Early Look at the Biggest 2017 NFL Draft Needs for AFC North Teams

While the Steelers remain the class of the division, even they have holes to fill

The Pittsburgh Steelers came within one game of playing for the Lombardi Trophy last season. As for the rest of the AFC North, there appears to be a lot of work to do and holes to fill.

 

Only one other division in the NFL had three of its four teams finish .500 or worse. Cleveland continued its perpetual role as the NFL's doormat, while Cincinnati and Baltimore appear mired in mediocrity.

 

A talent-rich draft at most positions gives hope to a division of flawed teams heading into the 2017 campaign.

 

Baltimore Ravens

2016 Snapshot: The Ravens finished 8-8 and were hurt by injuries and the lack of explosive weapons on offense. They had a hard time generating a pass rush, which seems strange given Baltimore's history of fielding menacing defenses. This is a club that simply lacks playmakers and depth on both sides of the ball.

 

Biggest needs: John Harbaugh's squad needs a guy who can wreak havoc when it comes to pressuring the pocket. The lack of such a presence puts extra pressure on his secondary, which also needs help. If the Ravens can't land an elite pass rusher with their first pick, they need to seriously consider taking a corner who they feel can start immediately. If they can't find either, they may want to reach for a guy who could become the long-term answer at center.

 

First-round pick: No. 16 overall

 

Potential Picks: If somehow Tennessee's Derek Barnett falls to them, the Ravens need to pull he trigger. Otherwise, they'll probably be deciding between Michigan's Taco Charlton and Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey. There is a chance they could reach for Ohio State center Pat Elflein. That would be a smart choice, yet widely unpopular amongst the Raven faithful.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

2016 Snapshot: Injuries to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert made it tough for the Bengal offense to find its way all season. Player suspensions didn't help matters either. The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time since Andy Dalton has been under center, and it's looking like their window as contenders is closing.

 

Biggest Needs: They need help on defense, especially at defensive end and safety. Marvin Lewis' defenses traditionally have an elite playmaker roaming the secondary who changes the way opponents attack. On the other side of the ball, a solid No. 2 receiver option to Green would help him and Dalton, thus helping the Bengal offense as a whole.

 

First-round pick: No. 9 overall

 

Potential picks: LSU safety Jamal Adams would be a perfect fit, as he has many of the same characteristics from both a performance and leadership standpoint as former Raven great Ed Reed. If he's gone before the Bengals pick, one of the top two receivers available — Clemson's Mike Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis — would be solid choices and make Cincinnati's offense downright scary when paired with Green.

 

Cleveland Browns

2016 Snapshot: Unless you don't watch any football whatsoever, you know the story with the Browns. They continue to be a punchline in American sport. They've still never landed a franchise quarterback in the history of the expansion edition of the franchise, and that has been the common denominator of their issues. They had some young talent show flashes of brilliance in 2016, but for the most part, this is a team that does not look ready to compete anytime in the next 2-3 years.

 

Biggest needs: Quarterback and secondary are the biggest areas of need for Cleveland, but at this point, the Browns need to head into the draft and target the best players available. They have a need for a solid pass rusher as well.

 

First-round picks: No. 1 and No. 12 overall

 

Potential picks: The acquisition of Brock Osweiler will likely impact their early draft decisions, as there does not appear to be a sure-fire franchise quarterback available in this draft. As a result, you'll see Cleveland take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick. At pick No. 12, you could see them go after Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers. If they do decide to take a flyer on a quarterback with the 12th pick, it'll probably be Clemson's Deshaun Watson.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 Snapshot: Pittsburgh's up-and-down season ended with a loss in the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots. Though the offense was able to score with anyone in the league, it seemed to sputter during key moments. The Steelers also had difficulty time slowing down opposing offenses at times — especially against the pass.

 

Biggest needs: The Steelers need a solid playmaker to be the focal point and eventual leader of their defense. Depth in the secondary is a concern, but linebacker appears to be the biggest need. Truth be told, Pittsburgh probably needs to target the top defensive player available with its first-round pick.

 

First-round pick: No. 30 overall

 

Potential picks: Sitting at the end of the first round, the Steelers will just need to wait and see who is left on the board. Lucky for them, this is a deep draft defensively. Ohio State inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan makes a lot of sense. You could also see Pittsburgh go after UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau or Colorado corner Chidobe Awuzie.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Event Date: 
Saturday, March 18, 2017 - 10:51

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