Second Year Spotlight: AFC North

Tim Jernigan – DT – Baltimore Ravens For years, the “man” on the Baltimore Ravens defensive front has been Haloti Ngata. Over the last nine seasons, Ngata has been one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the NFL. Now that he is no longer a Raven, the Baltimore coaching staff has to find a replacement. That job, actually began last December when Ngata missed four games. In his place, 2014 second round draft choice Timmy Jernigan got the starts and played well. In that four game stretch, Jernigan had 11 total tackles and two sacks. This year, he is the front runner to replace Ngata. Looking at Jernigan physically, he is far different than Ngata. While Ngata had dominant size, Jernigan really doesn’t fit the profile of a Raven defensive lineman. At 6’2 – 300, he is much smaller, but he is very quick and explosive. He looks more like a 3-technique in many 4-3 schemes. In the Ravens' scheme, the defensive linemen are asked to 2-gap offensive linemen often. With Jernigan’s short arms (31.5), 2-gapping isn’t his forte, but it’s not something he can’t do. He will just play the position differently than Ngata did. He will be making plays more on his athleticism and quickness than his bulk and power. Jernigan might actually give the Ravens more pass rush production than Ngata did. As a rookie playing part time, he got 4.0 sacks. Just think what he will be able to do when playing a full-time role. My feeling is that the Ravens are in good hands with Timmy Jernigan at the defensive tackle spot going forward. Darqueze Dennard – DC – Cincinnati Bengals The Bengals didn’t draft Dennard in the first round of the 2014 Draft to be a backup. While he played well in that role last year, much more will be expected in 2015. At Michigan State, Dennard was looked at as one of the most physical corners in last year’s draft. He was very consistent in playing press, off and zone coverage, and was a physical tackler and run support player. As a rookie in a backup role he finished with 17 tackles, a sack, but no interceptions. Looking at the Bengals depth chart on defense, the starting corners are each on the wrong side of 30. Leon Hall is 30 while Adam Jones is 31. While both are still playing well, the Bengals could use some youth in the defensive backfield. Based on his college tape, Darqueze Dennard has the traits to challenge for a starting position, and if that happens, it should upgrade the Bengals. While Hall has the ability to be a physical player, Dennard is far more physical than Jones. It will be interesting to see how this plays out during the preseason. Johnny Manziel – QB – Cleveland Browns For a quarterback to succeed in the NFL he obviously has to have the natural talent to play the game along with the intelligence to know and understand the game. That makes up just part of the equation. The rest of the equation is strong football character. When I say football character, I am talking about a player's desire to be a great player, his love and passion for the game, his work ethic, his ability to be coached, leadership and ability to be a good teammate. Johnny Manziel has the natural talent to be a very good NFL quarterback. The question is, does he want to and will he do what it takes to be successful? Based on his rookie year, the answer to that question is no. Last year, Manziel showed no football or personal character. He lacks maturity, and once he got the big paycheck it became party time. Because off that, he lost the respect of both his coaches and teammates. The result was a few months in rehab earlier this year trying to get his life in order. Now, the Browns are giving him a second chance, and he basically has to start over again. Because of his lack of height, Manziel lacks all the physical traits to be a good NFL quarterback, but he has plenty of other top traits. He is extremely athletic, has a good arm, and he proved in college he can make the throws necessary. His overall athleticism gives his a quality few quarterbacks have. Many have written Manziel off as a bust, and while that may prove to be true, it’s my feeling that it’s still too early to say that. He had a regrettable rookie year, but there is still time for him to turn things around. It’s in his hands, and he can be as good as he wants to be, but he has to put the game first. Anything less and he will fail. Stephon Tuitt – DE – Pittsburgh Steelers As a second round draft choice in 2014, a lot was expected from defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt. He did some good things in the preseason, but once the regular season started, he didn’t deliver. Tuitt has the ideal physical traits to play the defensive end position in the Steelers' defense. He is tall, long, big, and strong. He has the power to hold the point, be productive, and has the pass rush skills to be effective either inside or outside. He has good instincts and can find the ball. He can play a physical game when he wants to or has to. What held Tuitt back was he wasn’t mentally ready to play in the NFL. Coming out of Notre Dame, there were questions about Tuitt’s maturity, and it showed as a rookie. There were times when he looked lost. He was an early entry, and looking back, he probably would have been better off staying in school. Now in his second year, he knows what is expected of him, and if he doesn't succeed, he has no one to blame but himself. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe