Baltimore bludgeoned the AFC North last season, posting an NFL-best 14-2 record. Pittsburgh actually finished second with an even 8-8 record, with the Ravens securing the division title in Week 12. It appears likely they’ll dominate again this season but don’t count out up-and-coming teams like the Browns and Bengals to improve on their disappointing 2019-20 seasons. With that said, let’s get into our AFC North depth preview!
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AFC North Preview and Draft Needs
Lamar Jackson is an absolute stud and Robert Griffin is pretty set as his back-up. They certainly won’t do anything at this position.
Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all remain in town, making this one of the deepest backfields in football. Don’t look for them to do anything here either.
This is where things get really interesting for the Ravens. While Marquise Brown was a breakout in his rookie season, he’s also one of the most volatile players in the league and there’s not much around him. Kenny Stills makes for a nice slot guy but look for the Ravens to sign someone or add a rookie in the draft. Getting weapons for their stud QB should be the focus of this team for years to come. This might be the only position that would keep them from repeating an AFC North title.
Mark Andrews turned into one of the best tight ends in football last season but losing Hayden Hurst was disappointing. This is a team that runs a lot of two-tight end sets and it’s unclear if they want Nick Boyle to be that second guy. That definitely puts this team in the market for another TE, with a veteran like Delanie Walker being a perfect fit.
Baker Mayfield was the focus of a ton of criticism last season but he’ll have a long leash as the Browns starting QB this year. Case Keenum was brought in as his back-up though and could take over if Mayfield struggles again. Don’t look for Cleveland to do anything else at the QB position after that Keenum signing.
Nick Chubb is one of the best backs in football and they chose to put a second-round tender on Kareem Hunt to back him up. If that holds, this backfield is obviously set and is one of the most dangerous in football.
This is where things could get funky. While they are set with Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, there’s a lot of talk that OBJ could be on the move. That would obviously give them a gaping hole at this position and it’s a situation definitely worth monitoring. If they do make that trade, look for them to attempt to land a top pick and replace him with a WR in the draft. This could be the most important development of any of the AFC North teams.
Cleveland chose to make the biggest splash at tight end when free agency broke, scooping Austin Hooper from the Atlanta Falcons. That was a surprising move with David Njoku on the roster, as these two form one of the best TE duos in the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger is expected to make a full recovery from his shoulder issue and he should step in as the starter. Devlin Hodges and Landry Jomes remain under contract, so, they likely won’t do anything at this position despite both of those guys performing terribly last season. If anything, they could try to land a predecessor for Big Ben in the draft but don’t be surprised to see this team compete for an AFC North title behind a healthy Roethlisberger either.
James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell all have four-year deals, making it unlikely that Pittsburgh will do anything at this position either.
Juju Smith-Schuster was one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL last season but he’s still the top guy and should rebound with Big Ben back in the fold. James Washington did thrive though and he makes for a nice number-two. There is a ton of uncertainty at this position though and they’re surely keeping an eye on free agency and the draft for potential wideouts to help out an Antonio Brown-less Roethlisberger.
Vance McDonald remains the top-guy for the Steelers at the tight end position. They did sign Eric Ebron on Friday though and that adds yet another dynamic to this dangerous offense. After that Ebron signing, don’t look for them to do anything more here either.
Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback today but that could change rather quickly. Joe Burrow is expected to be the top pick in the draft and it would be hard to imagine him not starting from day one. Ryan Finley also remains under contract, so, look for Cincy to move Dalton and make Burrow their franchise guy sooner rather than later.
Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard remain the go-to backs in Cincy. These two have quietly been a great duo for years now and they likely won’t make any moves here with serious needs on defense and in their offensive line.
A.J. Green re-signed with the Bengals and he should be fully ready to go after missing most of the 2019 season. While that was a surprising move, he makes for a great trio with Tyler Boyd and John Ross. That doesn’t even take into consideration Auden Tate, making this the Bengals deepest position. Obviously, they probably won’t be adding any wideouts in free agency or the draft. This is a sneaky team in the AFC North behind these talented position players though.
With Tyler Eifert moving on, this a certainly a need for the Bengals. C.J. Uzomah remains under contract but he’s a better option as a complementary tight end. Don’t be surprised to see them add a TE in the draft or make a move in free agency for one to improve at this position.
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