Draft Needs: AFC North

East   East
North North
South South
West   West

Last season, the AFC North boasted the best division in professional football. The AFC North was the only division in the league last season to have three or more teams with double-digit wins. The Steelers led a stacked division with an impressive record of 12-4. However, the Steelers lost four of their last five games after starting the season 11-0, while the Ravens were the AFC North team to end the season on fire with five straight wins. While the Browns and Ravens were eliminated in the divisional round, the Steelers were routed immediately in a Wildcard round blowout loss to Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Bengals failed to get anywhere near the postseason with an abysmal record of 4-11-1. Going into the NFL Draft on April 29th, there’s a lot of area for roster improvement for each team. Here are the biggest draft needs of each AFC North team come draft time:

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)


Round One: Pick 24

Round Two: Pick 55

Round Three: Pick 87

Round Four: Pick 128

Round Four: Pick 141 (compensatory pick)

Round Six: Pick 216

Round Seven: Pick 245

Round Seven: Pick 254

The Steelers had one of the most prolific defenses in the NFL last season. They were second in the league in takeaways to only Miami, third in total yards per game allowed behind the Rams and The Washington Football Team, and third in scoring defense behind the Rams and Ravens. The defensive side of the ball is far from problematic for Pittsburgh. Additionally, the youthful receiving trio of Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool gives Pittsburgh weapons in the air. Where Pittsburgh truly struggled, however, and could use a lot of help, is in the run game. Last season, the Steelers were dead last in the league in offensive rushing yards per game as well as in yards per carry. Pittsburgh was also top ten in the league for the most fumbles lost. This lack of a running game affected the entire offense as it caused Pittsburgh to become one-dimensional and lead the league in passing attempts, despite being middle of the pack in passer rating. Going into the draft, Pittsburgh needs to take the best running back available round one such as Travis Etienne out of Clemson. Alejandro Villanueva, the team’s star offensive tackle, is also still unsigned and has his future in the air as an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile, dynamic edge rusher Bud Dupree was lost in free agency as well as two of Pittsburgh’s starting cornerbacks with Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson leaving. Pittsburgh needs to first address running back as its most dire need, then draft a quality cornerback or offensive tackle in rounds two and three before grabbing linebacker depth in later rounds.

Baltimore Ravens (11-5)


Round One: Pick 27

Round Two: Pick 58

Round Three: Pick 104

Round Four: Pick 131

Round Five: Pick 171

Round Five: Pick 184

Round Six: Pick 210

The Baltimore Ravens seemingly have the opposite offensive situation of their division rivals in Pittsburgh. The Ravens led the league in yards per carry with a dominant running game driven by Lamar Jackson and a committee backfield. However, they were last in the league in total offensive passing yards and struggled to have a reliable playmaker in the receiving corps outside of tight end Mark Andrews. Baltimore also lost their two most proven and dominant edge rushers in free agency with the departures of Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. The center position also took a hit as starting center Matt Skura left as a free agent. Going into the draft, the Ravens’ biggest need is to hit edge rush early, hopefully getting a franchise-caliber player at the position. Baltimore would then be wise to also invest in a new starting center in round two or three while investing in electric receiving talent at wideout in later rounds.

Cleveland Browns (11-5)


Round One: Pick 26

Round Two: Pick 59

Round Three: Pick 89

Round Three: Pick 91

Round Four: Pick 110

Round Four: Pick 132

Round Five: Pick 169

Round Six: Pick 211

Round Seven: Pick 257

With Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Kareem Hunt, Austin Hooper, and Nick Chubb, the Browns have formed one of the most talented offenses league-wide. Going into the draft, the focus should be entirely defensive. Myles Garrett has had to do just about everything for the Cleveland pass rush as Olivier Vernon has been inconsistent in his production. Additionally, the Browns severely lack playmaking ability at the linebacker position and this weakness was just magnified by the losses of Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey. The cornerback position is also very thin outside of Denzel Ward. The direst draft needs for Cleveland revolve around grabbing linebacker, cornerback, and edge talent early. As long as the Browns use all four of their picks in the first three rounds on these positions, they should come away with a satisfying haul of draft selections. The Browns would be wise to go best player available at edge rusher and cornerback in the first two rounds and address the linebacker position in volume afterward.

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)


Round One: Pick 5

Round Two: Pick 38

Round Three: Pick 69

Round Four: Pick 111

Round Five: Pick 149

Round Six: Pick 190

Round Six: Pick 202

Round Seven: Pick 235

There truly isn’t a need that the Bengals don’t have outside of free safety, quarterback, and running back. However, the most paramount item on the agenda for Cincy is building an offense around their new franchise quarterback Joe Burrow. If the Bengals don’t get the best offensive tackle in the draft with the fifth overall pick, Bengals fans everywhere ought to be livid. Despite playing just ten games before a season-ending ACL injury, Burrow was sacked a horrifying 32 times. Penei Sewell should be the no-brainer pick with the Bengals’ first selection for keeping their star quarterback healthy and protected in the pocket. Additionally, while Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are solid playmakers at the receiving position, the Bengals couldn’t possibly give their franchise player too many weapons. The first two rounds of the draft for Cincinnati should consist of an elite offensive tackle and a playmaking wide receiver without question. After that, Cincinnati needs to address their sorely lacking defensive line depth in volume. The Bengals’ biggest draft needs lay along the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the receiving corps. If the Bengals can hit on an impact offensive tackle and wideout early with good depth pieces along both lines in later rounds, they should be ecstatic about this draft.

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