Can anybody stop Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens from ruling the AFC North again? That's the question that Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh hope to answer this season after the Ravens shocked the NFL in 2019. They finished with the best record in the regular season (14-2) and defenses were left shaking their heads as Jackson's arm (3,127 passing yards, 36 TDs) and legs (quarterback single-season record 1,206 rushing yards) made him the unanimous choice for league MVP. Baltimore stumbled in the playoffs but everyone is tabbing this team as a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season.
But the other three AFC North teams will have something to say about that. The 2020 NFL Draft provided a window of opportunity for the entire division. The Bengals had the No. 1 overall pick and were followed in the first round by the Browns (No. 10) and Ravens (No. 28). The Steelers sat out the first night because of a trade they made last season, but still had several picks to work with. Here are the boxes that these teams were able to check in this year's draft.
Objective Achieved: Added depth and talent on both sides of the ball
Anyone who was expecting the defending AFC North champions to take a step back this season saw those hopes dashed after the Ravens' brain trust orchestrated another impressive draft. It started in the first round with LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, who is an ideal fit for the team and the style of defense Baltimore plays. And while running back wasn't a huge need, no one can fault GM Eric DeCosta for not passing on Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, who will team with Mark Ingram and reigning MVP Lamar Jackson to give the Ravens a devastating backfield.
Wide receiver was a position that needed to be addressed and Baltimore did that by taking Devin Duvernay (third) and James Proche (sixth). Head coach John Harbaugh, in particular, was fired up to get Duvernay. After acquiring five-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell via trade from Jacksonville in March, the Ravens continued to bolster their defensive line by drafting Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. They also added to their depth on the other side of the line of scrimmage with the selections of tackle Tyre Phillips and guard Ben Bredeson. In short, one of the league's top teams last season that returns most of its key players got even deeper through the draft.
Objective Achieved: The beginning of the Burrow era
Using the first overall pick on Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow means that the future is now in Cincinnati. The Bengals also gave Burrow an extra weapon with wide receiver Tee Higgins, and added to his protection detail with guard Hakeem Adeniji. After signing several new defensive starters in free agency, Cincinnati continued to overhaul that side of the ball by drafting three linebackers (Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Markus Bailey) and defensive end Khalid Kareem. There's no doubt Burrow and Higgins will be a big part of what direction the Bengals head moving forward and the same could be said for other members of this draft class.
Objective Achieved: Beef up the offensive line
Help for Baker Mayfield is on the way after the Browns drafted Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. with their first-round pick (No. 10 overall) and Washington center Nick Harris (fifth round). Between them and the signing of tackle Jack Conklin in free agency, Mayfield should have more time to find his targets downfield this season. Speaking of targets, Cleveland brought two more into the fold with the selections of Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who won the Mackey Award this past season, and Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Tight end is well stocked now with Bryant, 2017 first-round pick David Njoku, and free-agent addition Austin Hooper.
Just two defensive players were taken this year by the Browns, a pair of key contributors to LSU's national championship-winning team. Safety Grant Delpit, considered a first-round talent by many analysts, lasted until the second, and linebacker Jacob Phillips was a late third-round pick who should provide valuable depth right away and possibly make an even bigger impact.
Objective Achieved: Rebuild roster depth
The Steelers didn't have a first-round pick this year, trading it to Miami last September for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, but the team did a good job in maximizing their six selections. Six different positions were represented in this class and while none of the picks are likely to be starters this season, all should serve as valuable contributors in some form or fashion.
The team's top pick, wide receiver Chase Claypool (second round, No. 49 overall), probably has the best chance of carving out a significant role early because of his size (6-4, 238). Running back Anthony McFarland Jr. adds another versatile weapon to the offense while Antoine Brooks Jr. should do the same for the defense. Linebacker Alex Highsmith and defensive tackle Carlos Davis should provide depth on one side of the ball and guard Kevin Dotson should bolster the group that's tasked with protecting Ben Roethlisberger, who is coming back from a serious elbow injury.
— 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.