Draft Needs - AFC North (04/24/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
NFL Team Needs – AFC North edition

The NFL Draft, which begins on April 30, is fast approaching. Every team hopes to use their picks to fill a position of need. In the days leading up to the draft we will evaluate each team's biggest needs, greatest strengths and the best case scenario for the draft.

To objectively answer many questions related to the NFL including how to rank individual units and at exactly which positions teams can and should improve, we assign impact scores for every current NFL starter.

The impact score is a grade on a 0-10 scale based on a player's expected overall positive contribution at their current ages and relative to position. In the score, a seven or above can generally outperform a replacement player in the NFL at his position; an eight or above can be expected to start and a player with a rating over nine is a unique, standout player who stars.

AFC North – click for NFC East, AFC East, NFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top needs: Cornerback, Safety, Defensive Tackle

Greatest Strength: Skill Positions

There is a three-headed monster, Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, in the Steel City. Pittsburgh has the only trio of quarterback, running back and wide receiver to all have an impact score of 9.0 or greater out of 10 or higher. The Steelers return every starter on offense this season and are likely to challenge for the league lead in most offensive categories.

Best Case Scenario:

The old guard is gone, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor won't be donning the black and gold next fall. That is a good thing for a Pittsburgh defense that ranked 30th in defensive passing efficiency last season. Still, the Steelers need a good draft to repair one of the league's worst secondaries.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top needs: Defensive Line, Linebacker, Secondary

Greatest Strength: Offensive Line

Andy Dalton has enjoyed playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football. The Bengals are anchored by 2014 Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth who has an impact score of 9.4 out of 10. Cincinnati's line allowed the third fewest sacks (23) and the least amount of quarterback pressures (104) in 2014.

Best Case Scenario:

The Bengals appear to be aware of their greatest draft needs. Of their 30 official visits or workouts, Cincy met with nine offensive linemen, five linebackers and four defensive linemen per NFLDraftScout.com. By our analysis the Bengals should focus on the defensive front seven as they are desperate to generate a pass rush after totaling 20 sacks last season, the fewest in the league.

Baltimore Ravens

Top needs: Corner, Receiver, Defensive Line

Greatest Strength: Offensive Line

The offensive line for Joe Flacco continues to improve. Before last season Baltimore's line ranked 11th in the NFL, now the Ravens have the fifth best offensive line in the league. The big guys up front allowed Flacco to be sacked a career low 19 times. The line helped Justin Forsett, an unknown eighth year player, become the fifth leading rusher in the league. The best news for Ravens' fans, the top seven offensive linemen return for next season.

Best Case Scenario:

The Ravens need help in the passing game on both sides of the ball. The secondary brought little to the table last season because of injuries to starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Ladarius Webb. The secondary has two below average starters and is the worst unit on the team. Torrey Smith left in free agency and Steve Smith will be 36 years old next season creating a need at receiver. With ten draft picks, including six in the fourth and fifth rounds, Baltimore should be able to address multiple team needs.

Cleveland Browns

Top needs: Defensive Line, Quarterback, Running Back

Greatest Strength: Offensive Line

We gushed about the lines in Cincinnati and Baltimore but the talent in Cleveland puts them to shame. Future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas has an impact score of 9.3 out of 10, rookie guard Joel Bitonio shined in his first year (impact score of 9.0 out of 10) and the rest of the line features above average starters. The Browns should be even better in 2015 with Pro Bowl center Alex Mack healthy.

Best Case Scenario:

Cleveland has two first round picks so there is a chance this team could improve quickly. It would be tempting to try and trade up for another quarterback but the Browns would be better served focusing on other areas of need. The primary concern should be the defensive line, which employs just one average starter. Cleveland ranked 29th in defensive rushing efficiency in 2014, allowed a league worse 141.6 rushing yards per game, and rarely got after the opposing quarterback accumulating just 31 sacks (27th in the NFL).

AFC North Unit Rankings

Team Offense Defense Skill O-line D-line Front 7 Secondary
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 21 3 6 15 9 30
Cincinnati Bengals 10 26 17 10 27 31 13
Baltimore Ravens 5 11 9 5 18 7 21
Cleveland Browns 8 12 30 3 26 20 5