceps during the Baltimore Ravens' first organized team activity of the year, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Wednesday's OTA was closed to reporters, and a Ravens spokesman said the team will not give any reports from the workout. The severity of the injury is unknown, The Sun reported.

Campanaro is considered one of the leading candidates to return kicks for the Ravens, although the Ravens have been noncommittal in naming Jacoby Jones' successor. One reason is the Ravens want Campanaro to prove he can stay healthy before relying on him for a significant role. So, it's not a good sign that he couldn't get past the first day of OTAs.

Other options for the Ravens in the return game include undrafted rookie DeAndre Carter, cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Last year, Campanaro was limited in OTAs because of a hamstring injury and missed seven of the last eight regular-season games because of another hamstring issue. When he was healthy, Campanaro showed flashes as a slot receiver and finished with seven catches for 102 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. In the divisional playoff loss at New England, he caught all three passes thrown his way for 39 yards.

Campanaro is expected to compete against Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken for the No. 3 wide receiver spot.

This injury is the latest setback for a player who had durability issues coming out of Wake Forest because of his small build. The Ravens wanted Campanaro so much late in the 2014 draft that they traded a 2015 sixth-round pick to Cleveland in order to acquire the Browns' seventh-round selection, which they used to take Campanaro. A hometown product, Campanaro played high school football at River Hill in Columbia, Maryland, which is 23 miles from M&T Bank Stadium.

The Baltimore Ravens made a couple of moves involving undrafted linebackers on Wednesday, cutting Alabama's Trey DePriest and re-signing Rhode Island's Andrew Bose.

Bose returns to the Ravens after being waived to make room for cornerback Kyle Arrington just 13 days ago. He was initially signed by the Ravens on May 12 after a tryout during rookie minicamp.

A three-year starter at Rhode Island, Bose finished with 295 tackles in his career, including 125 last season. He also had 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception last year.

DePriest was a first-team All-SEC linebacker who was considered a hard-hitter but had limited range.

The other 15 undrafted rookies still on the Ravens' 90-man roster: OL Darryl Baldwin, OLB Brennen Beyer, WR Daniel Brown, G Leon Brown, WR DeAndre Carter, OL Blaine Clausell, OL Nick Easton, OL Kaleb Johnson, QB Jerry Lovelocke, RB Terrence Magee, P/K Justin Manton, S Nick Perry, OL De'Ondre Wesley, WR Cam Worthy, CB Julian Wilson (injured).

The Baltimore Ravens have been one of the winningest NFL franchises over the last decade, but they apparently don't look very good while doing it.

According to ESPN's Uni Watch rankings, the Ravens remain one of the worst-dressed teams in the NFL, coming in at No. 23 out of 32 teams.

This is traditionally where the Ravens land in theses uniform rankings, whether it's ESPN or another media outlet. Criticism generally ranges from the purple-black combination, the number design and the bird head logo on the helmet (which is still a step up from the "Flying B" logo in the team's early days).

The Ravens improved one spot from last year's ESPN rankings, but you get the feeling that was simply the result of poor decisions by Washington (continued use of the Redskins logo) and Tampa Bay (awful redesign).

Here is what Paul Lukas of Uni Watch had to say about the Ravens' game-day look:

"OK, we get it -- ravens are black, so this is the rare team whose use of black doesn't feel gratuitous. But that doesn't mean they couldn't scale it back a little. The black pants could use some stripes, and they'd be better if they were paired with non-black socks (which the team used to have, once upon a time) to avoid the leotard effect. On the plus side, here's a detail worth noting: The gold trim on the numbers is a really nice accent."

From my perspective, the Ravens' different uniform combinations vary greatly. The best looks are the purple jersey with white pants (the traditional home combination) and the white jersey with black pants (which should be the team's go-to away look). The worst combination is the purple jersey with black pants, which conjures up the bad memories of Vinny Testaverde and the bad Ravens teams in 1996 and 1997.

If Ravens are ticked off about this ranking, it only gets worse. The Pittsburgh Steelers are considered to have the best uniform and the Indianapolis Colts (aka, the uniform that got away) are No. 9.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was asked Tuesday night about the team's interest in recently released cornerback Kyle Arrington.

"There are a lot of players available right now that I have been on the phone talking to representatives of," Newsome said in a conference call with season-ticket holders.

