AFC North Draft Needs
The AFC North remains one of the NFL's toughest divisions, as evidenced by the disparity in records for the 4 teams. Cleveland, in need of a quarterback - and pretty much everything else - was able to trade the second overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for a boat load of draft picks over the next few seasons. Meanwhile Baltimore sits at 6 overall with few short term needs and a great track record for drafting and developing talented players. The Steelers and Bengals are both later in the draft but will benefit from the defensive depth, which corresponds with their positions of need. The division has 35 total selections so its members can be aggressive during the draft - just not the Bengals.
The Ravens again find themselves picking higher in the draft than the fans and front office would prefer. General Manager Ozzie Smith, one of the best in the league, has even stated that the Ravens haven’t done a great job in the last few drafts. Still, The Ravens are a talented team that has only a few obvious holes to fill and they should see improvement in the coming season with only a few additions.
Team Needs: OL, CB, WR, RB
As always the Ravens have a slew of mid round compensatory picks based on their free agent losses. Perhaps only the 49ers benefit more from the compensatory picks from year to year. With 9 selections this year, including 6 overall, the team should be able to find a starting offensive tackle early and still have enough overall picks to fill in the depth at their other positions. Even though last years first round pick Breshaud Perriman will finally take the field this year the Ravens could use another receiver to give Joe Flacco some more flexibility in the passing game. Justin Forsett seems entrenched as the team’s starter but there is no reason that a mid round running back can’t come in and contribute, a la Ray Rice from several years ago. There should be good value available at 36 and 70 for either a receiver or cornerback. I would expect the Ravens to grab those positions early and use the deep defensive front 7 draft class to bolster their depth later in the draft.
Draft Picks, 9: 6, 36, 70, 104, 130, 132*, 134*, 182, 209*
The Bengals are consistently one of the most conservative teams in the draft. They are also the only team that relies solely on the scouting services to provide analysis for their players. Even with the handicaps that come from the ownership of the Bengals, Head Coach Marvin Lewis has managed to assemble a consistent playoff team over the last several seasons. The next step is to win a playoff game, something the team should have done last year. This year the Bengals don’t have a lot of needs, unless they want to move on from players like Vontez Burfict and Adam Jones.
Team Needs: DT, WR, LB, CB
Defensive tackle is probably the team’s biggest on field need and their should be very good value at 24. THeir losses in free agency, though, along with the tiers of players in this draft might force them to look at receiver should Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, or Corey Coleman be available. The drop off in receiver talent after the first five prospects is much more significant than the drop off at defensive tackle, although the team could take multiple players at either position for a platoon/competitive situation. Cornerback and linebacker are both positions where depth is needed and can be filled in the mid to later rounds of the draft.
Draft Picks, 7: 24, 55, 87, 122, 161, 199, 245
The Browns are considered by many to be among the biggest losers in the blockbuster trade by the Rams and Titans for the first overall pick in the draft. That actually might not be the case though. Cleveland has a lot of needs and is unlikely to be a very good team no matter what happens. Therefore being on the clock with the last “franchise” quarterback available could give the team the flexibility to add much needed draft picks over the next two years while still getting a top talent. There are at least 3 teams in the top ten that might be willing to trade up for a chance to take either Goff or Wentz which would yield Cleveland with a top player this year and the added draft picks in next year’s draft to make a move up and grab a quarterback should the RG3 experiment not work out. Of course, they could also just take their quarterback of the future and be done with it.
Team Needs: QB, WR, OL, DE, LB
The talent drain in Cleveland is among the greatest challenge the team has to overcome. It lost three of its best players to free agency, cut another one, and simply doesn’t have a lot of talent on the roster as a whole. Josh Gordon seems unlikely to be reinstated as of now and the Browns have simply nothing offensively to scare anyone, unless they can figure out how to score points from the left tackle position. Assuming they keep the pick they will likely take either Goff or Wentz. If they are able to trade down they should target an impact defender like Miles Jack or Joey Bosa. WIth ten overall selections (including 3 in the top 70, for now) the Browns can add both talent and depth. The fastest way for them to get into the playoffs appears to be a trade of the #2 overall pick though - IF you believe they are comfortable developing RG3 into a long term starter.
Draft Picks, 12: 8, 32, 65, 77, 99, 100, 138*, 141, 172*, 173*, 176, 223
Note: The day after this article was posted Cleveland made the trade with Phladelphia adding three selections this year and three over the next two years. The Browns will not be taking a quarterback in the first round now, but they have positioned themselves to add a lot of talent to one of the leagues least talented rosters and upgrade at quarterback either later in this draft, or next season.
2015 was a season derailed by injuries for the Steelers, which isn’t a terrible thing given that they still made the playoffs, and won a game. An offseason suspension for Martavis Bryant has to be concerning but the team has consistently selected receivers in the middle rounds and last year’s third round pick, Sammie Coates does have the potential to do many of the same things that Bryant did for the team. The most glaring hole for the Steelers seems to be in the defensive backfield with defensive tackle being a close second.
Team Needs: DL, CB, S, WR
Cornerback is by far the Steelers biggest area of concern but if a safety was available that could fill the role of former safety, Troy Polamalu, that would offer the team some additional scheme flexibility. Both are likely to be options at 25 with former USC Trojan Su’a Cravens exactly the kind of player that Polamalu was. Vernon Hargreaves and Eli Apple are two cornerbacks that might be available, both would be excellent value and an immediate upgrade for the team. If Pittsburgh wishes to shore up its nose tackle position first Andrew Billings would be a likely candidate. The draft is deeper at defensive tackle, however, and a potential starter at nose tackle would be easier to find at 58 than either cornerback or safety.
Draft Picks, 7: 25, 58, 89, 123, 220*, 229, 246