While the NFL season is a fair distance away, it is never too early to predict the next wave of stars and superstars across the NFL. However, every team has one piece that fails to live up to the hype entering the new season. The AFC North teams are no different. “Bust” is a relative term. Not all of these players will be bad in 2022, but they could underachieve based on the expectations they have for the season. Rookies are ineligible and will not be included.
Check out the AFC North’s potential breakout stars here.
Previous Entries: AFC East
Cincinnati Bengals – Chidobe Awuzie
Awuzie had a stellar regular season in 2021. He allowed a passer rating of just 74.8, posting the lowest completion percentage allowed of his career. He earned an 84.2 PFF coverage grade and an 83.3 overall grade, both marks setting a career-best. However, the wheels seemed to come off in the playoffs. He posted a 47.0 coverage grade, allowing 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did grab an interception in the Super Bowl, but his resulting 64.9 coverage grade was just average.
Awuzie was an elite cornerback in 2021, so the expectation is that he will be elite again in 2022. However, with the volatility at the position, Awuzie is unlikely to replicate his success. With the playoffs included, Awuzie’s grade is right in line with his career averages. His passer rating is salvaged by a career-best three interceptions despite allowing the most yards and touchdowns of his career.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mitchell Trubisky
Despite throwing just eight passes in 2021, Trubisky’s stock has improved over the last year. However, some are overlooking how average Trubisky was in his career with the Chicago Bears. He posted an 87.2 passer rating across 1,577 pass attempts with the Bears. Basic stats such as touchdown-to-interception ratio look promising, but he did not have a season that which he was above-average in both metrics. According to Pro-Football-Reference’s adjusted statistics, Trubisky was above average in avoiding interceptions in 2017 and 2019 while being above average in throwing touchdowns in 2018 and 2020.
The counting stats might look fine, but Trubisky has been rough on a throw-to-throw basis. With the Bears, Trubisky had more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws (80 to 71). 2020 was particularly discouraging as Trubisky had seven games with multiple turnover-worthy plays. Including playoffs, he only played 10 games in the season. He matched those turnover-worthy plays with multiple big-time throws in four games. Across the full 10 games, Trubisky had more big-time throws than turnover-worthy plays just twice, and he had one tie.
Cleveland Browns – Jedrick Wills
The former first-round pick has been a bit of a disappointment so far. In 2020, Wills was a generally poor run-blocker, but he had a bevy of strong games as a pass-blocker. He earned an 80.0 or better pass-blocking grade six times, and he allowed just 20 pressures on 517 reps. In 2021, Wills was more of an average run-blocker, but he lost his edge as a pass-blocker. His pass-blocking grade dropped by nearly 10 points, and he allowed 28 pressures on 413 reps.
Wills has been more of a placeholder than a difference-maker for the Browns through two seasons. He missed four games in 2021, so he could improve with fewer missed games. However, Wills’ inconsistent performance as a run-blocker and slipping pass-blocking performance is a major cause for concern. If the Browns had to decide on Wills’ fifth-year option today, they would likely hesitate to accept it.
Baltimore Ravens – Patrick Queen
As a rookie, Queen was nothing short of a disaster. He would make a fair number of plays, but he missed an absurd 23 tackles and allowed a passer rating of 120.8 when in coverage. He had four different games with a PFF grade in the 20s, an extraordinary accomplishment. Queen continued the trend in 2021, posting horrific grades in Weeks 2 through 5. He had a solid enough Week 1, though.
The issue moving forward is that Queen must be protected so much in the defense. He finally had a stretch of competent play, earning a 76.5 grade from Week 6 to Week 13 (better than Darius Leonard). However, that stretch of competence was sandwiched between a 39.4 grade before and after. Queen had nine single-game grades below 50.0, including four of the last five weeks. While he made sizable improvements in his run-defense grade, tackling grade, and coverage grade, none of them were remotely good. All told, he earned a 43.5 overall grade in Year 2, a far cry from the expectations Queen has entering 2022.
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