Newsome rarely gives out much information when talking about the team's plans, but there's a little intrigue at this point. Newsome and coach John Harbaugh both acknowledged the interest to add another cornerback, and the top target is clearly Arrington (pictured) after he was surprisingly released by the New England Patriots on Monday.

In terms of the free agents available, it's Arrington and there's everyone else. He's a tough cover man who is strong in run support and on special teams. Arrington can fill the void at nickelback and serve as quality insurance if Jimmy Smith or Lardarius Webb get injured.

The other viable options are Tarell Brown, a four-year starter for the Raiders and 49ers who is coming off season-ending foot injury, and Carlos Rogers, a 33-year-old defender who was limited to seven games last season because of a knee injury. The Ravens can also bring back the likes of Antoine Cason or Danny Gorrer.

No one is suggesting Arrington is a Pro Bowl cornerback, but he might as well be viewed that way when looking at the alternatives. For that reason, Arrington isn't going to come cheap. He's going to want to get as close to that $3 million that he was originally scheduled to earn this year with New England. Every cornerback-needy team is going to pursue Arrington, and there is still a chance Arrington will return to the Patriots on a cheaper deal, according to ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss.

The Ravens have the cap room to sign Arrington. When Baltimore signed Smith to a four-year, $48 million extension last month, the Ravens reduced Smith's cap number by $3.2 million. The Ravens should use a chunk of that space to get a tested veteran like Arrington.

Cornerback was the weak link last season, and it remains the biggest concern right now. Free agents such as Perrish Cox and Cary Williams -- whose deals averaged over $5 million per season -- were too expensive. Top draft picks such as Kevin Johnson and Marcus Peters didn't fall to the Ravens in the first round.

The Ravens drafted Texas Southern's Tray Walker in the fourth round, but it's unknown how much impact he can provide as a rookie. Baltimore understands the need for experienced depth at that position. When the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012, they were able to withstand the season-ending knee injury to Webb because they still had Williams, Smith and Corey Graham.

Right now, the Ravens have Smith, Webb and some question marks. The hope is for Asa Jackson or Rashaan Melvin to step into the nickelback role, but there are no guarantees of that happening.

It's clear the Ravens need Arrington. It's just a matter of whether they can make it happen.

"We are still looking for defensive backs," Harbaugh said. "There's no doubt about it. We want to add some competition in there. Ozzie is working on that right now. Ozzie has said, 'We're not finished there.'"

Stingy defense has long been a hallmark of teams in the AFC North.

Last season, though, three of the division's teams were in the lower half of the league's total defensive rankings, allowing an average of 350 yards or more per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers (18th), Cincinnati Bengals (22nd) and Cleveland Browns (23rd) claimed the undesirable honors. Only the Baltimore Ravens, at eighth, ranked among the league's best defensively.

Those rankings were a sharp departure from the year before, when all four teams ranged from third (Cincinnati) to 13th (Pittsburgh) in total defense.

As nearly the entire division tries to reinvent itself defensively this season, which team (of the three subpar defenses from last year) has the best chance of seeing a turnaround in 2015 that could put it in the top 10? ESPN AFC North reporters made their picks:

[+] EnlargeMichael Johnson
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesMichael Johnson's return makes the Bengals' defense a strong candidate to return to prominence in the AFC North.

Coley Harvey, Bengals reporter: This seems like a no-brainer. Between the Steelers, Browns and Bengals, Cincinnati's defense has the best chance to make the jump back into the top 10. That's mainly because for so long the Bengals were already there. Remember, they had a top-10 defensive unit for several seasons before a change at coordinator ushered in transition last year. Under former defensive coordinator (and current Minnesota Vikings head coach) Mike Zimmer, the Bengals were seventh, sixth and third in total defense in 2011, 2012 and 2013. While it's easy to pin last year's 22nd ranking on Paul Guenther, who was in his first season as a coordinator, the Bengals' drop-off was the product of a few other factors. They had injuries at key linebacker positions and had trouble replacing one of their top pass-rushers, who bolted in free agency the prior offseason. This year, they anticipate being back at full health throughout the secondary, and that pass-rusher, defensive end Michael Johnson, is back. Unlike the Browns and Steelers, who have to replace veterans at multiple positions this season, the Bengals have to fill only one spot: the left corner position vacated by 36-year-old Terence Newman. Cincinnati has the best chance to be dramatically better defensively this season.

