We are a little over a month out from the NFL draft and the initial free-agency frenzy has passed. Now, would be a good time to take a look around the NFL and see “What’s next?” for all 32 NFL Teams starting with the AFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers: (12-4), Offense (24th) Defense (3rd)
Key Losses: Bud Dupree, Maurkice Pouncey, Steven Nelson, Vince Williams, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, Alejandro Villanueva, Avery Williamson
Key Additions/Retentions: Ben Roethlisberger, Juju Smith-Schuster, BJ Finney, Joe Haeg
Draft Picks: (24th Selection) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, Comp 4th, Buccaneers 6th, Dolphins 7th, Ravens 7th
The Steelers aren’t having the offseason they need to repeat as division champs in a tough AFC North. The defense suffered a huge loss with Bud Dupree leaving for Tennessee in free agency, their eight-game rental of Avery Williamson has expired, they’ve lost two rotation corners and released Vince Williams to free cap space.
On offense, the Steelers managed to retain Juju Smith-Schuster with his personality in tow, and Big Ben is coming back for another season. With that being said, James Conner is a free agent and is not expected to return after the Steelers had the worst rush offense in the NFL last season. So what do the Steelers need? A lot, with a big chunk of the roster falling as cap casualties, Big Ben doesn’t have the team around him to win another ring in Pittsburgh and the Steelers don’t have the money or draft capital to fill those holes now. Going into the draft, if the Steelers aren’t willing to move up to take Ben’s replacement, their next biggest need is the offensive line. The entire starting left side of the Steelers’ offensive line moved on from the team this off-season. If some of those holes aren’t filled, Roethlisberger will be under pressure all season and the 24th-ranked offense could fall farther.
Summary: Protect Big Ben since he’s apparently coming back.
Baltimore Ravens: (11-5) Offense (19th) Defense (7th)
Key Losses: Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Willie Snead, Mark Ingram, Dez Bryant
Key Additions/Retentions: Calais Campbell, Kevin Zeitler, Nick Boyle, Tyus Bowser, Derek Wolfe, Gus Edwards
Draft Picks: (27th selection) 1st, 2nd, Comp 3rd, 4th, 5th, Comp 5th, 6th
In 2020, the Ravens had the worst pass offense in the NFL with only 2,919 yards through the air. However,the team was first in the NFL in rushing offense with more than 3,000 yards on the ground.
In the playoffs, Buffalo was able to completely neutralize Baltimore’s attack as they weren’t able to put up a touchdown, falling to the Bills 17-3. Another weapon in the Ravens’ offense could give them that push they need in the passing game. The Ravens offered T.Y. Hilton a three-year, $16M dollar contract before he decided to re-sign with the Colts.
The Ravens have shown they are willing to make a play for an upper-mid-tier receiver and getting another weapon on offense would help push Lamar Jackson’s game to another level. We saw what one star receiver can do for a quarterback with Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen up in Buffalo. With a weapon almost as good as Diggs, the Ravens could see a similar leap from their quarterback. This year’s draft class is loaded with receiver talent and there are guys like Antonio Brown, Sammy Watkins, and Adam Humphries still available in free agency. Bringing in one of these vets, along with rookie talent, could diversify this offense and give it the firepower it needs to take over the division.
Summary: Get Lamar a WEAPON.
Cleveland Browns: (11-5) Offense (16th) Defense (17th)
Key Losses: Olivier Vernon, Larry Ogunjobi
Key Additions/Retentions: John Johnson, Troy Hill, Takkarist McKinley, Cody Parkey
Draft Picks: (26th Selection) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Saints 3rd, Eagles 4th, 4th, Rams 5th, 6th, Bills 7th.
The Cleveland Browns made the playoffs with an average-performing team thanks to great coaching on behalf of first-year man, Kevin Stefanski, who won NFL Coach of the Year.
With Odell Beckham Jr. coming back healthy, this Browns’ offense should only develop more in the near future as they find his role within the system.
On the defensive side of the ball, they did a good job adding John Johnson at safety to shore up the back end. However, the front seven in that defense needs a couple more playmakers whether it be an edge rusher to fit in opposite of Myles Garrett, or a linebacker that can command and control the field.
There are still some solid free-agent linebackers available on the market that the Browns could make a play at. This year’s draft also sports some solid edge rushers so whether the Browns go the draft route or free agency, they need to help their front seven get to the quarterback.
Most great sack leaders in the league have a counterpart across from them — Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (who’s now a free agent), T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt in Pittsburgh, and Aaron Donald has Leonard Floyd. If the Browns want Garrett to be a year-in, year-out, 15+ sack guy, they need to get him another solid pass rusher.
Summary: Get Myles Garrett his Robin.
Cincinnati Bengals: (4-11-1) Offense (29th) Defense (26th)
Key Losses: Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson, William Jackson III, A.J. Green, Randy Bullock, Bobby Hart, John Ross
Key Additions/Retentions: Trey Hendrickson, Riley Reiff, Chidobe Awuzie, Larry Ogunjobi, Mike Hilton
Draft Picks: (5th selection) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, Dolphins 6th, Lions 7th
Head coach Zac Taylor landed a special talent at quarterback during last year’s draft in Joe Burrow. It wasn’t very long before morbid offensive-line play resulted in a freak leg injury to the rookie quarterback and his season cut short.
Quarterback play directly determines winning in the NFL. If you can’t protect your guy running the offense, your offense isn’t getting very far. Don’t get me wrong, the Bengals are a complete rebuild and have holes at nearly every single position, but first things first — strengthening their offensive line. The Bengals picked up Riley Reiff in free agency, which should help with a veteran presence on the line, but there are four other guys that need to be working in sync. Either drafting or signing a couple more starters on the line would pay exponential dividends for this Bengals team. I think the Bengals could also “protect” Burrow by giving him at least one more target out on the field. If he’s not going to have time to throw, at least give him a target. The idea of Jamarr Chase and Burrow reuniting in Cincinnati is a fun one to entertain and I would not count it out until after the draft.
Summary: Protect your future (Burrow).