By: Lucas Kochevar
The AFC North is debatably the best division in all of football, even with the Bengals. The Steelers managed to win the division last year, but were bounced from the playoffs by the Browns. Pittsburgh jumped out of the gate and went 11-0, but the wheels fell off. Lets see if Big Ben can run it back one more time before his clock expires. After the Steelers, the Browns would go on to play the Chiefs hard, but ultimately lost it. Cleveland's resurgence was a big storyline last year under first year HC Kevin Stefanski. The biggest question will be whether or not they can build upon their success or will they return to the old Browns? The Ravens advanced past the Titans in the Wild Card round, but bowed out after losing a tough one in Buffalo. This year is a crucial one for former MVP Lamar Jackson. If the Ravens want to take the next step, Lamar has to take that next step as a passer. The Bengals went on to have a losing season for the fifth season in a row. Joe Burrow looks to bounce back after an ugly ACL injury. This division could be a bloodbath as they fight for that spot as the division winner.
Notable Players: WR Ja'Marr Chase, OT Jackson Carman, DE Joseph Ossai, DE Cameron Sample, DT Tyler Shelvin
The Bengals went into last year with the number one overall pick, Joe Burrow, and there were plenty of encouraging signs from the young QB. That was until he tore his ACL after getting folded into. Luckily, he underwent successful surgery and has been showing solid mobility in minicamp. The big question for Cincy was whether or not they would add a lineman or a receiver for Burrow to work with. Personally, I thought they would be best served to go for the trenches and get one of the generational pass protectors in Sewell or Slater. It doesn't matter who is catching the ball if you can't protect the QB. The team decided to do the opposite of my thinking and went with LSU standout WR Ja'Marr Chase. Even though I disagree, I still love Chase and I thought he was the best WR on the board from an all-around standpoint. Chase adds to a dangerous trio of WRs with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. I am super curious to see what HC Zac Taylor can cook up with these weapons. He seems to be on the hot seat, so he better figure it out quickly. Carman is a big, physical lineman that has the tools, but is raw from a skill standpoint. Hopefully, he provides the much needed protection for Burrow. Ossai and Sample are big, but surprisingly athletic for coming off the edge. Ossai is the more gifted out of the two players, but they can both make an impact down the road. Shelvin simply provides more depth for the trenches. Cincinnati shouldn't be a contender for this upcoming year, but they should work to get their young players on the field for experience.
Notable Players: WR Rashod Bateman, DE Odafe Oweh, OG Ben Cleveland, WR Tylan Wallace, CB Shaun Wade
Baltimore has an incredible draft history full of steals and great value picks. I think they did another sneaky great job at adding talent while addressing certain needs they have. They managed to have two first round picks after trading Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. With their first original pick, they drafted Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman. He's a receiver that has a great catch radius and goes to the opposite side of Marquise Brown. Another weapon for Lamar to work with. Odafe Oweh is an edge that could have been drafted earlier, but the Ravens find themselves taking him at the end of the first round. The Ravens defensive line is getting older so Oweh comes in as a fresh young guy that can learn in a great position. Ben Cleveland is an absolute unit and can be a game-changer in the run game as a crazy athletic lineman. Tylan Wallace is another receiver and was a stud throughout the draft process. Wallace finds himself in a great situation and can provide upside when he gets the shot. I think his best spot would be in the slot. Two years ago, Shaun Wade was an integral part of Ohio State's defense, but due to a down year, he fell way down the draft boards. Wade could return to form and become one of the best steals, but for now, he's likely a special teams guy. The Ravens have a big year ahead of them and I could see them rising to the occasion.
Notable Players: RB Najee Harris, TE Pat Freiermuth, OG Kendrick Green, OT Dan Moore Jr., LB Buddy Johnson
The Steelers flamed out in the Wild Card round as they couldn't build any sort of momentum after starting 11-0. In the most Pittsburgh way possible, they selected a hard nose RB and TE. I will, gladly, go on record when saying that I strongly dislike these first two picks. It's not because of the players themselves, but I felt the Steelers were in great position to take really solid linemen. They addressed those positions, but it's risky to bet on middle rounds to find starters. Anyways, Harris was an Alabama standout and was super versatile in his role with Bama. He fills a hole left by James Conner. Harris is likely better today, even as a rookie. Harris was the best RB in this class and should be a foundation piece for the Steelers success on offense this year. Freiermuth is a pure tight end. He can catch just as good as he can block. He likely won't be a big contributor in his first year, but he can be a solid starter for a long time in the league. Green and Moore are athletic freaks for their size. They hope to take over some starting spots for players leaving. The offensive line will be huge for the Steelers successes and offense. These two could be the key to unlocking their potential. Buddy Johnson plays with power and could fill the void where Bud Dupree was. Big Ben has about one or two more runs left in his body so the Steeles have a small window to win before they have to commit to finding a long-term option. This team is fascinating and I want to see if they can bounce back after being fraudulent last year.
Notable Players: CB Greg Newsome II, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, WR Anthony Schwartz, OT James Hudson III
The Browns killed this draft. The Cleveland hype train is going to be leaving the station soon and I might be on it. Baker Mayfield will be the key to the Browns if they want to elevate to Super Bowl contenders. However, the defense will be the overall unit that needs to improve from last year. With a squad that includes Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, they should be better than what they were. They decided to load up on that side of the ball with this draft. Greg Newsome is one of the more physical CBs in the draft and he adds on to a solid secondary group. Owusu-Koamoah fell down the boards and it was really confusing on draft night. Sadly, it was found out that he has some heart condition that got flagged. I sincerely hope that this isn't an issue moving forward. He's one of the better playmakers on defense when he's at full strength. JOK could be a versatile chess piece for the Browns. Anthony Schwartz is the one pick that is slightly confusing because the Browns WR room is very busy, but he has track speed. He could be the fastest player on that offense now. Hudson is a mammoth of a man and provides depth. He could slide into a starting role someday. The Browns ascension will be a major storyline this year. They have a long road ahead of them that includes Pittsburgh and Baltimore.