With each team in the division improving in the offseason, the AFC North will be one of the more competitive divisions in 2023. Here are four players — one for each team — who should take their games to the next level.
Kyle Hamilton, S: The Ravens traded veteran safety Chuck Clark earlier this offseason, paving the way for Hamilton, Baltimore’s 2022 first-round pick, to be the starter. Hamilton didn’t exceed expectations in his rookie year, posting 62 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and five passes defensed. However, the 22-year-old got better every week and he’ll likely only continue to do so.
Now that the Ravens’ secondary is less crowded, Hamilton will be given a larger role with the opportunity to make more plays each week. Baltimore has prided itself on having one of the league’s top secondaries for some time now, and Hamilton certainly has the ceiling to help continue that tradition.
Irv Smith Jr., TE: The Bengals signed Smith Jr. to a one-year deal in free agency. Smith Jr. has struggled to stay healthy, playing in just eight games in 2022 and missing all the 2021 season. But if he can stay on the field, he can be a dangerous weapon for QB Joe Burrow. The 24-year-old has 91 catches for 858 yards and nine touchdowns since being drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Smith Jr. will replace TE Hayden Hurst, who played in Cincinnati for one season before earning himself a big payday. He is planning to turn his career around in 2023 in hopes of earning himself a new contract as well.
“I’m confident in my abilities, and they had a plan with me coming in. I’m here for a reason,” Smith Jr. told reporters.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB: Owusu-Koramoah has dealt with his fair share of injuries since entering the league as the Browns’ second-round pick in 2021. The 23-year-old hasn’t had a bad career thus far, totaling 146 tackles, 1.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. However, it’s now or never for him to take the leap as he is heading into the third year of his rookie deal.
If Owusu-Koramoah can stay off injured reserve and on the field in 2023, it feels like he can finally put it all together. Cleveland has also done its part to build up the trenches in front of him, adding the likes of Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson and Obo Okoronkwo this offseason. There are no more excuses for Owusu-Koramoah.
George Pickens, WR: This feels obvious. Pickens, the Steelers’ 2022 second-round pick, is a freak athlete who showed just how high his ceiling is with a number of highlight reel catches as a rookie.