The 2023 NFL season is rapidly approaching, which means it is once again time for us to unveil our preseason All-Division teams. We've done this exercise for the past several years, and the point is to preview which players at each position, in each division, we expect to put forth the best performance this coming season.
Wewith the AFC East. We'll continue today with the AFC North and move through the rest of the conference throughout this week. Next week, it's on to the NFC. Without further ado ...
Offensive skill positions
The quarterback play in this division is going to be fascinating to watch over the next several years. There's an argument for Lamar Jackson having the highest ceiling of any of them, but the floor is probably higher for Burrow due to the consistency of the system and the quality of his weapons on the perimeter. Chubb is arguably the best pure runner in the NFL, having checked in third, second, second, second, and first in rush yards over expectation at NFL.com's NextGen Stats over the past five seasons. He'll turn 28 this season and the age cliff tends to come quickly for running backs but even if he falls off, he should still be expected to be the best back in this division.
Chase is an outright star and one of the small handful of best wideouts in football. Even with missing five games last year, he still went for an 87-1,046-9 receiving line. Higgins would be the No. 1 receiver on almost every other team in the league, and has back-to-back 74-catch, 1,000-plus-yard seasons even while working as the No. 2 behind Chase. With Burrow throwing to both of them, there's no reason to expect anything different this year. Cooper might have had his best NFL season in 2022, and has consistently put up around 1,000 yards every year he's been healthy.
There's an argument to be made for Diontae Johnson or Pat Freiermuth over Pickens, but Johnson has been wildly inefficient with his targets over the past several years and Freiermuth doesn't seem likely to command as much volume or gain as many yards as Pickens, who is a ridiculous athlete with an absurd catch radius. Andrews, meanwhile, is second to only Travis Kelce among tight ends. With more perimeter threats to spread the defense, he should have more room to operate in the middle of the field.
After playing just seven combined games across the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to knee injuries, Stanley returned to play in 11 contests last year, and checked in as Pro Football Focus' No. 8 pass-blocking tackle among the 103 that played at least 100 snaps. In other words, he returned to the type of play he'd reached earlier in his career. Conklin had a down year as a run-blocker, but that's uncharacteristic for him and he should bounce back. He also allowed only 13 pressures on 508 dropbacks last season, per PFF, and has generally been a better pass-blocker in Cleveland than he was in Tennessee.
Zeitler keps bouncing around the league and putting together quality seasons. He did it in Cincinnati and Cleveland and New York and has done it for the past two years in Baltimore. He's 33 years old now but plenty of guards have played at a high level deep into their 30s. Bitonio has made a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro team in each of the past five seasons (three second-team berths and two first-team selections) and last year was PFF's second-highest graded guard. He's shown no signs of slowing down, and we shouldn't expect him to any time soon. Linderbaum, meanwhile, had a solid rookie season and should only improve with more experience. If he can improve his anchor in the passing game (which could prove difficult at his size), he can perhaps reach the same level as he's already achieved in the run game.
Garrett and Watt were two of the easiest picks of this entire exercise. They both have been inner-circle Defensive Player of the Year candidates for the past several years (and Watt won it in 2021) and will likely remain so for several more. There's no need to justify their selections. They do it all on their own.
Heyward has long been one of the most underrated players in football, even if the belated recognition he's gotten in the form of Pro Bowls and All-Pro appearances in recent seasons has partially rectified that. But even at age 33 last season, he was still performing at an incredibly high level. Reader has proven himself an incredibly valuable contributor over the past few years, and his presence or absence makes a noticeable difference in Cincinnati's defensive performance -- especially against the run. With so many changes on that side of the ball this season, he'll be more important than ever. Hendrickson, meanwhile, only recorded eight sacks last year after going for 13.5 and 14 in the previous two seasons, but he still racked up hits and pressures at an incredible high rate. Lou Anarumo will put him in position to continue doing the same.
Smith's arrival in Baltimore coincided with a dramatic uptick in the team's defensive metrics, and his sideline-to-sideline range and coverage ability make him one of the rare off-ball linebackers who can truly make a two-way impact. He's just approaching the prime of his career and the best should be yet to come. Pratt, meanwhile, deservingly got paid this offseason and has blossomed into a really nice player on the second level of Cincinnati's defense. With both safeties having left in free agency, he will play a pivotal role in solidifying the back seven.
Humphrey is dealing with an injury at the moment, but it shouldn't keep him out for an extended stretch of the regular season; and when he's on the field, he is one of the best in the game and there is no reason to suspect that will change. Ward is coming off of what was probably his worst NFL season, but even then he still allowed just an 85.6 passer rating on throws in his direction, according to PFF. Now 26 years old, he is firmly in his prime. The last corner spot came down to Hilton or teammate Chidobe Awuzie, and with Chido coming off a torn ACL, we went with the safer pick. (You could also make an argument for Greg Newsome II, but Hilton's contributions in all phases of the game tipped the scales in his direction.)
Fitzpatrick is the NFL's best safety. He was written in pen before this exercise started. And Williams is one of the best center field types in the league, with few players able to cover more ground. He's also become really good a flying down from the top to contribute in the run game. He's a complete safety these days.
Tucker remains the best kicker in the league, and is perhaps the best in NFL history due to his combination of distance and accuracy. Bojorquez averaged 48.5 yards per punt last season, far better than any other punter in this division. Duvernay is coming off his second consecutive Pro Bowl as a return man, and with receivers being brought in ahead of him on the depth chart, he should be able to focus more of his energy on his special teams responsibilities this year.