NFL Draft 2021: AFC North Team Needs

Story posted April 13, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Jonathan Draeger

The AFC North provided some great football last season, with three teams entering postseason play.

But the offseason provided fatal for some teams in this division. With the salary cap lowering by $10 million and the hectic free agency the league is currently experiencing, the AFC North teams have holes to fill with the draft coming up soon.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens ended their season with an exit in the AFC divisional round. As their season ended, many players saw ways to exit Baltimore.

The defense has depth on their roster to fill in the gaps, but the offense needs more work if they want to succeed with quarterback Lamar Jackson. The rise of tailback J.K. Dobbins filled that role, but the Ravens need to find another threat on the outside to complement Marquise Brown.

Baltimore did acquire Sammy Watkins in free agency, but the team missed out on prime players like T.Y. Hilton and Juju Smith-Schuster. The fear of Jackson running around the field and hesitating to launch the ball downfield may have caused receivers to stray away from Baltimore.

The draft may help the Ravens find a great talent, whether on the outside or in the slot, to take some pressure off Brown. The extra help may help expand the playbook a little more to a balanced attack, something Baltimore needs to get back to.

Cincinnati Bengals

With Joe Burrow as the cornerstone of the franchise’s future, the Bengals need to keep him protected at all costs. This past season, the team failed to do so, which resulted him being sacked numerous times and ended his season with a knee injury.

This is a long-winded way of saying that the offensive line needs major improvements. As the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, offensive lineman Penei Sewell from Oregon could fit very well into the system with his sheer strength and quickness off the line.

This won’t be an immediate fix, but Cincinnati would be taking a step in the right direction by drafting a lineman in the first round. If they want long term success, they need to keep their star protected in the pocket constantly to provide more opportunities to push the ball down the field.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland is entering the 2021 season coming off their best season in a long time. After that year to remember, some changes on defense occurred, especially in the secondary.

The team ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed last season, which was part of the main culprit for some of their closer games. The cornerbacks have brand names, but the depth still needs work to aid them towards the top of the division.

The rest of the team has their needs filled, but the Browns adding depth in the cornerback position may provide a spark of lockdown defense and intense man coverage pressure to throw receivers off their routes. The depth can help bury the notion that “the Browns are the Browns”.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Coming of a disastrous 6 game stretch to end the season, many familiar faces retired or tested the waters of free agency due to the salary cap. Their biggest loss came in the offensive line with Maurkice Pouncey calling it a career after their Wild Card loss to Cleveland.

The Steelers, with quarterback Ben Roethelisberger on his rumored farewell tour, need to find more offensive lineman to get into the trenches to protect their captain and get back to the gritty run game that they desperately need to be successful.

The offensive line is getting old, but youthful pieces will aid in the long run if the team wants to prevent a total rebuild. This will help the quarterbacks after Roethelisberger and the running back room from getting pounded in the backfield, which happened constantly and forced the offense to become stagnant with quick throws on short routes.

As the draft approaches, teams start to scramble together to create a plan to benefit their team for a Super Bowl run. They may consider this advice to help their depth chart and locker room chemistry.

Jonathan Draeger is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at jrd6052@psu.edu.