Fixing the AFC North: 2 more quarterbacks join the division
By: Erik Hindenburg
Welcome to part 2 of my series Fixing Your Team: Division By Division! This is an 8-part series where I break down how I would fix all 32 teams with their draft selections on the first 3 rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. This is not a prediction of what I think the team will do, but how I would fix it. This series does not account for trades, so whatever draft selections the team currently has, that’s what this is based off. Last time it was the AFC South, let’s break down the AFC North.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens will be a dramatically different team moving forward with Lamar Jackson fully entrenched as the starting quarterback. Greg Roman as the new Offensive Coordinator is a good thing, as he orchestrated the offense during the 49’ers Super Bowl run with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. The Ravens desperately need to improve the skill positions on offense, and the defense is facing some questions as hard decisions as some big names are aging on big contracts. The future is bright in Baltimore, but if they want to repeat as division champions in 2019, the first draft without Ozzie Newsome needs to be a good one with multiple rookie contributors. Here are the players I believe they should target in the first three rounds:
Rd.1- K’Neal Harry, WR. Harry going here may be considered a reach by some, but lacking a second round pick means finding a playmaker here. Lamar Jackson is a crazy talent, but he is probably never going to be a pinpoint accurate passer, particularly outside the numbers. His strength as a passer has been over the middle since his days at Louisville. Enter K’Neal Harry, a big bodied receiver with an outrageous catch radius. His highlight reel of ridiculous catches is full of plays no player on the Ravens can currently make. He may drop a few gimmie passes occasionally, but has reliable hands overall and the ability to change a game. A player like Harry will make Jackson look more accurate outside the numbers and be his number one target over the middle by the end of the season.
Rd.3- Charles Omenihu, EDGE. Charles Omenihu could fly up the draft board, but right now I think its possible he is still here. This list is “ideal” after all. Omenihu had a monster senior season for Texas, racking up 18 sacks. Listed at 6’6, 276lbs, he can be a versatile chess piece, lining up at defensive end or spelling Terrell Suggs at times.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are in murky waters right now. Missing the playoffs, drama surrounding Leveon Bell and Antonio Bryant, neither of whom will play for the organization again, a soft defense, and aging quarterback who will end up wearing a gold jacket but has no problems throwing teammates publicly under the bus is a recipe for major changes this offseason. I personally believe this past season should have ended Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach, not because he’s a bad coach but because the locker room simply needs a change. Missing the playoffs again would lead to his firing in all likelihood. Here is how I would attempt to get the Steelers back to the playoffs in 2019, and beyond:
Rd.1- Deandre Baker, CB. The Steelers of been trying for years to shore up a secondary that has been a weak spot for this defense. That trend likely continues in 2019, and Deandre Baker is a very good football player. Joe Haden is in a decline of physical ability, and Coty Sensabaugh isn’t very inspiring. Former 1st round pick Artie Burns can’t crack the starting lineup. Deandre Baker is a week one starter for this team, and should be a building block for years to come on the back end.
Rd.2- Will Grier, QB. Tempting it may be to go receiver here, the Steelers have had plenty of success with later round guys and even sans Antonio Bryant, it’s not a weak position group. Ben Roethlisberger has flirted with retirement a few times now, and has certainly made a reputation for rubbing players the wrong way. Josh Dobbs is never going to be more than a backup, and Mason Rudolph was wildly overdrafted. Grier can be a true quarterback of the future. He plays with a confidence that will fit right in with JuJu, and his strengths fit the Steelers style of offense pretty well.
Rd. 3- TJ Edwards, ILB. As heartbreaking as Ryan Shazier’s injury was, and as admirable as his goal to play football again, his absence needs to be filled. TJ Edwards isn’t the athlete that Shazier was, but he is a smart and instinctive linebacker with solid tackling and decent ball skills in coverage. He would be an upgrade over Jon Bostic going forward, and is tremendous value at this spot.
Cleveland Browns: It is a new era Brown’s fans! I am legitimately happy for the fanbase to finally have a competitive team to cheer for. The Browns should expect to compete for a division title next season. As optimistic as things as things seem in Cleveland, the roster still needs upgrading throughout. Here is how I would approach the Draft if I was in control of the Browns:
Rd.1- Trayvon Mullen, CB. Cleveland has a very good defensive core with a bright future. Giving Denzel Ward a true partner across the field will only elevate the secondary even more. Mullen is a corner with good athleticism, size and ball skills with the talent to be a pro bowl type player.
Rd.2- - Dexter Lawrence, DT. I think that drug tests hurts Lawrence pretty significantly, particularly since his play hasn’t been as strong as expected this past season. However, he is a colossal human being, with rare power and athleticism to complement his 6’4, 345lb frame. A defensive line consisting of Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Dexter Lawrence and Emmanuel Ogbah is a very good front.
Rd.3- Andy Isabella, WR. Patrick Mahomes has Tyreek Hill, Jared Goff has Brandin Cooks, and Baker Mayfield deserves Andy Isabella. I’m not saying that Isabella is the next Hill, I AM saying he’s a lot closer to Hill as a player than the lazy Edelman comps I keep seeing. Isabella is lightning quick in and out of cuts, and he’s going to be in competition for the fastest 40 time by a receiver at the combine. He dropped a few passes in Mobile, but his explosiveness and ability to get open bring a new dynamic to the Browns’ offense.
Rd.3- Bobby Evans, OT. If Evans is still available here, Baker Mayfield should be doing cartwheels at home, or on a yacht or whatever. Evans has some glaring technique issues that need fixed, and there will be a learning curve for him, but he projects as a starting left tackle. Greg Robinson just should not be a starter in this league. Evans likely needs to be a backup swing tackle as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be a great shock to see him overtake Greg Robinson in time for the Brown’s return to the playoffs this season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Finally the Bengals fans get the changes they have wanted for years. After another disappointing season, Marvin Lewis is out and Zac Taylor is (assumed) in as Head Coach. The Bengals are not without talent, AJ Green is a hall of famer, Mixon looks to be a good back, and there are pieces on the defense. Not to sugarcoat things, this just isn’t a very good football team right now, and there are significant holes across the roster. Here is how I would start the rebuild in rounds 1-3 of the 2019 NFL Draft:
Rd.1- Kyler Murray, QB. The Bengals can move on from Andy Dalton without any penalty, and they absolutely should. Zac Taylor is known for his work with quarterbacks, and here he gets his guy for the franchise. Murray is an electric talent, with the arm to make every throw and the speed to outrun defensive backs. The concerns about his size aren’t going away, but neither is his potential to be unique in what he brings to an offense. Bengals fans, Kyler Murray should be your quarterback of the future.
Rd.2- Devin Bush, LB. The Bengals linebackers need upgraded in the worst of ways, making Devin Bush being available right here much easier to accept passing on Devin White in round 1. Bush is an ultra athletic, sideline to sideline defender who will fill the run gaps and hold his own in coverage. Bush is a likely Pro Bowl player with development and fills a huge need on the defensive side of the ball.
Rd.3- Josh Oliver, TE. The Bengals cannot continue to rely on Tyler Eifert to stay healthy, or assume he will be the same player after so many major injuries. Josh Oliver is a productive and athletic player who has the skillset to produce early in his rookie season. Having a big and reliable target over the middle is huge for a rookie quarterback, and Oliver makes sense here.
There it folks, my attempt at fixing each team in AFC North through the first three rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. Tell me what you love, what you hate, and what you think is so stupid you can’t believe I wrote it. I welcome any and all feedback @HindenburgScout. Next up, the AFC East!