Well during our trip in the north, we go into the AFC’s side of the north. For the longest time, this division has been a three team dogfight, one in which Cleveland has not been apart of for a decade and a half. Can Cleveland stop the bleeding and make the team a winning challenger in the north? Will Cincinnati finally prove it can win not only the division, but a playoff game? And can Pittsburgh and Baltimore get over the hump they have been on and make sure that their rivalry is the only one that decides who wins the north? How will all these teams do that in the draft? Well we find out here with my official NFL Draft Outlook for the AFC North.
- Cincinnati Bengals
2015 Record: 12-4 (1st in division)
Playoffs: Lost in Wild Card Round ( Finished 3rd in conference)
Analysis: Cincinnati was dealt a bad hand. First they were rolling into the postseason with a pretty strong team and didn’t really need to do a lot to win the division. Then they played Pittsburgh in week 14, and both Tyler Eifert and Andy Dalton both went down. After that, Cincy wasn’t the same and it hurt them in their playoff game against divisional rival Pittsburgh. Now while Cincy didn’t lose a lot in the free agency period, they did lose their second primary receiver in Marvin Jones, who is now in Detroit. But that might not be the Striped Cats of the North only issue: they need to have an insurance policy at quarterback. Now this is no knock against Dalton, but if he gets hurt again, they cannot afford to let that position be their crutch. They need to find a quarterback, even if its in the later rounds that can atleast replicate a small amount of what Dalton can.
Draft Picks: 24th in the 1st round, 55th in the 2nd round, 87th in the third round.
Draft Players to Watch: Matt Johnson, Quarterback, Bowling Green. Now this pick should come in the 3rd or later round, but if I’m Cincinnati, they need to pick him up as the immediate backup to Dalton. While he isn’t the fastest guy out of the pocket, the guy has an arm that doesn’t quit. His precision is crisp and he is a definite steal for any team that gets him. Also with AJ Green as your long ball catcher, Johnson could step in if Dalton gets injured and you need someone to carry the team in the playoffs and beyond.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
2015 Record: 10 -6 (2nd in Division)
Playoffs: Lost in Divisional Round ( Finished 6th in Conference)
Analysis: Well, Pittsburgh owes me money. I went into the playoffs betting they would be the team to win the AFC playoffs. And after the Wild Card game, I was right. Until they went up against Denver and got smacked around. But that was the past, lets focus on the future. Pittsburgh doesn’t really need a lot this year, due to the fact that a majority of the things they did lose they replaced. While they lost Heath Miller, they gained Ladarius Green from San Diego. If anything, they need to focus on the defensive line and linebacker corps as they need to make their defense as much of a threat as their offense is.
Draft Picks: 25th in 1st round, 58th in 2nd round, 89th in 3rd round.
Draft Player to Watch: Charles Tapper, DT, Oklahoma. If Pittsburgh gets this pick, they will win the division every year. He is a perfect compliment to the defense they are trying to build in the Steel City. His speed off the line is remarkable, and while he may have not been a standout at the past NFL Combine, his skills while at Oklahoma were more than enough to make him a first round pick.
2015 Record: 5 – 11 (3rd in Division)
Playoffs: Did Not Qualify ( Finished 13th in Conference)
Analysis: This team had a lot of issues last year. Lost a majority of its games by eight points or less. Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Justin Forsett and Terrell Suggs all have season – ending injuries. On top of that, they ended the season with a ridiculous twenty-two players on the sidelines due to injury. On top of that, young cornerback Tray Walker passed away after a motorcycle accident. Baltimore is one of the few teams that can turn tragedy into triumph and lord knows they will be playing for Tray this year as they look to win the division and a Super Bowl. Now they come into the draft with two big pick ups as they signed safety Eric Weddle and wide receiver Mike Wallace to compliment both sides of the ball. But what can they add to the team to win a third Super Bowl championship?
Draft Picks: 6th in the 1st round, 36th in the 2nd round, 70th in the 3rd round.
Draft Players to Watch: Mike Hilton, CB, Ole Miss. Now this pick isn’t because of Tray, but rather I had this pick in mind before his unfortunate passing. Hilton could be a pickup that will add strength to the defense, which it needs in the backfield with who they play in the division. Now he is special due to the fact that he plays more of a up close nickel, which allows Baltimore to throw more complex blitzes at an offense. Another thing that makes him dangerous is despite his size, he has a nose for the ball and can get up and tip the ball away from receivers who are trying to make that big play on 3rd down and more.
2015 Record: 3 – 13 (4th in division)
Playoffs: Did Not Qualify ( Finished 15th in Conference)
Analysis: So apparently, when it comes to the city of Cleveland, in football terms, fire sale is the new black. This team is essentially pulling a Philadelphia Eagles and purging everyone off the team. Johnny Manziel? Gone. Travis Benjamin? Gone to the San Diego Chargers. Alex Mack? Now in Atlanta. This team is an even more empty shell of a team than it was last year, and with only 10 picks in the draft and no one of great importance coming to the team, they need something to at least build towards. Does that mean they take ANOTHER quarterback that is supposedly going to be their franchise qb? Do they sign Robert Griffin III or trade a pick for Colin Kaepernick to be their future? And what about Josh Gordon? Cleveland is on an exciting time but no one knows whether it will be a good or bad exciting, its like watching an episode of Arrow and praying that the show turns out good.
Draft Picks: 2nd in the 1st round, 32nd in the second round, 65th in the third round.
Draft Players to Watch: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State, Jay Lee, WR, Baylor, and Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia. In that exact order. No, seriously, Cleveland needs to get those three exactly. Cook has the size and arm talent you need if you are even thinking about being relevant in the AFC North. While he doesn’t have the greatest deep ball, its good enough to where he can make a game winner if need be. Now he will need some development and an corps built around him and thats where Jay Lee comes in. While he isn’t the biggest wideout, he is quick and can compliment Cook because Cook didnt play at MSU with big receivers, and he made them stars. Lee’s ability to separate in traffic also helps as Cleveland is going to have to pass more in this division if they want to win. Finally, Marshall makes the most sense here because he is a bruiser of a running back and will hurt an offensive line trying to stop him. Plus, he can move will as a pass catcher which is desperately needed in Cleveland.
So that is my outlook for the AFC North, and hopefully they go along these lines because the proof is in the pudding. Cleveland needs a offensive nucleus, Cincy needs a legitimate backup, Pittsburgh needs more strength on the D-line and Baltimore needs help on the defensive backfield.
Now come back next week as we leave the north and head down south and check out the ever changing landscape that is the AFC South.