By Leo Silbert
It is getting to the point of the year that fans are trying to figure out who their team needs to draft or what position needs the most help. Some teams like the Patriots don’t have a glaring need so they are able to pick for desire and are allowed greater risks. Other teams like the Browns have needs all over the map so they are best suited to just take the best available player. I’m going to sort this out by division and within the divisions I’ll sort them by 2016 records.
Next up, the AFC North:
- Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers have a rapidly improving defense, one of the top offensive lines in the league, and a trio of offensive play-makers who are able to dominate any given game on any given weekend. They have had success in drafting Artie Burns in the first round as he has improved greatly over the season and has high upside as the future lock down #1 corner for the team. Their receiving corps were weaker this year than it could have been, but that is partially due to Martavis Bryant being suspended for the season, but he is likely to return for next season as long as he doesn’t mess up again. Their biggest weakness on defense is at inside linebacker next to Ryan Shazier. Lawrence Timmons has been a great leader for the Steelers for years, but his play on the field doesn’t reflect his leadership. He is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason so the team might not bring him back and the linebackers under him don’t have the necessary speed to cover sideline to sideline that is needed in today’s NFL. If they grab a strong coverage linebacker here, then the Steelers defense can go back to living up to the standards of the Steel Curtain.
- Baltimore Ravens- The NFL is losing possibly the greatest receiver to ever have a Napoleon complex this year with Steve Smith retiring. Throughout his career he has been one of the toughest and quickest to anger players in the league which has also made him one of the most fun players in the NFL over his career. Now the Ravens still have their qb in Joe Flacco and there is already a known formula for a successful offense built around him. They need a receiver who can stretch the field and either catch long balls or cause defensive pass interference penalties and they have that in Mike Wallace. They need a running game that can produce yards on the ground, but also able to produce in the short passing game and the combination of Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon provides that for them. And finally they need a big guy in the mold of an Anquan Boldin to make the tough move the chains type of catches, which is something the team is severely lacking. At tight end they have a high round pick in Maxx Williams who just plain hasn’t been able to produce. At wide receiver they have a Breshad Perriman who has had to deal with injuries, but is best suited for the same role as Mike Wallace who is just plain better in that role. This draft is deep at tight end so I’d like to see them go in that direction so they can go back to playing Ravens football on both offense and defense.
- Cincinnati Bengals- Oh how the almost mighty have fallen. Before this season, the Bengals had made it to the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons only to lose in the first round. In 2015 they started out even better than normal and looked poised for a first round bye until Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury. Then they ended up losing both their #2 and #3 receivers in free agency so they had to replace them with Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell who worked fairly well at their spots. But there is another player they lost during the offseason who they weren’t able to replace, and that was their former right tackle Andre Smith. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher combined to play terribly at right tackle all season for the Bengals. This led the team from having one of the top offensive lines in the league to having one in the middle of the road. If they can add a top offensive tackle prospect this year who can end up eventually developing into a left tackle since Andrew Whitworth is in the last few years of his career, then the Bengals can once again find themselves in the playoffs, and maybe even making it past the first round.
- Cleveland Browns- The Browns have 3 studs in place on their roster who can be trusted to be good next season, left tackle Joe Thomas, corner back Joe Haden, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Those are the only 3 guys who are safe in their spots on the entire team as long as none of them are traded away. This means that their biggest need will be whoever the best player they can get is. If I were the Browns, I wouldn’t take a quarterback first overall to stick them behind an offensive line with one great piece and 4 average at best pieces with no true receiving threats, little to no running game, and a defense that wouldn’t be able to hold onto a lead. So I think the biggest need for the Browns is a pass rusher who will be able to make the rest of their defense better. They are moving to more of a 4-3 scheme with Greg Williams as the defensive coordinator, so with Danny Shelton stuffing the run on defense, an edge rushing defensive end who can also play the run would be able to help boost the play of their defensive backs in the pass game and help their limited linebackers in the run game. This probably won’t make them a great team quickly, but it will likely give them their best shot at a franchise quarterback in the 2018 draft.
Previous articles in this series: AFC East