The AFC North is arguably the best division in all of football. We obviously saw how dominant the Baltimore Ravens were last season, but it won’t be easy for them to repeat as division champions. Joe Burrow will be back for the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have two of the top defenses in the league. 

 

Let’s take a look at what these teams could do to help themselves out during the NFL Draft.

(Check out the NFL Draft Wish List series: AFC East | NFC East | NFC North | AFC South | NFC South | AFC West | NFC West)

2024 NFL Draft Wish List: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

  • First pick: 1st round, 30th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 1
  • Total selections: 9

Last April, the Ravens selected wide receiver Zay Flowers 22nd overall. That is the only thing holding me back from really projecting Baltimore to go wide receiver at 30th overall here in 2024. From a team need and fit standpoint, I absolutely love Adonai Mitchell with the Ravens. It makes too much sense. Baltimore still needs a perimeter wideout with size, and with Odell Beckham gone, they also need someone to stretch the field. That was Beckham’s role in 2023, as he averaged 3.19 air yards per route run, and his 14.9-yard aDOT ranked 12th among qualified wide receivers. But he was limited, as Beckham ran a route on over 60% of dropbacks in a game once all year long. Mitchell, meanwhile, is a fluid-moving wideout with good size and because he’s such a good vertical route-runner, he’d be a great fit for this play-action passing game. In 2023, Lamar Jackson ranked eight in play-action dropback rate (28%), averaging 10.3 yards per attempt off the play type (top five).

That said, I do think defensive back, right tackle or edge seem more likely. This is a fairly deep defensive back class, so if they miss out on the top five at the position, they could still be OK. Keep an eye on Michigan’s Mike Sainristil, a versatile player who lined up all over the formation. And Brandon Stephens is a free agent after the 2025 campaign. Perhaps the most logical selection could be right tackle at 30th overall. Tyler Guyton from Oklahoma is very athletic, though he is still a bit raw. But the Ravens need to address the right tackle position. 

Finally, if Baltimore waits until later to draft a wide receiver, keep an eye on Keon Coleman. At 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, Coleman would give this receiving room an element of size they don’t have right now. It is cliche but 50/50 balls really are more like 60/40 balls with Coleman. He does need to work on his footwork and release but there is plenty of upside here, especially as the potential third option in the passing game. I also like Ja'Lynn Polk, who also has size, but is very, very active in the run game, which is important when playing alongside Derrick Henry.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • First pick: 1st round, 18th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 1
  • Total selections: 11

We’ll see if there is a potential Tee Higgins trade on draft day. Regardless, the Bengals absolutely have to address the trenches. Let’s start with the run defense, which was already bad last year and now is without defensive tackle DJ Reader. This past season, just 13% of the runs against the Bengals were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, the lowest rate in the league, Meanwhile, 12.7% of the runs against this team gained 10-plus yards, the fifth-highest rate. It’ll be interesting to see what Cincinnati’s approach is at 18th overall. Is that too early to draft someone like Jer’Zhan Newton? And as talented as he is, Newton is more known for his pass rush ability than stopping the run. Regardless, he is a very talented player and fills a positional need. If they go defensive tackle later on, Kris Jenkins should be on their radar. He’s 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, and posted a 12.6% run stop rate in 2023 at Michigan. 

Cincinnati could truly go a few different directions in the first round. Jonah Williams is gone. The Bengals did sign Trent Brown this offseason, but it is only a one-year deal. I’m sure the Bengals would love it if Taliese Fuaga fell to them at 18, though it is more likely Alabama’s JC Latham will be there. The Bengals could also add to the secondary with Terrion Arnold, who has good athleticism and tools to thrive in man coverage. 

The Bengals currently have 11 selections in this draft, including four inside the top-100. Wide receiver will be pushed up the board if Higgins is traded, but how much? Troy Franklin could fall to 49th overall due to his size (176 pounds) and his speed and home run-hitting ability could be fun in this offense. Franklin struggled with focus drops (10% drop rate) but he has a solid release package, which is important to keep defenders from pressing him off the line of scrimmage. Franklin was also top-six in the nation in yards per route run last year. 

Cleveland Browns

  • First pick: 2nd round, 54th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 0
  • Total selections: 5

If you’re a Cleveland fan, you may not miss much over the course of draft weekend. The Browns don’t have a first-rounder and only have five total selections this season. Defensive tackle should be toward the top of their board. Dalvin Tomlinson is 30, and Cleveland has a potential out after this season. Meanwhile, Shelby Harris is almost 33 with a potential out in 2025, and Maurice Hurst is on a one-year deal. The future of this interior defensive line is very much in question which makes Kris Jenkins, T'Vondre Sweat and Michael Hall prime candidates to be playing in Cleveland this season. And as good as the Browns defense was in 2023, they did allow 12.7% of runs against them to gain 10-plus yards (fifth worst), while 37.7% of the total yardage against them came via the run (also fifth worst).

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • First pick: 1st round, 20th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 1
  • Total selections: 7

With the 20th overall selection, I’d be pretty surprised if the Steelers went any direction other than wide receiver or center. Diontae Johnson was traded to Carolina, leaving Pittsburgh with George Pickens, Van Jefferson, Quez Watkins and Calvin Austin atop the depth chart. There have been some rumors surrounding the Steelers and Tyler Boyd, which would make sense considering this team really doesn’t have a slot receiver at the moment. But if they go wideout in the first round, they might be in the range to draft Brian Thomas. Throughout his collegiate career, Thomas lined up out wide for 888 snaps, compared to just 122 in the slot. He ranked second in the nation in deep yards last year (670), while his 15 deep receptions ranked third. Thomas averaged 17.3 yards per catch, posting a strong 53.8% contested catch rate. Thomas does win in similar areas as Pickens, however, though it may not matter when you look at this Pittsburgh depth chart. 

Of course, the Steelers have been very successful drafting wide receivers on Day 2 of the draft, so it shouldn’t shock anyone if that is their plan again this year. Especially when you consider this is a stacked wide receiver class. At 51st overall, they could be looking at Florida’s Ricky Pearsall, who has a solid combination of size (6-foot-1, 189 pounds) and speed (4.41 40-yard dash). He is nuanced in his routes and changes temp well to set up defenders. And although he projects as a slot receiver at the NFL level, Pearsall won’t be limited to just that role. He had 11 deep receptions last year and has the suddenness and manipulation skills to get open down the field.

Center is the other position that should be addressed early by the Steelers. If you are simply reading the tea leaves, you’ll know the position might be at the very top of their board. The Steelers met with free agent center Mitch Morse during free agency, while head coach Mike Tomlin met with Jackson Powers-Johnson at the Senior Bowl. Expect the Steelers to make a strong effort to draft either Powers-Johnson or Zach Frazier in a few weeks.