Ya bored yet?
As meaningful NFL content is scarce right now, I offer the first of a series of AFC North mock drafts. I don’t know if one mock draft qualifies as a “series”, but this may well turn out to be the case. We’ll have to see if any of our beloved AFC North teams swaps their draft position, which may necessitate a redo, but for now, we’ll go with the current draft order and realistic possibilities. As team needs and tendencies have been long established, I think we’ll see few surprises.
Draft position: #5
Team needs: OT, WR, LB, DL
Now deeply mired in a rebuild, the Bengals have a lot of needs, but also a few internal solutions. Their flexibility at #5 is vast, and it remains a possibility they’ll trade down for additional picks if a QB-needy team still sees one available at #5. That said, the Bengals generally stick to their draft position and almost always draft for need, so the onus is on team brass to discern which needs demand first-round attention. The two names most associated with the Bengals are LT Penei Sewell (Oregon) and WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU); either would provide an instant upgrade to their respective depth charts. Sewell seems like the sort of transformational player that could anchor the left side of the OL for a decade or more, while Chase, QB Joe Burrow’s college teammate, provides the sort of versatility and game-breaking potential QBs crave from their receiving corps, but rarely see.
The pick: LT Penei Sewell (Oregon). For a franchise that saw its prized rookie quarterback lose almost half his season to injury and get hit far too often, Sewell is the only pick that makes real sense. The Bengals’ only Hall of Fame player is retired LT Anthony Munoz, who’s not a bad model for Sewell to follow.
Draft position: #24
Team needs: TE, RB, C, OT
It’s not a slight to say the Steelers’ rushing attack has been lacking recently. Since the well-publicized narcissism of former Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell required excising him from the roster two years ago, the Steelers have been reduced to trotting out oft-injured James Conner, inconsistent Benny Snell Jr. and diminutive Anthony McFarland Jr. among others, none of whom provided the consistency and effectiveness of Bell (although one should, in fairness, also note Bell’s marked lack of production since leaving the team). The offensive strategy of the Steelers has centered around keeping QB Ben Roethlisberger upright with quick releases and hot routes, so a degraded rushing attack hasn’t helped much, as it robs the offense of the ability to effectively run play-action and motion sets. Of course, upgrades to the offensive line (primarily at C and T) are needed for the same reasons, and a more effective TE/safety valve for Roethlisberger, while perhaps not a primary need, would be a large plus for the aging QB.
The pick: RB Najee Harris (Alabama). Much like current NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, another Alabama alum, Harris possesses good speed but greater size (6’2″, 230 lbs), and could effectively provide the consistent bruising presence the Steelers have lacked in the backfield since the retirement of former standout RB Jerome Bettis.
Draft position: #26
Team needs: ILB, EDGE, CB, S
It’s a bit of a tossup regarding defensive needs, but there’s little argument about the Browns drafting for defense in general, as they have one of the most complete offensive rosters in the NFL. The defensive stockpile certainly isn’t bare and sports a few standouts, like uber-EDGE Myles Garrett and CB Denzel Ward (when healthy). The problem for the Browns has been a glaring lack of consistency from the lesser defenders they’ve employed, like Garrett’s counterpart in 2020, the now-departed Olivier Vernon, or third-year CB Greedy Williams, who spent all of 2020 injured (shoulder impingement). The team needs more depth and flexibility on defense, and players like Williams and returning S Grant Delpit haven’t proven they can be counted on to simply be available yet. EDGE seems to be the lone area that can, if played effectively, upgrade the rest of the defense by domino effect, so…
The pick: EDGE Azeez Ojulari (Georgia). Ojulari is long, explosive and versatile enough to drop into coverage if need be. The Browns may be tempted to trade up to get him, as his skills are highly in demand, and there’s little question he’d shine immediately playing opposite Garrett.
Draft position: #27
Team needs: WR, OL, EDGE, TE
For all the grousing about Baltimore’s anemic passing attack, the fact remains that QB Lamar Jackson and company win games at a better pace than most, even if it hasn’t translated into sustained playoff success. Their success is obviously due to their multi-faceted running game and Jackson’s unpredictability, forcing one to ask – is a #1 WR really a necessity when the rest of the offense works this well? The better route might be to draft an offensive lineman – interior or exterior – to ensure Jackson remains protected, because, obviously, safer QBs are more effective. EDGE would seem to be a priority on a defense that lost several candidates at the position, but the team seems content to wait until June 1 cap casualties are determined to sign a veteran. TE remains a possibility, but given the talent dropoff at the position after all-world TE Kyle Pitts is selected, they’ll probably wait until round 3 at the earliest to address the position.
The pick: OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan). Given the uncertainty of RT Orlando Brown Jr.’s trade demand and prospects, the Ravens would do well to bolster the line overall with Brown’s potential replacement. Mayfield is versatile enough to play on the interior also, which would be a great advantage should Brown move on either in either 2021 or 2022.
Good luck, folks. Here’s hoping your team improves.