Which newcomer will make the biggest impact in the AFC North this season? Our roundtable reporters give their picks.
Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: Ravens WR Michael Crabtree. The free-agent addition from Oakland is the projected No. 1 target for Joe Flacco, and he’s the headliner of Baltimore’s revamped wide-receiver group. While Crabtree isn’t on the same level as Antonio Brown, A.J. Green or Josh Gordon, he is an underrated possession receiver who has been among the NFL’s most consistent pass-catchers, especially in the end zone. Only two players have caught eight or more touchdown passes in each of the past three seasons: Brown and Crabtree. “I think Crabtree is the guy,” Flacco said this offseason. Crabtree won’t be running past cornerbacks. He won’t be catching 90 passes. But Crabtree has drawn comparisons to another physical receiver who excelled at making contested catches in Baltimore. If Crabtree can make an Anquan Boldin-type impact, he can significantly help the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing attack.
Katherine Terrell, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: Browns WR Jarvis Landry. The Browns gave Landry a five-year, $75.5 million contract extension after trading for him in March, clearly believing he'll have a spectacular season. While it’s hard to imagine he’ll live up to the contract, he certainly comes with credentials, making the Pro Bowl three times in his first four NFL seasons and catching a total of 400 passes. Landry was one of the flashiest additions to the division this year and could help the Browns make some noise, especially when considering he’s now paired with the talented Gordon. If Gordon and Landry both play full seasons in 2018, they definitely could be a formidable duo.
Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Browns QB Tyrod Taylor. The Browns have so many to choose from, it almost has to be one of them, no? Landry adds another receiver, and insurance if Gordon does not make it through the season. Baker Mayfield is the quarterback of the future. Denzel Ward will be given the responsibility of covering the best receivers the Browns face in press-man coverage. Nick Chubb could get a lot of carries. But the best one brings stability to the most important position on the field, a position the Browns have lacked stability at since 1999. Taylor might not be Ben Roethlisberger. He might not be Andy Dalton. But he allows the Browns to breathe at quarterback because he has been a reliable player who does not turn the ball over. Taylor has been a breath of professionalism since he joined the Browns, winning over teammates and coaches alike with his competitiveness and work ethic. Nobody knows how he’ll play or how successful he will make the Browns, but he already has provided the team needed relief and stability.
Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Tyrod Taylor. He has the inside track on best newcomer because the Browns can only improve, and Taylor will be a catalyst for that improvement. Even a modest win total will be a credit to Taylor, who’s not a top-10 quarterback but is solid and avoids turnovers. If the Browns can avoid quarterback shuffling for, heck, half a season, they might just stumble into some wins because of continuity and a steady running game. Teammate Landry is a candidate with his 100-catch pedigree. Crabtree should inject life in the Ravens’ passing game, and safety Morgan Burnett might be the splash playmaker the Steelers need on the back end. But Taylor’s ability to stretch plays with his legs and make accurate passes in short to intermediate windows should be an upgrade in Cleveland. As for rookie newcomers, watch for Hayden Hurst to finally give Baltimore post-Dennis Pitta stability at tight end. If Flacco holds off Lamar Jackson at quarterback, he’ll need help from Hurst.