AFC North: Pre-Draft Guide

By: Jake Leicht

Baltimore Ravens

Team Record in 2017: 9–7 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 8 Overall Pick #s: 16, 52, 83, 118, 154, 190, 215, 238

Summary: Over the last three seasons the Baltimore Ravens are 22–26. They are no longer the dominant defensive team that they once were, and could certainly use some linebacker help, especially at the Sam and Will positions. Their offense has been very pedestrian as well. Joe Flacco was once one of the top 12 quarterbacks in the league, but with question marks at offensive line and wide receiver he struggled last season. Overall, Ozzie Newsome has some work to do in the draft if the Ravens are going to be competing for a playoff spot this season.

Top 5 Positions of Need:

  1. Outside Linebacker- In order for the Ravens’ defense to be feared around the league like it once was, they are going to have to upgrade their outside linebackers.They are currently sitting with Patrick Onwuasor and Albert McClellan atop their depth chart as the Will and Sam linebackers respectively. That is not going to work for the Ravens.

  2. Right Tackle- The right tackle position is a major weakness for the Ravens. They need to spend an early round selection on a possible replacement for Alex Lewis. Flacco needs more time to set his feet and throw in the pocket.

  3. Wide Receiver- The Ravens have been trying to solve their wide receiver woes for years, and this time around they signed veterans Michael Crabtree and John Brown. Crabtree can still be a possession wide receiver, but he is getting older and getting less separation from defenders. Brown is good, but often injured. The Ravens could use some youth at the position.

  4. Center- Matt Skura is not a terrible starting option, but the Ravens could use an upgrade. At the very least, they need to add another center for depth purposes.

  5. Quarterback- Joe Flacco has been up-and-down in terms of production over the past several years. With his contract situation, the Ravens could be moving towards a rebuild in the near future. Obtaining a developmental quarterback makes some sense in this year’s draft.

Prospect Fits:

  1. LB Rashaan Evans (Alabama)- I love the idea of Rashaan Evans going in the first round of the draft to the Ravens. He can play any linebacking position in a 4–3 defense due to his versatility. He is a very good tackler, and I think he would be the best linebacker to play for the Ravens since Ray Lewis. Of course, the connection between Ozzie Newsome and Alabama helps as well.

  2. T Tyrell Crosby (Oregon)- Crosby is a big offensive tackle with some upside. I like him as a prospect because I believe he could excel at right tackle right away while still improving with experience. He could eventually develop into a left tackle if something were to happen to Ronnie Stanley.

  3. WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)- I have no clue where Ridley’s value is in the draft. Some draft experts love him as a first round pick while others have him falling to the second. Ridley would most likely have to be in play in the first round for the Ravens. His route running ability is off of the charts, and I could see him being a very productive player in the Ravens’ offensive scheme. The Ravens — Alabama connection would live on again as well.

  4. C Frank Ragnow (Arkansas)- Baltimore could use a mean blocker at center like Ragnow. He’s aggressive in the run game and does a nice job in pass protection as well. Ragnow could fall due to some injury concerns. If he does, the Ravens could tab him as their starting center in 2018.

  5. QB Mike White (Western Kentucky)- At the very least, the Ravens need to draft a developmental quarterback. White is a big, strong armed quarterback that played at Western Kentucky, and some analysts have stated that they think White is a better quarterback prospect than Mason Rudolph. White has the body and arm strength to play QB in the AFC North if he is developed correctly.

Cincinnati Bengals

Team Record in 2017: 7–9 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 11 Overall Pick #s: 21, 46, 77, 100, 112, 151, 158, 170, 249, 252, 253

Summary: The Cincinnati Bengals struggled on both sides of the ball in 2017. Andy Dalton regressed during his seventh season in the league, which had a negative impact on A.J. Green’s production. Over the past few offseasons the Bengals have let multiple linemen walk to other teams in free agency. Adam Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler have moved on to the Rams and Browns respectively, and they have made huge impacts on those teams since arriving. The Bengals did acquire Cordy Glenn in a deal with the Bills earlier in the offseason, so he should at least give them some stability at left tackle provided he stays healthy. The Bengals’ defense is also starting to regress as they have gotten old and slow at the linebacker position, and they could use some defensive linemen to bolster their pass rush as well.

Overall, the Bengals need to focus their offense around A.J. Green and Joe Mixon moving forward. Andy Dalton needs to prove that he can still lead the franchise during the 2018 season, or else they will be looking for their next franchise quarterback a year from now. Defensively, they need to get younger at multiple spots while also adding some speed to the front seven.

Top 5 Positions of Need:

  1. Offensive Guard- Clint Boling is a solid left guard in this league. He is not great, but is definitely serviceable. But the Bengals desperately need to find a right guard to help protect Dalton and make holes for Mixon and Bernard.