Jamison Hensley, Ravens reporter: Cleveland's defense is ready to reach new heights, and it has nothing to do with the way Danny Shelton lifted up Roger Goodell on draft day. The Browns have the potential to field one of the best secondaries in the league. Three starting defensive backs (Joe Haden, Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson) are back after making the Pro Bowl in 2014. This secondary will be better if free agent Tramon Williams lives up to his contract ($7 million per season) and Justin Gilbert matures after being a disappointing top-10 pick. The sore spots last season were the Browns' run defense and pass rush. That's why the Browns used the No. 12 overall pick on Shelton, a nose tackle, and a second-round pick on outside linebacker Nate Orchard. The Browns produced 31 sacks last year , and Orchard and Shelton combined for 27.5 sacks last season. The improvement on defense doesn't mean the Browns will win more than a handful of games. The Browns are hamstrung by an offense that lacks a quarterback and playmakers. But the Browns wisely invested in their defense in free agency and the draft, and that will propel Cleveland back into the top 10.

Pat McManamon, Browns reporter: Being from Cleveland, it would be nice to say the Browns here. Their secondary is sound, they invested heavily in the defensive line in the draft and free agency, and they added linebacker Nate Orchard to go with Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson. That's a good place to start. The problem is that the Browns ranked 32nd against the run last season with a defense that was much like this one. Until the Browns actually stop the run, they can't be considered top-10. Pittsburgh is going through transition, from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler. From Troy Polamalu to Mike Mitchell. From a stellar linebacking crew to young guys who are developing (Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones). That's a lot of change for any group. Which leaves Cincinnati as the last team standing -- and the most logical choice to improve. The Bengals re-signed Michael Johnson after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him. That fortifies a line that includes Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko. Vontaze Burfict is a force, and the Bengals as a unit got better as the 2014 season went on -- a natural occurrence after the departure of Mike Zimmer to become Vikings coach. In the first half of the season, the Bengals gave up 23.8 first downs, 357.4 yards and 23.4 points per game. In the second half, the numbers dropped to 18.4 first downs, 323.4 yards and 19.6 points per game. With Atkins one more year removed from ACL surgery, the addition of Johnson and the players as a whole becoming more comfortable with coordinator Paul Guenther, Cincinnati will be the team that jumps back into the top 10.

If you like it when the Baltimore Ravens are the underdogs, you probably should stop reading right now. The Ravens continue to be the trendy pick this offseason to win the AFC North.

Football Outsiders selected the Ravens to win the division in its unofficial projectionsInsider Monday, which comes a week after the online sports gambling website Bovada made Baltimore the favorite in the AFC North.

The Ravens are predicted by Football Outsiders to finish 9-7, which would edge the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals by one game. The Cleveland Browns are expected to end up in their usual spot at the bottom of the standings with a 5-11 record.

Football Outsiders came up with these projections by starting with its Defense-adjusted Value Over Average and then accounted for last year's injury numbers, major free-agent moves and a few other indicators.

This projection falls in line with what many analysts are thinking. The AFC North should once again come down to a close race between the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals. Baltimore is now a popular choice for good reason. The Ravens had arguably the best draft in the division (some of my colleagues would disagree), and they finished one game behind the division champion Steelers despite a bad run of injuries at cornerback.

If the Ravens can get production from their top two rookies (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams) and stay healthy at cornerback, Baltimore should be regarded as the team to beat in the AFC North. The Steelers are going through a transition on defense, and the Bengals still have erratic Andy Dalton at quarterback.

In taking Football Outsiders' projections one step further, the Ravens would play host to the New England Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. Football Outsiders has the Miami Dolphins winning the AFC East if Tom Brady is suspended multiple games. This would mark the first time the Ravens would play a postseason game against the Patriots in Baltimore, where I'm fairly certain the pressure of the footballs will be checked thoroughly.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens suffered their first major injury of the offseason, and it continued a bad trend at cornerback.

Undrafted rookie cornerback Julian Wilson broke his lower leg on the first day of rookie minicamp, ending his season. No position was hit harder by injuries last season than cornerback. The Ravens placed five cornerbacks on injured reserve last year, including two of their top three (Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson).

Wilson's injury occurred during a closed practice to the media. According to coach John Harbaugh, Wilson fell awkwardly while covering a receiver.

