Around the AFC North: Rivals' Biggest Needs, Expectations for Draft

042020_AFCNorth
 LSU quarterback Joe Burrow throws a pass against Clemson.

Bengals: Building Talent Around Burrow Will Be Key

The Cincinnati Bengals' easiest decision of the draft may be their first decision.

It would be shocking if the Bengals don't take Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick. They need a franchise quarterback and Burrow is an Ohio native who won the Heisman Trophy and led LSU to the national championship.

However, it's going to take more than Burrow to rebuild the Bengals from a 2-14 team into a playoff contender. With their seven picks, Cincinnati is expected to start with Burrow, then build the rest of its roster to help him succeed.

Once they draft Burrow, the Bengals will need to protect him. They drafted a left tackle last year, but 11th-overall pick Jonah Williams (torn labrum) missed the entire 2019 season. Williams is expected back next season, but the Bengals could target another offensive lineman in Round 2, either a right tackle or someone who can play inside.

A top offensive lineman who falls out of Round 1 might be the Bengals' top priority in Round 2. Potential targets include Austin Jackson of USC and Josh Jones of Houston. In his two-round mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper has the Bengals taking Jones with the 33rd pick.

"Jones started 45 games for the Cougars at left tackle, but some teams think he will move inside to guard," Kiper wrote. "This would cap an ideal top two picks for Cincinnati."

An offensive line that includes Williams and Jones, and Burrow handing off to running back Joe Mixon and throwing to wideouts A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd could quickly add punch to Cincinnati's offense.

Browns: Options at No. 10, But an Offensive Lineman Would Fit

Cleveland has given Baker Mayfield plenty of weapons, but he was sacked 40 times last season, more than any quarterback in the division. The Browns signed right tackle Jack Conklin in free agency and holding the 10th pick in the draft puts them in position to shore up another spot on the offensive line.

Most pundits expect Iowa left tackle Tristan Wirfs to be gone before the Brown pick at No. 10, but they could still have two top tackles to choose from – Mekhi Becton of Louisville and Jedrick Wills of Alabama. NFL Network's Bucky Brooks has the Browns taking Becton while Peter Schrager, who was a guest on "The Lounge" podcast, has Cleveland selecting Wills.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah thinks Wills would have no problem making the transition from right tackle in college to left tackle in the NFL. The bookend tackles of Wills and Conklin protecting Mayfield could set up Cleveland's quarterback for a bounce back season.

"Jedrick Wills is just a natural knee-bender who's very explosive. He can get himself in bad positions and find ways to recover with his athleticism," Jeremiah said during a conference call. "He played the right tackle spot there at Alabama. I think he's got left tackle ability. I think he can kick over there no problem, and he's somebody in the run game that can uproot players. Again, just very explosive, a very athletic player who I think he's a top-10 pick in just about any year."

Steelers: Offensive Playmaker Would Help Big Ben

The Steelers were the only NFL team that didn't score at least 30 points in any game last season. A major part of that was due to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's season-ending elbow injury. But the Steelers didn't make enough game-breaking plays, and with Roethlisberger on the mend for 2020, Pittsburgh wants to reestablish itself as a team that can strike quickly on offense.

Their defense is solid, and the Steelers don't regret trading this year's first-round pick in exchange for Pro Bowl safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Pittsburgh's first pick is No. 49, and Jeremiah believes the Steelers should be looking hard at Florida State running back Cam Akers.

"He is so competitive and so tough, and their offensive line (Florida State)," Jeremiah said. "I could walk down the street here outside my house, and I can promise you I could find a very similar offensive li to the one he ran behind at Florida State, and this kid didn't complain, he just put his head down and ran hard."

"There's that toughness to him that kind of reminds me of a Steeler. He catches the ball out of the backfield. That kid to me, he looks like a Pittsburgh Steeler. I would love to see him in that offense."

Kiper has mocked former Oklahoma and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to the Steelers in Round 2 as a multi-dimensional weapon at first, and as a potential successor to Roethlisberger.

"I don't think he gets out of the second round," Kiper said. "He fits in Pittsburgh, where neither Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges showed much while filling in for Ben Roethlisberger."

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