  2. Center- Along the same lines as their need for a starting right guard, the Bengals must find a long term solution at center. Currently, they only have T.J. Johnson on their roster. The Bengals must fix the interior of their offensive line immediately.

  3. Linebacker- The Bengals need some speed at linebacker. Signing Preston Brown helps, but adding a linebacker in the early rounds of the draft would be great for their aging defense.

  4. Quarterback- Andy Dalton is not getting any younger, and also seems to not getting any better. The Bengals have recently been linked to Lamar Jackson, but I think they will wait one more year before they find their quarterback of the future early in the 2019 Draft.

  5. Rush End- Carlos Dunlap has had a very good career, but he has already been in the league for 8 years. The team’s other defensive end is Michael Johnson, and his best years are behind him as well. At the very least, the Bengals could use some depth at the position.

Prospect Fits:

  1. T/G/C Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)- Wynn would be an awesome fit for the Bengals in round one because of his versatility. I believe he could be a Pro Bowl guard, and he would boost the Bengals’ offensive line immediately.

  2. C James Daniels (Iowa)- Daniels is a very athletic center prospect who could anchor an NFL offensive line for the foreseeable future. He does not have the versatility or name recognition that Wynn has, but Daniels would certainly help fill a huge need at center for the Bengals.

  3. LB Genard Avery (Memphis)- Avery is an underrated prospect. He flashed his speed by posting a 4.59 40-yard dash at the Combine to go along with his 6.90 second 3-cone drill time. Avery would give the Bengals some youth and speed at the linebacker position that they desperately need. He could be their target in the 3rd round.

  4. QB Kyle Lauletta (Richmond)- The Bengals have been linked to Lamar Jackson recently, but I do not think they would be willing to take him in round 1. Lauletta is a quarterback prospect that could be grabbed in the 2nd or 3rd round by the Bengals. I think Lauletta shows off some potential that some of the other mid-round quarterbacks do not have. He would also be a scheme fit for the Bengals.

  5. DE Jalyn Holmes (Ohio State)- Holmes is an edge rusher that should be available for teams looking for a player with some potential at the position later in the draft. Holmes went to Ohio State, so the Bengals are probably well acquainted with him in terms of character as well.

Cleveland Browns

Team Record in 2017: 0–16 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 9 Overall Pick #s: 1, 4, 33, 35, 64, 114, 150, 175, 188

Summary: The Cleveland Browns finished the 2017 season without a win. Their offense was pedestrian, and they turned the ball over way too much in the red zone. Their defense overall was not terrible, but their secondary was horrific. The Browns moved on from GM Sashi Brown in the middle of the season and hired John Dorsey to take control of the roster shortly after. Dorsey has already added to the Browns’ secondary in free agency, and he has made deals to attain several high caliber players including quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and safety Damarious Randall. The Browns also have recently drafted players such as Myles Garrett, David Njoku, and Larry Ogunjobi that could be big time players for them for years to come. They are also looking for second year safety Jabrill Peppers to step up. Armed with new playmakers and pick numbers 1 and 4 in the draft, the Browns are poised to be in playoff contention in the near future.

Top 5 Positions of Need:

  1. Quarterback- Tyrod Taylor is a good NFL quarterback, but not a franchise quarterback. I really like him, but the Browns need to find a guy that can be one of the premier players at the position. Finding one of these quarterbacks is easier said than done, but with the #1 overall pick the Browns have the opportunity to find their guy.

  2. Left Tackle- The Browns have had the best left tackle in the game for almost a decade, but Joe Thomas recently retired. Trying to replace him will be very tough, but the Browns need a long term solution at the position immediately. Shon Coleman will be okay, but I don’t see him transforming his game enough to become the type of left tackle that the Browns could hang their hats on in the future.

  3. Defensive Tackle- The Browns traded Danny Shelton to the Patriots this offseason because he was not a great scheme fit for the Browns’ 4–3 defense. The Browns need an effective defensive tackle to play beside Larry Ogunjobi.

  4. Linebacker- Jamie Collins’ production has quickly fallen off, as he is not the playmaker that he once was with the Patriots. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated him as a “poor” outside linebacker this past season. Joe Schobert is a decent middle linebacker, but he has his limitations as well. The Browns need to find a guy in the draft that can be a solid linebacker piece to add to the defense. I secretly think that the Browns could draft a safety and turn Jabrill Peppers into a hybrid linebacker.

  5. Wide Receiver- Josh Gordon is terrific, but the Browns can’t trust him to be there for them this year. I hope he has served his final suspension for drug use, but I don’t think the Browns can gamble on that. Corey Coleman has been okay when he has played, but he is often injured. The Browns could easily upgrade the position in the draft to help keep defenses from focusing on the newly acquired Jarvis Landry in the slot.

