Older AFCE

State of the AFC North and Draft Needs

State of the AFC North and Draft Needs
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Cincinnati Bengals

 

Arguably the most talented team in the division, the glaring need for Cincinnati just might be at wide receiver. Yes, A.J. Green is one of the NFL’s best, but Mohammad Sanu is a free agent and if he leaves Green is the only receiver on the Bengals roster with an NFL touchdown reception. Head coach Marvin Lewis has done an admirable job leading Cincinnati to two division titles and five straight playoff appearances in the last five years. The problem? The Bengals have lost in the Wild Card round in all five of those years. In fact, the franchise has not advanced past the initial round of the AFC playoffs since 1990.

 

Scooby Wright

Arizona Wildcats star LB Scooby Wright

Another area of concern is linebacker where both Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey are free agents. Vontaze Burfict is set to miss the first three games due to his antics in last year’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh. There are a number of quality linebackers including former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Scooby Wright out of Arizona and Notre Dame’s Jaylen Smith. Both players could be question marks though. Wright missed most of last season after tearing an ACL. He returned for the Wildcats’ bowl game. Smith won the Butkus Award last year as the nation’s top linebacker but tore an ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. If Cincinnati does not go for a linebacker in Round 1, look for the Bengals to take a wide receiver like Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Will Fuller Jr.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

 

When you think of the Steelers, you think defense and while Pittsburgh was fifth in the league in run defense (91.4 yards per game), their pass defense was horrendous. It has been their Achilles heel the past two seasons. The Steelers defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64 percent of their passes over the last two years. In 2015, Pittsburgh allowed 271.9 yards per game, 30th in the NFL. It is no secret that head coach Mike Tomlin is keeping his eye on a few talented defensive backs.

 

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Ohio State – Eli Apple

With the Steelers picking at No. 25, the two top rated corners, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves and Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, will most likely be gone. That would leave Ohio State’s Eli Apple or Tomlin may elect to go for a safety like Boise State’s Darian Thompson. Pittsburgh is also notorious for selecting what they feel is the best player available. A guard to pair with David DeCastro would be nice and LSU’s Vadal Alexander would fit. If OT Kevin Beachum leaves via free agency, Pittsburgh might opt for Ohio State’s Taylor Decker. Whatever the Steelers do, it is highly unlikely that they would pick a linebacker. Pittsburgh has chosen a linebacker in the first round in each of the past three NFL Drafts.

 

Baltimore Ravens

 

A rash of injuries and a 1-6 start led to eventual disaster in 2015 for the Ravens. Season-ending injuries to QB Joe Flacco, RB Justin Forsett, and LB Terrell Suggs left Baltimore a mere shell of its former self especially on defense. Like Pittsburgh, the Ravens have always been known as a tough, hard-nosed defensive unit. In 2015, they had the NFL’s fewest number of interceptions (6) and recorded their fewest number of sacks (37) since 2012. While 37 sacks is not horrible, no Raven defender had more than six (Elvis Dumervil). Both the secondary and the Ravens pass rush need help. A proven pass rusher makes life a little easier for the secondary.

 

Joey Bosa

Ohio State – Joey Bosa

It is possible that Baltimore might take a long look at Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, but the 6-6, 275-pounder might be gone before the Ravens pick at No. 6. Bosa ran only in the 4.8 range in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but is still widely considered a J.J. Watt-type player. He would definitely add a boost to the Ravens pass rush. If Baltimore chooses to go to the secondary, either Hargreaves or Ramsey might be a solid pick. The other need area for the Ravens is wide receiver where the team’s leader, Steve Smith Sr. is 36 years old and enters 2016 coming off of an Achilles injury.

 

Cleveland Browns

 

The Johnny Manziel era is over. Cleveland is still searching for its franchise quarterback. The Browns have had 24 different starting quarterbacks since 1999 and, no surprise, their 72.9 QB rating since ’99 is the worst in the NFL. What the Browns really need is a miracle and hopefully they have found someone who can deliver. The offseason hiring of new head coach Hue Jackson appears to be a step in the right direction. The Browns also brought in Paul DePodesta to be their Chief Strategy Officer. If the name sounds familiar, you may remember actor Jonah Hill playing the role of DePodesta in Moneyball. While he is not a football guy, DePodesta was instrumental in the turnaround of the Oakland Athletics and, at the point, Cleveland is willing to try just about anything.

 

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2016 NFL Draft QB Class

In search of a quarterback in the 2016 draft, the Browns, like the rest of the league, are going to find that the pickings are slim. The only guys that look to be taken in the first round are Cal’s Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch from Memphis, and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Goff had a great senior season for the Bears but still was the same guy that lost 11 games as a freshman and threw five picks in a loss to Utah last year. Lynch has great size and all the physical tools but played at a school where the level of competition comes into question. And, speaking of the level of competition, Wentz played at the FCS level for the Bison. Yes, they have won five straight FCS titles, but playing the likes of South Dakota and Western Illinois every week is just not the same as playing in the Big Ten or the SEC.

 

Holding the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, Cleveland could also choose to work on their defense and take Bosa. There is also a theory that the Browns could add an explosive receiver like Treadwell and work on finding a quarterback later. Another idea is that Cleveland trades down and adds a number of value picks in the later rounds.

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