“He’ll move on from that," Harbaugh said. "He’ll still be with us and be part of us. But he’s got a lot of potential as a player. I was disappointed in that sense."

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are considering staying on the West Coast for the second week of the regular season.

The Ravens would cut down on one of the four long flights this year if they remained out west after their season opener in Denver and before their game at Oakland. Baltimore would need to find a hotel, practice fields and workout facilities for an entire week.

"We have not made a final decision on staying out there," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’re leaning in that direction, especially in the first week."

This sounds like it will be a one-time occurrence for Baltimore. The Ravens are unsure whether they will do it again in October, when they play at San Francisco on Sunday and then have a Monday night game at Arizona.

"It’s a little bit of a longer trip," Harbaugh said.

Ravens officials requested the NFL to schedule their away games at Oakland and San Francisco in consecutive weeks so they could remain in the Bay Area for a week. But the league decided to split up those games for all four teams who play at Oakland and San Francisco in 2015.

Trying to reduce another long flight is not an unprecedented move. Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, kept the 49ers on the East Coast a couple of times when San Francisco had back-to-back games there.

"We’ve got a couple of sleep-study doctors and time-zone doctors and things like that, that we’re talking to," Harbaugh said. "We just want to do the smartest thing – whatever it is. We’ll probably have a decision on that within two weeks, I’d say."

Who is the better safety: Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu?

[+] EnlargeEd Reed
AP Photo/Gail BurtonEd Reed, a Baltimore Raven for 11 seasons, notched 64 interceptions in his NFL career.

As two of the top defensive playmakers of their generation decide to call it quits this offseason, this debate should be retired, as well. Reed and Polamalu played the same position but with dramatically different styles.

Reed was the deceptively sneaky center fielder who baited quarterbacks into turnovers. He played mind games with quarterbacks and always stayed one step ahead of them by relying on keen instincts.

Polamalu was the hard-hitting, in-the-box safety who played with reckless abandon. He made his biggest impact around the line of scrimmage or by incredibly jumping over it to shut down a play before it actually began.

Reed's brilliance was that offenses never knew where he was going to be. The amazing part of Polamalu's game was that no team had a problem locating the Pittsburgh Steelers safety and his long hair but still couldn't slow him down.

Baltimore Ravens teammates often referred to Reed as "Smooth," a nod to his fluid and graceful playing style. Polamalu was often called "The Tasmanian Devil" because of his frantic movement and maniacal effort.

So who is truly the best? There is no right answer. It depends on preference and which playing style you admire the most.

This really shouldn't be a discussion. It's not a situation like Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Reed and Polamalu complement each other. If you're building the ultimate defense of this generation, Reed is the best free safety and Polamalu is the top strong safety.

Both were dynamic talents who changed the way the football world viewed safeties. Their strength was anticipation and beating an offense to the spot as if they were in the huddle when the play was called.

"They both play the game with great instincts. They both love the game," linebacker Ray Lewis said in 2011 when asked to compare Reed and Polamalu. "They are the two safeties who turn the game into an offensive possession when they have the ball in their hands. It's an honor to sit back and watch two of the best safeties to ever play the game."

Reed and Polamalu won many games and championships for their teams with big plays at big moments as they roamed the secondary. They're bound together in NFL history by how they changed games and the position itself. Reed and Polamalu are both the best, and any team would've jumped at the chance to have either one of them in his prime. That's why it's fitting they're walking away from the game in the same offseason, retiring just 28 days apart.

Bud DupreeJeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniBud Dupree could have been a top-10 pick, but fell to the Steelers at No. 22.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have made a habit of drafting well, and this year is no different.

A poll of the AFC North writers in ESPN’s NFL Nation said the Steelers had the best draft in the division, with the Ravens close behind.

Pittsburgh finished first, with two first-place votes and two seconds. The Ravens were close behind in second, with with two first-place votes but adding a fourth-place vote to go with a second.

