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NFL Draft

Arians: Ben Roethlisberger Still King Of AFC North

  • The Draft Network
  • September 11, 2020
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By Jake Arians

The AFC North is one of the best divisions in football with some amazing young talent at the quarterback position. Lamar Jackson is a Heisman Trophy winner and reigning NFL MVP who’s had great regular-season success, but is yet to have playoff success. Baker Mayfield is a Heisman Trophy winner and former No. 1 overall pick that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in the NFL yet, but is the leader of a much improved and talented Cleveland Browns team. Newbie Joe Burrow is also a Heisman Trophy winner and was the most recent No. 1 overall pick after one of the greatest college football seasons ever, but hasn’t thrown an NFL pass. 

Then there is the two-time Super Bowl champion and “old man” of the division, Ben Roethlisberger. 

Roethlisberger is going into year 17 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has been to three Super Bowls, winning two of them, but somehow Roethlisberger still doesn’t get the credit a first-ballot Hall of Famer deserves. Let me remind you of what Roethlisberger has done in his time in the NFL.

Roethlisberger was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, a six-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time passing yards leader. He ranks sixth all time in career passing yards, ninth in all-time passer rating (94.0), sixth in yards per attempt, and 10th in all-time completion percentage. The biggest stat Roethlisberger has in his favor is the fourth-highest winning percentage (.710) in NFL history as a starter in the regular season among quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 starts. 

Roethlisberger is coming off a pretty major injury that caused him to miss most of last season—an elbow injury to his throwing arm that needed surgery and extensive rehab. It’s an injury that actually may have been a good thing when it comes to extending Roethlisberger’s career. Why? Now that elbow is fixed, he’s healthier, throwing pain-free for the first time in years, and is in better shape than he has been in a long time. He is also more motivated than ever. 

Roethlisberger has dealt with and played through his share of injuries but none of them caused him to miss the season. But last year, he had to sit back and watch his team struggle without him for the first time. Roethlisberger had hinted about retiring more than once in recent years, but sitting out last year gave him a new appreciation for the game he has played for so long. A renewed vigor to be as good as he has ever been, but more importantly, it gave him the fire to win the big dance again. 

This Steelers team is balanced and talented as any he played on since the 2008 and 2010 Super Bowl teams. They have a daunting and talented defense for the first time in a while, not to mention the litany offensive weapons he has at his disposal. 

JuJu Smith-Schuster is poised for a major comeback season. He is healthy and driven to prove he is a true No. 1 receiver (both on the field and for a new contract) without Antonio Brown. He, along with a very promising young player in Dionte Johnson, will be the main targets. But Pittsburgh also has a healthy James Connor, Vance McDonald, James Washington, and the additions of Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool to round out a talented group of offensive skill position players. Then, there is one of the best, deepest, and most talented offensive lines Roethlisberger has played behind in his career. They can beat you in so many ways, all in the same offensive system that Roethlisberger has always been in, called by his longtime coach and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. 

Somehow the Steelers finished 2019 with an 8-8 record and almost made the playoffs with... let’s just say less than stellar quarterback play. All they needed was their trigger man at the helm. 

The Baltimore Ravens had an amazing regular season last year, but they didn’t have to face the Steelers with a healthy Roethlisberger. This is a storied rivalry that may be at an all-time high, but make no mistake, for the Ravens to get where they want to go, they have to get through Roethlisberger and the Steelers. 

It’s not just the Ravens that are gunning for them, the Browns are extremely talented and think they have a chance to make a run at the division title as well. Regardless of who has the talent on paper or which team had a good run last year, none of them have the resume of Roethlisberger and Steelers. They won’t truly be the kings of the AFC North until they knock a healthy Roethlisberger off his throne. The road to the AFC North will again have to go through Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger.

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