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With the NFL Draft just days away, starting on April 26, here’s a look at the AFC North’s most pressing needs heading into the opening rounds.
The Bengal’s draft strategy potentially hinges on whether or not they are confident they can re-sign offensive tackle Andre Smith, and whilst signs have not been positive so far in the offseason, head coach Marvin Lewis remains optimistic. If Smith is not re-signed, or the Bengals don’t think they will get a deal done, then D. J. Fluker (Alabama) or Menelik Watson (Florida St.) could be first round targets.
If Cincinnati don’t go with a tackle in the first round, they could well look at a safety, given it’s a substantial need, and trading up for a shot at Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) is conceivable. Both Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU) are other options who would potentially available when the Bengals pick at 21.
Running back and wide receiver are two other areas where Cincinnati are looking to add depth and Giovanni Bernard (North Carolina) and Aaron Dobson (Marshall) could be solutions in the second and third rounds respectively.
A lot of names have been linked with the Browns’ sixth-overall pick, including Geno Smith and Ziggy Ansah, but Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could help push Cleveland’s defense into the ‘elite’ category, especially playing alongside Joe Haden, who has fast become one of the most dynamic corners in the NFL.
Cleveland has plenty of needs, so don’t be surprised to see them try and trade back in the first round and accumulate extra picks, especially considering they’re currently without a second-round pick.
Others pressing needs include pass-rushing linebackers, as Cleveland moves to a 3-4 defense. They plan to transition Jabaal Sheard to the position, but his ability to drop back and cover will be a concern; whilst recent signing Paul Kruger undoubtedly has talent, but he was never a starter during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. John Simon (Ohio State) could be a good pickup in the third or fourth round, as would Kiko Alonso (Oregon), as the Browns will need to add to their inside linebacker resources given their new defensive scheme.
Left tackle remains an issue for the Ravens, but given that they’re picking at the very end of the round, finding an NFL-ready prospect is slim. Menelik Watson could be an option if Baltimore are not keen to move either Michael Oher or Kelechi Osemele to the blindside, but if they are, expect the Ravens to target a new right tackle or guard later in the draft.
The additions of Michael Huff and Rolando McClain in free agency mean that the Ravens aren’t forced into drafting needs in the early rounds, but if either Eric Reid or Matt Elam fall to the 32nd pick, Baltimore would be wise to take them, and help solidify a secondary now bereft of Ed Reed.
Anquan Boldin’s departure makes Robert Wood (USC) or Stedman Bailey (West Virginia) an intriguing option at the end of the second round, and Jon Bostic (Florida) could help replenish a depleted linebacker corps in the third or fourth round.
A plethora of compensatory draft picks should help the Ravens maneuver up or down in the draft if they have a need to.
The Steelers have lost Mike Wallace this offseason and finding a new receiver to play alongside the likes of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders could lead to Pittsburgh taking Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) if he’s still available, otherwise Jarvis Jones would potentially add some much needed youth to the Steelers defense, and is an area of need following James Harrison’s departure.
Pittsburgh has a talented and young offensive line that should only get better with time, but a versatile lineman like Barrett Jones (Alabama) in the second round would be the perfect addition to the likes of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.
Corner is another area of need for the Steelers, especially given Keenan Lewis’ departure and veteran Ike Taylor is entering the twilight of his career. Tyrann Mathieu (LSU) is an intriguing prospect if he falls to the Steelers in the third round, as he certainly has all the talent required to make it in the NFL. However head coach Mike Tomlin would have to be certain his staff could help keep Mathieu on the right path. Safer options would be Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut) or Logan Ryan (Rutgers).
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