NFL: AFC North Team Needs

One of the more interesting divisions perennially is the AFC North, and 2019 will be no exception. There’s a constant arms race, with teams building up their own capabilities while simultaneously counteracting their rivals. In one of the toughest divisions in the league, what are the needs of each team?

Baltimore Ravens

There are many new faces in Baltimore, after Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and CJ Mosley have all left in the offseason. The Offense is being rebuilt around second-year Quarterback Lamar Jackson. And on top of that, General Manager Eric DeCosta is about to embark on his first draft as GM.

The biggest needs for Baltimore are making the Offense work. Strengthening the Offensive Line so that it can block for the running game is the first step, in particular the Guard spots. Having a 3rd down Running Back to replace Javorius Allen’s role as a pass-catcher is another need for the Offense to work properly.

By far though, the biggest need for the Ravens is at Wide Receiver. Baltimore has failed to draft a WR1 repeatedly, with their best success being Torrey Smith. While they have managed to secure veteran help at the position in Free Agency as needed, that isn’t the approach taken this time. The Ravens will need to add multiple WRs one way or another, but at most will probably only spend one pick on the position, since WR is not the focus of their Offense.

However, despite a deficiency of talent on Offense, the Ravens’ Secondary is one of the best in the league after adding Earl Thomas. The Ravens have a talented group of young Linebackers, but after the loss of Mosley ILB could still be a need for the team if someone else isn’t ready to step up. On the Defensive Line, even if Restricted Free Agent Michael Pierce is brought back, depth remains another concern for the team.

Cincinnati Bengals

After a down 2018 season, the Bengals finally moved on from former Head Coach Marvin Lewis, replacing him with Zac Taylor. This will likely mean some changes on Offense, but the team is well-stocked at the skill positions. Although there has been some talk that the Bengals might be in the Josh Rosen sweepstakes, current QB Andy Dalton is serviceable until the team can find a suitable replacement.

Whether they replace Dalton or not, the Offense’s biggest weakness is at Guard and Tackle. The Bengals have talent at both WR and RB, but could invest in Tight End. Although not a major need, they are reliant on Tyler Eifert remaining healthy, despite him never playing all 16 games of a season throughout his career.

With 11 picks in the draft though, the Bengals will most likely rebuild their Defense. Despite an ageing DL, they have added youth up front in recent years, but could still do with another Defensive Tackle. The Defensive Backs also have a mixture of youth and experience, and upgrades are needed at CB and Strong Safety. The LB group is by far the biggest need for the Bengals, however, and multiple picks should be spent on the position.

Cleveland Browns

There seems to be a changing of the guard in the AFC North, with the Cleveland Browns finally leaving their place at the bottom of the division. While they have been stockpiling draft picks over the last several seasons, under GM John Dorsey they’ve been using those to great effect. However, they still have a bit of work to do before they are considered one of the title contenders.

The Browns have had an influx of talent on Offense since going 0-16 in 2017. In 2018’s Draft they found a starting QB in Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb and WR Antonio Callaway. They have supplemented this with FA pickups Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry, and a trade for Odell Beckham Jr. The interior of the OL is also strong.

Despite how formidable they look, they need to still keep an eye on the RB position as Hunt may face suspension or further legal issues because of his assault case. To help the run game and protect Mayfield, they should invest in OTs. Having a backup QB would be their other need on Offense, so that if Mayfield goes down all their work isn’t for naught.

Defensively, the DL is solid and has little work needed beyond depth at DT. The biggest needs are instead at LB and DB. The Browns are likely to prioritise all LB positions and Strong Safety in the draft. Filling out the other CB positions behind Denzel Ward will be their other major defensive need.

Pittsburgh Steelers

In a relatively dramatic offseason for the Steelers, two of their best weapons in recent years are with new teams. The team is also edging closer to being without long-term QB Ben Roethlisberger, and several positions on both sides of the ball are too lacking youth. Failing to send this team back to the playoffs could see major changes to the franchise.

On Offense, the Steelers need to reload while Roethlisberger can still sling it. They need new Tackles, a TE, and could still do with WR help despite adding Donte Moncrief as a FA. The running game could still be improved, even after James Conner flashed success in 2018. Adding a more physical back could be where they invest one of their 10 picks.

Alternatively, each level of the Defense needs some work as well. All of their CBs need upgrades, and insurance for both Safeties picked last year wouldn’t go astray. Again, LB has slightly above average starters, but aside from TJ Watt and possible FA addition Mark Barron, upgrades should be explored. Depth at Defensive End, and improvement at DT, are further needs.

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