In the fifth edition of our eight part series, we will be going over the needs of every AFC North team. This year’s draft holds a cornucopia of both elite prospects and diamond in the rough sleeper prospects. On top of that, football fans everywhere are nearing the most star studded free agent pool in recent memory. Let’s dive right into how these teams can make a splash and get themselves out of the deep end.
Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle
The Baltimore Ravens have a Steve Smith dilemma. Ever since the future Canton member has retired, Baltimore has maintained dire inconsistency pertaining to their wide receiver play. Breshad Perriman never lived up to the number 26 draft pick invested in him, totaling a feeble 916 receiving yards and five touchdowns over his three year career. In fact, even including Steve Smith’s final season, Baltimore has only had one receiver with a 1,000 yard season in their last four seasons. On top of that, it was Mike Wallace, who is now no longer with the team and is in a one dimensional, restricted role amidst the Philadelphia Eagle’s receiving core. In short, the Ravens have an issue with wide receiver production and on top of that just released their most established receiver on the roster: Michael Crabtree. John Brown provides a viable deep threat to dissuade safeties from sliding up on double teams, but first Baltimore needs a receiver who can even capitalize off that one on one coverage. Look for Baltimore to address the receiving core this offseason with a possible splash move, whether it’s drafting heavily touted wide receiver prospect DK Metcalf in the first round, or making a blockbuster trade for Antonio Brown. Wide receiver is the Baltimore Ravens’ biggest offseason need.
Now on to the defensive side of the ball. The Baltimore Ravens have enjoyed steady contributions from Brandon Williams in the trenches when facing opposing running backs. He held a solid, albeit not spectacular grade of 76.8 from Pro Football Focus this season, ranking above average at the defensive tackle position. Baltimore also relies heavily on their outside linebackers as edge rushers in their 3-4 scheme with Terrell Suggs leading a talent packed group of pass rushers with the likes of Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon. However, there’s a saying that a team can never have enough pass rushers. Baltimore could stand from having more difference makers on the defensive line up front and could get value picks in the second to third round with defensive prospects such as Gerald Willis iii who can both get after the quarterback and hold ground in the run game under a 3-4 scheme. It would be wise for Baltimore to go search for pressure up front in the mid rounds of the draft in April.
Cleveland Browns: Offensive Tackle, Defensive Line
The Cleveland Browns have a reason to celebrate. They have found their treasured and elusive franchise quarterback in the dangerous Baker Mayfield. However, he may feel less and less dangerous every week when constantly being hit. Mayfield throwing an interception to lose the game versus Baltimore week 17 with heavy pressure comes to mind personally. Cleveland’s two offensive tackles (the most important offensive line positions to stop opposing pass rush) currently starting are Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard. I don’t know about John Dorsey, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with those two guys protecting my precious quarterback savior. Cleveland needs to address offensive tackle as it was a huge need the instant Joe Thomas retired. They may be able to find value in Jawaan Taylor round one or a sleeper such as Andre Dillard down the line in round two.
Stating one of the Cleveland Browns’ largest needs is defensive line may prompt boos and Myles Garrett chants, but hear me out. Myles Garrett cannot do it all himself and quite frankly has had to do just that with his only help on the defensive line being Emmanuel Ogbah and Larry Ogunjobi. Those aren’t bad complimentary rushers in a rotational role, but Garrett had more sacks than both of them combined this season. Cleveland would benefit tremendously from grabbing another valuable piece on the defensive line to take double teams off of Garrett and strengthen a front seven who has to face the likes of Joe Mixon, Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, and James Conner multiple times a year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebacker, Cornerback
Ever since Ryan Shazier went down with his devastating injury, Pittsburgh has had an issue at the linebacker position. First round pick TJ Watt has provided them with an electric edge rusher from the outside linebacker spot, however, their inside linebackers still remain Jon Bostic and Vince Williams. Neither linebacker hit a grade of 70 or higher last season from Pro Football Focus and are less than favorable choices for Pittsburgh’s field generals at inside linebacker. Pittsburgh can get high value out of a possible inside linebacker in the draft such as Devin Bush Jr. or even sign coverage maestro Jordan Hicks to bolster their front seven. Whomever it is, Pittsburgh needs to find an upgrade for their inside linebacker group while trying to stay alive week in and week out inside a division that boasts Nick Chubb, Lamar Jackson, and Joe Mixon.
This may be just me, but I’m not comfortable with Coty Sensabaugh as my number two corner. Furthermore, I don’t think Pittsburgh is either. On top of that, Joe Haden is a viable starting corner in this league who hasn’t been bad at all for Pittsburgh, but he isn’t your typical lockdown corner who makes a defense significantly better. Overall, Pittsburgh has been functioning off average when regarding the cornerback position, and in a draft that has a deep cornerback class, this may be the chance for Pittsburgh to change that. It is a huge need for Pittsburgh to address the cornerback position this offseason and maybe make Baker Mayfield feel, well, less dangerous.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Tackle, Linebacker
Andy Dalton isn’t the greatest quarterback in the world but his offensive line certainly isn’t doing him many favors. Cordy Glenn and Bobby Hart are far from preferable at protecting the team’s quarterback from the league’s elite pass rushers and because of that, the Bengals absolutely need to address the offensive tackle position in the offseason. Myles Garrett, T Sizzle, and TJ Watt are probably already licking their chops thinking about the next time they get to lineup against Hart or Glenn. Furthermore, it certainly couldn’t hurt giving franchise running back Joe Mixon more running lanes.
Really, if I could I would just write about how Cincinnati needs a left tackle and right tackle because offensive tackle is such a big need. However, I suppose that would be cheating wouldn’t it. Besides from offensive tackle, Cincinnati’s current biggest need is the linebacker position. There shouldn’t be too many complaints about Burfict as a starter at linebacker (barring the dirty play style and non respectable style of play) due to his production and physicality he brings. However, putting a young and promising inside linebacker behind the imposing defensive line of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins could do wonders for the Bengal’s defense and help stop their dominant rival run games of Chubb, Conner, and Jackson.