The voting results, with one point for first place and four for fourth:

  1. Pittsburgh (6 points)
  2. Baltimore (8)
  3. Cleveland Browns (12)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (14)

Here’s the appropriate commentary:

Jeremy Fowler (Steelers): Every team in the division had a successful draft. No losers here. But as Jamison should know, Ozzie Newsome's the king. Receiver Breshad Perriman, tight end Maxx Williams and defensive tackle Carl Davis are perfect for what Baltimore wants to do, a collision of need satisfaction and best player available. Pittsburgh did much of the same. Bud Dupree could have gone as high as No. 8; the Steelers got him at 22. Rebuilding the secondary with shorter, playmaking cornerbacks is a calculated risk, to be sure, but it should pay off. The Bengals and Browns are a wash -- both were solid. Does Cincinnati really need two tackles in the first two rounds, Coley? I say yes. The team is placing the onus directly on Andy Dalton, getting him versatile Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft, too. The Browns got several potential starters out of their 12 picks, led by impressive linemen Danny Shelton and Cam Erving, but Pat knows my beef here. Ignoring a loaded wideout pool and failing to take a playmaker of any kind in the first 75 picks could be a regrettable move.

Jamison Hensley (Ravens): How did the Ravens not get selected for the best draft this year? It feels like my AFC North colleagues are conspiring against Baltimore here. If nothing else, the Ravens should have been No. 1 based on trading up in the second round to steal the draft's best tight end away from the Steelers. The fact that the Ravens teamed up with Bruce Arians, who was forced out of Pittsburgh, to get Maxx Williams should give them extra bonus points. The Steelers didn't get a coveted cornerback in the first round and took Dupree, who could follow Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds as underachieving pass-rushers. The Browns were still the Browns, failing to come out of the draft with a quarterback or a top-tier wide receiver. And the Bengals are still the Bengals, taking risks with players who have character issues (Paul Dawson and Josh Shaw). Coley, how could the Bengals ignore their needs at edge rusher and wide receiver?

Pat McManamon (Browns): Waah, waah, waah. Cry me a Chesapeake from the guy in Baltimore who would probably defend Art Modell in Cleveland. Go have some more crabby cakes, Mr. Hensley. Besides, I voted Baltimore second. Coley Harvey was the guy who had them last in the division. I gave Pittsburgh the top vote because they continue to approach the draft in ways other teams should emulate, combining need with talent and always seeming to come up with a solid, sound group. I was sitting next to Jeremy Fowler when receiver Sammie Coates' highlight reel came on TV during the draft. Without knowing who picked him, Fowler pointed out Coates would have been a good pick for the Browns. The tape showed a big, fluid guy who could catch the ball and make plays. "Who took him?" Fowler wondered, then a second later saw the team. "Pittsburgh," he said. "Figures." I love Ozzie Newsome and I credit Baltimore for the trade up for Williams, but do we give them too much credit for the no-brainer that was Perriman when he fell in their lap? Would the Ravens take Ken Dorsey if one of the Mannings was on the board? The Browns had a solid draft, but even as solid as it was, they still lag behind their three division rivals -- in draft and on-field results. As for Cincinnati, Coley, I see no issue with drafting two tackles when Andrew Whitworth is 33 and coming up on a contract decision. It's called planning. It's cold and heartless, but with this approach the Bengals have been to the playoffs four years in a row and five of the last six.

Coley Harvey (Bengals): Are we looking at this division’s draft through the same lenses, guys? I’m not sure I’m ready to anoint the Ravens the winners of the AFC North draft derby. At least not yet. Here’s the thing, like Jeremy said, there really were no losers in this draft. I’d certainly put the AFC North’s draft class up against any of the others. Because I felt each team’s draft classes were so close, I based any close calls upon who had the best first round. When you talked to scouts and personnel folks before the draft, many felt there were only about 15 players worthy of first-round grades. Players 15-50 were a mass of second-round options who could have been picked virtually anywhere in that range. So, using that logic, there were only 15 players who should be true immediate impact players. I have the same concern about Dupree long term, Jamison, but I really liked that pick for Pittsburgh, not to mention the Coates pick you and Jeremy liked, Pat. Similarly, Cleveland had a strong start taking Shelton and Erving in the first round. It was a sign the Browns are trying to beef up in the trenches. (What about at receiver, though?!) Perriman may fit the Ravens’ needs better than some of the smaller receivers who were still on the board at 26, but he still seems a reach. People I talked to before the draft really liked his speed out of pads, but questioned his game quickness. As for the Bengals, yes, Pat, Whitworth needs to put on the big-boy pants he says he has. And he will. Sure, taking two offensive tackles in Rounds 1 and 2 seems crazy but this was all about gearing up for a future of trying to win the always physical AFC North. Jeremy’s right, it’s a good crazy. Speaking of, Pat, I’m not that loco, am I?