The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs in 2020, the most of any division in the league. And after the 2021 NFL Draft concluded, this division is primed to be the league's most competitive again. You can expect another dog fight between the Browns, Ravens and Steelers, but this time the Bengals look to make some noise of their own. Here's what each AFC North team managed to get done during this year's draft.
Objective Achieved: New pass catchers for Lamar Jackson and help for the pass rush
As dynamic as Jackson is, he can't do it all by himself. So the Ravens brought in some receiving help in the form of Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace. Georgia guard Ben Cleveland adds a fresh body to the offensive line, and it'll be interesting to see how Michigan fullback Ben Mason fits. Penn State's Odafe Oweh is raw but extremely athletic. He and Notre Dame's Daelin Hayes could help fill the void at outside linebacker and give the Ravens' pass rush some extra juice. SMU's Brandon Stephens and Ohio State's Shaun Wade join a solid secondary that is starting to show some age.
Objective Achieved: More support for Joe Burrow
Burrow will be reunited with LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase, who was his go-to receiver when they won the national championship two years ago. Chase adds another weapon to what was an underrated receiving corps. Burrow also got some help on the offensive line with the Bengals drafting Clemson guard Jackson Carman, East Carolina tackle D'Ante Smith, and Georgia center Trey Hill. Michigan's Chris Evans will join a backfield that is somewhat unsettled after workhorse Joe Mixon.
On the other side, Cincinnati added Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai, who was good enough to be a first-round pick in my book. The team also drafted Tulane edge rusher Cameron Sample, LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, and Kansas State defensive end Wyatt Hubert. The Bengals also used a fifth-round pick on Florida kicker Evan McPherson.
Objective Achieved: Gave the defense a major boost
Between free agency and the draft, the Browns have added impressive talent and depth to their defense. Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II was ranked as the top player at his position on many draft boards. Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could end up being a steal in the second round and he adds a mean streak to the linebacking corps. Also on board are Ohio State defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, West Virginia linebacker Tony Fields II, and Georgia safety Richard LeCounte.
Cleveland didn't ignore offense either. Wide receivers Anthony Schwartz (Auburn), and Demetric Felton (UCLA) boost the options for the passing game and Cincinnati offensive tackle James Hudson should improve depth up front.
Objective Achieved: New life for their rushing attack
The Steelers got next-to-nothing from their running game last season so everyone had them pegged for Najee Harris. He seems tailor-made to bring some physicality back to Pittsburgh's ground game but he also is no slouch as a receiver. Tight end Pat Freiermuth is another pick that appears to be an ideal fit, although he will need to show his shoulder is completely healed before making a significant impact. The offensive line also got some much-needed reinforcements in Illinois guard Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore Jr. from Texas A&M. For the defense, Pittsburgh added another Aggie, linebacker Buddy Johnson, Wisconsin tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk, Miami (Fla.) edge rusher Quincy Roche, and Oklahoma cornerback Tre Norwood to a unit that has been hit by some offseason personnel turnover. Rounding out the Steelers' 2021 draft was Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin III, who won the Ray Guy Award last season as the nation's best at the position.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo by Karl Roser/Pittsburgh Steelers, courtesy of steelers.com)