Biggest remaining needs for each team in the AFC
After putting out the biggest areas of need for the 16 teams in the NFC, we switch over to the AFC side of things. Once again, this list is about improving all teams as much as possible for this upcoming season by addressing one area of the roster, not building for the future necessarily.
That may be just a distinct role player, adding depth at a rather thin position group or even the need for an actual premium at some spot. Like I said when talking about the other conference last week, I am happy that none of these teams are in desperate need for an actual starting quarterback for now and we can focus on other areas.
Check out the NFC edition of this article right here.
Baltimore Ravens – Center
When free agency first started and I saw the Ravens give up stalwarts like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and even Eric Weddle, who they flat-out released, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them because it felt like they were losing their identity. However, by signing Earl Thomas, grabbing the guy who broke Suggs’ all-time NCAA sack record in the third round with Jaylon Ferguson, signing the top undrafted free agent in Gerald Willis and just now adding two guys in Shane Ray and former Raven Pernell McPhee, who are looking to prove something and will not impact their compensatory draft picks next year, they might be even better than a year ago.
On the offensive side, this offseason has been all about helping Lamar Jackson out. Baltimore got rid of their older, less dynamic receivers and instead drafted the ultimate deep threat in Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown in the first round to keep defenses honest against their heavy run game and multiple tight end sets. They signed running back Mark Ingram and added to that backfield with the explosive Justice Hill as a fourth-rounder from Oklahoma State. They also selected a size/speed standout in Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin as well as brought in Lamar’s former go-to guy at Louisville in undrafted free agent Jaylen Smith.
With that being said, I mocked a center to the Ravens in my first round because I think that is the one position they still really need to upgrade. I like what they have put together on that line and they might even have Marshal Yanda’s eventual replacement in Oklahoma guard Ben Powers, but Matt Skura is a below-average starter. If they really want to crank up their run game, this is a spot they could improve upon.
Cincinnati Bengals – WILL Linebacker
After 16 years under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have finally made a change at head coach. Zac Taylor is coming over from Los Angeles as Sean McVay’s number two and quarterback coach, looking to take advantage of a still pretty talented roster.
While I could easily see fourth-round pick Ryan Finley out of N.C. State steal the job from Andy Dalton throughout the season, the Bengals have two prime players as their number one receiver and running back – A.J. Green and Joe Mixon – plus they have put a lot of ressources into the offensive line.
Defensively they fell apart last year in a way that I had rarely seen up until that point, setting multiple records for most yards allowed in three- and four-game stretches as well as finishing 30th overall in points allowed. That unit still has some studs when you look at an aging yet still feared Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson coming back from injury, Jessie Bates looking like an impact free safety as a rookie and William Jackson quietly emerging as one of the top corners in the entire league.
However, the middle of that defense still has question marks. I was close to saying either outside backer could use an upgrade so to speak, because the only one I trust among that group is Preston Brown. Cincy might have fielded the worst trio in terms of pass coverage last season and they only lost Vontaze Burfict.
I think third-round pick Germaine Pratt would fit quite well at SAM as a former safety, but I don’t know who will emerge on the weak-side. Nobody outside of Brown on that roster has recorded more than 1000 total snaps, so if I went off potential alone, I would go with last year’s third-round selection Malik Jefferson out of Texas, who I have begged to finally start shooting gaps more consistently.
Cleveland Browns – Strong safety
The hype around the Browns this offseason has been unbelievable and I really think they have special talent. After going 7-8-1 despite Baker Mayfield only being inserted shortly before halftime in week three, Cleveland has done nothing but add even more pieces.
They traded for defensive end Olivier Vernon in exchange for guard Kevin Zeitler who will be replaced by last year’s second-round pick Austin Corbett. They acquired another presence on the defensive interior with Sheldon Richardson and the best pure man-coverage corner in the draft in Greedy Williams fell to them in round two, they added two good linebackers in the draft and of course they pulled off the blockbuster deal for superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
There is no way I will critique the trade for OBJ, because he is a transcendent talent in my opinion. However, they lost a highly versatile safety in Jabrill Peppers as part of that trade. The third-year man out of Michigan played in the box for them quite a bit, was highly utilized as part of their blitz packages and was a strong run defender from several spots.
Cleveland signed Morgan Burnett this offseason, but he is 30 years old and doesn’t give them the same versatility Peppers brought to the table. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks mentioned the young all-arounder in his opening press conference and now needs to find ways to improve the run defense without him while also being creative on passing downs.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Right tackle
Welcome to the league’s favorite soap opera. The Steelers have had the most drama of any team in the league for the last year almost now. By trading away Antonio Brown and deciding not to bring back Le’Veon Bell they will look to prove that they have enough young guys to make up for the lost production and that Pittsburgh is still about the team instead of individuals.
I think they made a fantastic addition with Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, who will give them that dynamic leader in the middle of their defense they haven’t had since Ryan Shazier went down with that injury. Their pass rush is one of the best in the league and in the third round of the draft they found a physical corner in Justin Layne, who could start for them right away.
While giving up AB certainly takes away monster production in the passing game, I think some of their young guys – most notably James Washington – will pick up the slack a little, and this team loves James Conner. However, the Steelers lost Marcus Gilbert to the Cardinals in free agency.
I was very high on last year’s third-round selection Chukwuma Okorafor out of Western Michigan, but like I said he still needs time to develop and really is a left tackle by trait. Take him out of the equation and the battle is between Matt Feiler and two rookies. That transition will only be harder with their offensive line coach Mike Munchak going to Denver, who is a top three guy at his job in my opinion.