Power ranking the AFC North after the 2021 NFL Draft
In a division that had three playoff teams in 2021, the AFC North is a reflection of the emerging divisional depth and balance in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns all made it to the playoffs while the Cincinnati Bengals only won 4 games. Although the Bengals were the weak link in the division this past season, they are led by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. They may not of made any noise last year but they are set up to be somewhat competitive this season. Let’s see how the NFL draft has reshaped this division.
AFC North rankings after NFL draft:
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Even though the Bengals improved the roster through the draft and have talent, they are still not ready for a playoff push in the AFC North. They drafted some talent around Burrow as they took his LSU teammate wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase who will instantly transform the offense. Chase was taken with the 5th pick in the draft and will make an instant impact for this Bengals team. In the second round the Bengals took an offensive lineman in Jackson Carmen to protect Burrow. The main weakness of the Bengals offense last season was the protection of Burrow; he was constantly pressured. Carmen will help relieve the pressure and could be a franchise lineman for the Bengals.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
After starting out 11-0 last season the Steelers finished 12-4 and were a first round exit in the playoffs. The easy first part of the schedule for Pittsburgh was shown as they crumbled in the second part. The Steelers simply didn’t possess enough talent to be a true Super Bowl contender and they addressed some of the positions of need in the draft. The most evident problem was the run game as the Steelers became pass heavy due to a struggling run game.
In the first round they addressed this by selecting Alabama running back Najee Harris. Harris is arguably the best running back in the class and should instantly improve the Steelers run game. Getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more targets and protection ensued in the following draft picks as they selected tight end Pat Freiermuth and then back to back offensive line selections. The play of Roethlisberger will be the key to an Steelers success this season in the AFC North.
2. Baltimore Ravens
With an MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson the Ravens have been competitive over the past few seasons. They made the playoffs as a Wild Card team and made it to the Divisional Round where they lost to the Buffalo Bills. They were a solid all around team but lacked depth especially at receiver. The Ravens addressed that in the draft by drafting Rashod Bateman in the 1st and Tylan Wallace in the 4th. Jackson should be back to MVP form this season after getting much needed weapons in the AFC North. Jackson and the Ravens will be a tough team for anyone else to play.
AFC North favorite:
1. Cleveland Browns
Following a return to the playoffs this past year the Cleveland Browns are set up for more success. They were able to improve the roster even more with free agent signings and in the draft. The Browns brought in edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney to the team who will help bolster the pass rush. In the first round of the draft they got Greg Newsome II who will likely start day one at corner and make a big impact in the secondary. In the second round they were lucky enough to get linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah who is a very talented player that fell down the draft board. After a successful offseason the Browns are set up for another playoff run in the AFC North.
It will be a tough division race this season and make for exciting games as all four AFC North teams battle it out in 2021.