Draft 2019: AFC North Needs
The Baltimore Ravens took home the AFC North division title behind the No. 1 defense in the NFL and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. However, the Ravens lost four defensive starters in free agency and will need Jackson to make significant strides as a passer in his second year.
The Cleveland Browns, on the other hand, made a huge splash in free agency with the signings of Kareem Hunt and Odell Beckham Jr. and now look like the favorite in the division (on paper) heading into 2019.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown next season, but some would argue that the Steelers may be better in 2019 without all of the locker room drama that those two brought.
Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals look to be in for a rebuild after firing head coach Marvin Lewis and finishing the 2018 season with one of the worst defenses in NFL history.
Let’s take a look at what every team needs heading into April’s NFL Draft:
Needs: ILB, Interior OL, WR, Edge, Backup QB
With C.J. Mosely departing for the New York Jets in free agency, the Ravens lost their best player. This means that the Ravens could be seeking a talented linebacker as the draft nears.
Center and left guard were the weak point of the offensive line for the entire 2018 season. There are several intriguing center/guard prospects in the upcoming draft class that could allow the Ravens to upgrade their offensive line and better protect Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens also will need to add some talent on the outside after cutting Michael Crabtree and losing John Brown to the Buffalo Bills. Willie Snead is an excellent complementary wide receiver, but he does not possess the skillset to be a top option, especially for a young and somewhat erratic passer like Jackson.
Baltimore will also need to restock with pass rushers after losing Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs in free agency. It also remains to be seen whether Robert Griffin III will re-sign with the Ravens as their backup quarterback next season.
Needs: Interior OL, TE, LB, DT, WR
The weakest part of this Cincinnati Bengals team is the lack of depth at the linebacker position. In the last offseason, the front office made an attempt to add quality linebackers to the roster by trading for Preston Brown and drafting Malik Jefferson in the third round of the draft. Neither of these guys contributed nearly enough in 2018, and with Vontaze Burfict cut earlier this week, the Bengals are in desperate need of some new young talent at the second level.
The right side of the Cincinnati offensive line also needs major upgrades. Bobby Hart and Alex Redmond are not reliable long-term options and Cedric Ogbuehi has been a bust. It’s also still unclear whether Billy Price is going to live up to the first-round standard at center.
A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are two of the most talented receivers in the league but the Bengals lack the depth behind them. Former first-round pick John Ross was brought in to try to fix this issue, but he has failed to produce in both of his seasons with the team. Tyler Eifert has also been very injury prone throughout his career.
Geno Atkins will be 31 years old and Chris Baker is now a free agent, who was signed to a one-year deal in this past offseason. Behind them sits a very inexperienced group of Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, Josh Tupou and Andrew Brown. The Bengals will need to add some youth and depth to its defensive front.
Needs: OL, CB, S, LB, K
The Browns have plenty of talent at the skill positions after signing Hunt and trading for Beckham, but they still need to upgrade their offensive line in order for Baker Mayfield and the offense to take a big step forward in 2019.
Denzel Ward is an excellent young corner, but he is coming off two concussions at the end of last season, and Terrance Mitchell had a broken arm, while T.J. Carrie was just average. The Beckham trade also sent Jabrill Peppers to the Giants, leaving a hole in the back end of the defense.
Jamie Collins is probably not sticking around long for the Browns, so adding another linebacker should be a priority at some point in time. Edwards isn't the perfect Collins replacement, since he doesn't have that sideline to sideline ability, but he has a high football IQ and makes plays.
Cleveland will also need to upgrade at kicker, as Greg Joseph is one of the worst at his position.
Needs: LB, WR, Edge, S, CB
Inside linebacker has been a need for the Steelers since Ryan Shazier’s injury in 2017. Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort are on the roster already, but Pittsburgh could upgrade here.
Even with Antonio Brown now in Oakland, wide receiver should be addressed somewhere in the mid-rounds of the draft. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a star, but outside of him there is not a ton of talent.
Bud Dupree has not proven his worth as a first-round pick so far. Fortunately for Dupree, the Steelers picked up his fifth-year option, but unless he shows massive improvement, the Steelers will need to add a player to challenge him for playing time.
Despite spending a first-round pick on Terrell Edmunds in 2018, safety is still a significant need for Pittsburgh. The Steelers utilize sub packages, requiring an extra defensive back and considering what Edmunds is strongest at, he might be a better fit as the third safety so that Pittsburgh can draft a true free safety.
Artie Burns has been a bust at cornerback. Other than Joe Haden, who continues to age, there isn’t a reliable boundary cornerback on the roster.
Will Desautelle is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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