With the 2015 NFL Draft fast approaching, Bucky Brooks is breaking down the biggest areas of need for every team in the NFL, division by division. Below is his look at the AFC North. (NOTE: Click on tabs to see other divisions; click on team names to see a full list of draft picks.)
Biggest needs: Receiver, tight end, cornerback.
General manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff are masters at identifying blue-chip players at various stages of the draft. The Ravens consistently land Pro Bowl-caliber talent in the early rounds, which is essential to remaining a title contender in today's game. Losing receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones via free agency has created a huge void in the team's passing attack. Baltimore could use a big-bodied pass catcher, such as Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham or UCF's Breshad Perriman, to help Joe Flacco take more shots in coordinator Marc Trestman's offense. With Owen Daniels' departure to the Denver Broncos and Dennis Pitta's durability a major question, Baltimore will likely look to snag a tight end. But this is an underwhelming class; only one, Minnesota's Maxx Williams, stands out as a possible first-rounder, while Miami's Clive Walford is more likely a Day 2 pick. If the Ravens decide to address this need later on, they might target a big-bodied weapon like Penn State's Jesse James. On defense, LSU's Jalen Collins, Washington's Marcus Peters and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson would add much-needed depth to the secondary.
Biggest needs: Offensive tackle, receiver, safety.
The Bengals have quietly assembled one of the most talented rosters in the league through clever drafting and impressive player development. That said, they still have areas to tighten up, including the safety spot. With Reggie Nelson entering his ninth season, don't be surprised if Marvin Lewis and Co. go after a ball-hawk to shore up the back end. Alabama's Landon Collins is the crown jewel of the 2015 class; he would give Lewis the rangy, playmaker he covets in the middle of the field. Offensively, the Bengals need to put together a succession plan for Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. The veteran, who's played his entire nine-year career with Cincinnati, could help groom a developmental prospect like Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi or Stanford's Andrus Peat to eventually take over. After injuries decimated the Bengals' receiving corps down the stretch last season, the team might target a young pass catcher in the early rounds. Miami's Phillip Dorsett and Kansas State's Tyler Lockett are electric slot receivers, while USC's Nelson Agholor would be an ideal WR2 to pair with A.J. Green on the perimeter.
Biggest needs: Receiver, offensive tackle, tight end.
After getting minimal production from their pair of 2014 first-round picks (Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel), the Browns must nail each of their two Day 1 selections this year to keep pace in the AFC North. Despite facing public pressure to pick up a quarterback, the Browns would be wise to keep adding talent around the position, to ensure success for the eventual starter. An electric playmaker like Jaelen Strong or Louisville's DeVante Parker could provide the team with a No. 1 receiver for the future, but landing a big-play threat like Phillip Dorsett or Ohio State's Devin Smith on Day 2 might be a better value play. The loss of Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron puts the team in the market for a dynamic threat over the middle. Maxx Williams and Clive Walford could fill the role, and both could be available on Day 2. The Browns might also look to upgrade their offensive line with a rugged edge blocker like LSU's La'el Collins or Miami's Ereck Flowers.
Biggest needs: Cornerback, safety, tight end.
Coach Mike Tomlin is on record as stating the Steelers' offense should rank as one of the best units in football, but he must retool a defense that's reeling from the loss of several key veterans this offseason. The secondary in particular must be addressed, after the recentretirements of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. Marcus Peters, Kevin Johnson and Jalen Collins are long, rangy cover corners that fit the Steelers' mold. At safety, Landon Collins is certainly on the wish list, but the team could target a combo player like Utah's Eric Rowe or USC's Josh Shaw to fill multiple roles in the back end. Tight end Heath Miller is nearing the end of a solid career, and the Steelers don't yet have a viable replacement in the pipeline. Maxx Williams, Clive Walford and Jesse James are all potential options.