Prospect Fits:

  1. QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)- I am ready for the Browns to go for a quarterback that has the physical tools to be a top 5 player in the league at the position. I know Sam Darnold is the safer pick for the Browns, but I want Josh Allen because he has a ton of upside. I know that Allen is a major risk, but the Browns have missed on the position so much that they might as well take a chance on him. He is big, athletic, and has a rocket arm– perfect for the AFC North. If Allen gets the right coaching and some time to develop, he could lead the Browns out of this losing hole that they have lived in for over the past decade.

  2. OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)- Brown had an absolutely horrific week at the Combine. He was slow and was vocally berated by coaches because he wasn’t taking the drill work seriously. With that being said, his film is solid. He will probably fall to the second round now, and the Browns just so happen to have two pick at the beginning of the round. I also think he projects out to be a left tackle, unlike some of the tackles currently expected to go before him on draft night.

  3. DT Maurice Hurst (Michigan)- Hurst is a beast that definitely has first round talent. Due to some medical concerns, many draft analysts currently have him going near the top of round 2. Hurst is the type of player that fits perfectly in the Browns’ 4–3 defense, and he would give them another pass rusher from interior of their defensive line.

  4. LB Darius Leonard (South Carolina State)- Leonard is a mid round prospect that could give the Browns an interesting depth option at the position. I would not be surprised to see them address the position earlier than the middle rounds, but if they do wait Leonard would be a fit in Cleveland.

  5. WR Deon Cain (Clemson)- I would love to see a first round talent like Courtland Sutton slip to the second round for the Browns, but there are other interesting options in the draft like Deon Cain. He is talented, and could be a nice developmental option for the Browns to groom.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Team Record in 2017: 13–3 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 28, 60, 92, 148, 165, 220, 246 Overall Pick #s: 7

Summary: The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the best teams in the NFL in 2017, and boasted one of the best offenses as well. Having two of the best weapons in the league in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown helped, along with healthy contributions from rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster along the way. Going forward the Steelers could use some depth at various offensive positions, but they do not have many holes on that side of the ball. Defensively, they were solid once again as well. They need to find a way to replace star linebacker Ryan Shazier, but that won’t be easy considering he was one of the top LBs in the league before his injury. The Steelers also moved on from a couple of secondary players this past offseason, which could lead to some in-season depth issues unless they address them in the draft.

Top 5 Positions of Need:

  1. Linebacker- Ideally, one of the first round talents at linebacker would fall in the Steelers laps. Replacing Shazier won’t be easy. If the Steelers want to continue to have a good defense, they must grab a linebacker early.

  2. Defensive Back- The Steelers moved on from Mike Mitchell and William Gay this offseason. They already added Morgan Burnett to the mix, but they could use another cornerback with some ball skills.

  3. Guard- Guard is not a dire position of need for the Steelers, but they could definitely use some more depth at the position. They could possibly upgrade the left guard spot if they so choose in round one, but the Steelers would probably be happier coming away with a guard in the second or third round.

  4. Tight End- Jesse James is a good player, but the Steelers could use a better playmaker at the tight end.

  5. Running Back- Le’Veon Bell is the best back in the league, but he still hasn’t gotten a long term deal. Rumors have been swirling that the Steelers like Derrius Guice in the first round to be Bell’s eventual replacement. I wouldn’t go that far if I were the Steelers, but I would definitely try to find a mid round running back that could be a playmaker down the road. James Conner is not the future at running back for the Steelers.

Prospect Fits:

  1. LB Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)- Vander Esch is a very talented and tough football player. His ability to run sideline to sideline and make plays would be huge for the Steelers. As of late, Vander Esch seems to be rising up in various experts’ mock drafts. If he could make it to the Steelers’ pick, he would be a huge addition for their defense.

  2. DB Isaiah Oliver (Colorado) — Oliver is an instinctive playmaker from the cornerback position. He also is able to play the run relatively well. I believe that Oliver could play either outside or slot corner, and his versatility could intrigue the Steelers. I love Oliver in terms of his competitive nature, and I am sure that Steelers’ fans would as well.

  3. G Braden Smith (Auburn)- The Steelers definitely need some depth on the interior of their offensive line. Braden Smith is the type of guard that fits the Steelers’ running scheme. He could possibly contend for a starting job right away where ever he is drafted.

  4. TE Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)- Andrews has more potential than any tight end prospect in this draft class. He isn’t fast, but he was able to get open regularly while he was at Oklahoma. The Steelers do not need another blocking tight end, they need a guy that can make plays over the middle of the field. I think Andrews would be a great fit for the Steelers if he could make it to round 3.

  5. RB Mark Walton (Miami)- Le’Veon Bell’s time in Pittsburgh could be coming to an end in the near future. The Steelers have to decide whether or not they want to pay commit to him for the long-term. At this point, it seems like they are unwilling to make that commitment. Walton is a quick running back that can also make plays in the passing game. He will not need to contribute right away which would give him time to work on his pass blocking. If something were to happen to Bell, Walton seems like the most natural fit in this draft class to replace him in the Steelers’ offense.

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