With the next installment of our mock draft series, we take a deep dive into the AFC North. This division is full of intrigue, containing the bottom-dwelling Cleveland Browns, the perennial powerhouse Steelers, and two teams stuck in the middle.
It seems increasingly likely that Sam Darnold is the pick at number one overall. He has a high ceiling with room to develop, and will not be relied on to be their immediate savior — with Tyrod Taylor as their bridge.
At number four they could trade back or take the best defensive player on the board in Bradley Chubb. That pick would form a defensive line that will give quarterbacks nightmares for years to come.
At the top of the second round they get ball-hawking corner Josh Jackson. While Jackson isn’t a great tackler, he would immediately add playmaking ability to a secondary that desperately needs it.
The retirement of Joe Thomas instantly made tackle a huge need for this team and, while there isn’t a slam dunk first round tackle, there are some guys worth developing in this draft. Thus Kolton Miller is the pick for the Browns in the early second round.
With the last pick of the second round, the Browns select running back Nick Chubb to plug in and be their bell cow. The signing of Carlos Hyde this offseason may force their hand initially but it won’t take them long to realize Chubb is a very nice back.
This class could be the one to turn the Browns franchise around. Outside of quarterback, they have one of the most talented rosters in the league. Now, by bringing in Tyrod Taylor and drafting Sam Darnold, they seem to have a plan and are moving in the right direction.
The Ravens have some talent on their roster but still cannot seem to tie things together to make a playoff push. Their first selection, mocked by nearly every major draft analyst, is Calvin Ridley, the wide receiver from Alabama.
The Alabama–Ozzie Newsome connection runs deep and this could be another great fit. The only obstacle in this selection is that Ridley projects more as a number-two receiver in the NFL than a primary target who can consistently beat double teams. Regardless, Ridley would be an immediate upgrade to their current receiving corps.
The next pick could very easily be used on defense, but in this case they get a tough runner in Kerryon Johnson. He is one of the forgotten guys in this draft and it would not be shocking if he becomes one of the better backs from this loaded running back class. He fits the mold of the tough, hard-nosed player that’s often associated with the Ravens.
In the third round, they get a guy who could very well be gone by the time their pick rolls around. However, if skill players that get pushed up the board, he could fall to Baltimore. Frank Ragnow is a great center prospect and would instantly upgrade the interior of the Ravens’ offensive line.
Outside of the top three rounds, they add some intriguing depth pieces in Norton, Armstrong, and Phillips. This draft would fill some holes on Baltimore’s roster and help them return to the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are an intriguing team. They have a talented roster but also have needs a key positions. For example, their future QB is a serious question mark and their linebacker group is up in the air due to the unfortunate situation surrounding Ryan Shazier.
Their offense could use some improvement, however in this mock we stick to defense and get them some upgrades on that side of the ball. The first round pick is impact player Rahsaan Evans. Evans can fill the void during Shazier’s absence and also be a nice compliment once he returns.
In the second round, the Steelers get a safety who never has to leave the state of Pennsylvania. Marcus Allen is more of a box safety than a free, but he offers some versatility in the defensive backfield.
Quenton Meeks is a long corner from Stanford who seems to being flying under the radar. This is a guy who could start on the outside if he has a strong training camp and keep that spot for years to come.
This would be a strong draft for the Steelers, as it would help solidify them as a perennial Super Bowl contender.
The Bengals come out with a fantastic draft. On paper, this would be one of the best drafts they’ve had, gaining as many as five starters from this class.
James Daniels has Pro Bowl potential as an interior offensive linemen, and can jump right in at center or guard for the Bengals. Ronnie Harrison adds some thump to their secondary and can be their enforcer of the future.
However, the biggest risk of this draft is selecting Arden Key from LSU. Key is seriously talented, but he has his share of concerns. He could be a sensational player and, if he ever puts it all together, his upside is worth the risk.
Michael Gallup is a smaller school guy coming from Colorado State but has drawn comparisons to Michael Thomas. Cincinnati also adds Hamilton who, when healthy, can bolster the linebacker group, and Noteboom who could step in as the swing tackle right away.
Overall this would be an excellent class for the talent-deficient Bengals.
With the draft quickly approaching, stay tuned for the next installment of our mock draft series.
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