The NFL draft is right around the corner, and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Every team has specific needs that they will try to fulfill in what should be a very eventful draft.
The AFC North is a conference that struggled all of last season. The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated as usual and won the conference easily, but lost the AFC divisional playoff game to the Jacksonville Jaguars. This team had both an offense and defense that were ranked in the top five in the NFL. In week 13, linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal contusion while making a tackle against the Bengals, putting him on the bench for the rest of the season. Due to this injury, the Steelers do not have as much depth at linebacker as they used to. They should focus on finding a solid replacement in that position that can match the skill level that he did. They also could focus on acquiring a quarterback, because Ben Roethlisberger’s future is unpredictable at this point. They need a solid backup that is consistently reliable in order to continue to dominate their conference so they have a chance to go further in the playoffs. With Morgan Burnett’s signing in free agency, the safety group could use an extra hand as well, but it is not a priority. If the Steelers make wise choices coming out of this draft, then they will be totally fine.
The next team in the AFC North is the Baltimore Ravens. Last season, they had a chance at a wildcard spot in the playoffs until the Cincinnati Bengals extended their playoff drought to three seasons. Cincinnati made a remarkable comeback and won the game on a last-second touchdown pass, giving them the wildcard spot. The Ravens are hoping to redeem themselves next season. For them, their biggest need in the draft is focusing on acquiring a wide receiver. Breshad Perriman and Jeremy Maclin were recent wide receivers for Baltimore, but they never panned out. Drafting a wide receiver with good numbers will definitely help this team to be better than they were last season. They should also focus on their offensive line, because they lost center Ryan Jansen to free agency, and All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda is getting on the older side. If it were me, I would prioritize the offensive line because a team cannot be a winning one if their offensive line is not solid. Filling the tight end position is still relevant, as the organization has been trying to fill it with a reliable option since 2010 when Todd Heap left.
The Cincinnati Bengals finished in third place in the AFC North this past season. They got off to a 0-3 start and were never able to recover. Their second three-game losing streak of the season happened in December, and it eliminated any possibility of them making the playoffs. Their offense ranked last in the NFL in yards per game, and the defense was one of the worst against both the run and generating takeaways. The Bengals should go into this draft with the thought that they want to be very productive. It is obvious that the offensive line should be their top priority. They did acquire left tackle Cordy Glenn from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a draft pick. Even with Cordy on board now, they still need to further develop their offensive line because starters Russell Bodine and Andre Smith are leaving as free agents. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is facing a four-game suspension to start the upcoming season due to a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. It would not hurt for them to try to pick up another linebacker to have to be safe. They could also focus on picking up a quarterback because their backup AJ McCarron recently signed with the Bills. Overall, the Bengals must make serious offensive moves if they want any chance of being successful.
Finally, to round out the AFC North, we have the Cleveland Browns. As we all know, this team finished their season with a record of 0-16 and were dead last in many different categories. They averaged less than fifteen points per game with three different quarterbacks combining for nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. The defense did a decent job of limiting yards for other teams, but they gave up way too many points. This draft is the time for the Browns to make major changes to their program. They have, however, been more productive than any other team during the offseason. They have used their collection of draft picks to add several new starters to their lineup, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. The expectation going into the draft is that the Browns will select a quarterback with one of their first-round selections. They could also use a solid new running-back to add to the roster. Since left tackle Joe Thomas is retiring, they could use a replacement for him, as well. I do not see them touching their defensive line at this point since they have other priorities. If they make these moves in the draft, they have a chance to be more competitive next season.
Every team in the AFC North has particular needs for this draft. It will be interesting to see if they actually take the actions that should be taken, or if they go in a different direction. No matter what, it is sure to be a good draft, so you will not want to miss it!