2020 Virtual NFL Draft Preview: AFC North

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The Wall Street Journal

Hunter Firment, Josh Belgrad, Clark Austin, and Ethan Marchetti

The first round of the 2020 NFL Draft is set to take place virtually, with general managers and Commissioner Roger Goodell operating from their own homes, at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. It will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network, among other online streaming platforms. From across the nation and from their respective quarantines, Colgate Maroon-News sports writers put together a guide for each of the 32 teams in the league, offering insights on top prospects and projecting likely selections. Rounds two and three will be on Friday, April 24 and rounds four through seven are on Saturday, April 25. 

 

Baltimore Ravens 

Hunter Firment, Maroon-News Staff 

After such an exhilarating and explosive season in Baltimore (14-2), the Ravens are still hoping to win their first playoff game since 2014. Quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won the NFL’s MVP award last season, was nothing short of magnificent. Then, the Ravens’ season ended at the hands of the hot Tennessee Titans. They could not stop Tennessee’s ground game and running back Derrick Henry led the team to a 28-12 win over the Ravens on January 11. 

Looking forward, the Ravens have some major needs going into this year’s NFL Draft. They lost offensive linemen Marshal Yanda, as he hung up his cleats for retirement after this past season, so the guard position is one that the Ravens may look to fill early. However, the position I think the Ravens will address with the No. 28 pick is linebacker. Looking at their depth chart, the Ravens have three inside linebackers returning and only L.J. Fort played a considerable number of snaps. Linebacker Otaro Alaka did not play at all last season and linebacker Chris Board did not see the field often,recording just six tackles. 

If the Ravens go with an inside linebacker, the reach and dream picks are LSU’s Patrick Queen or Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. But they will likely be off the board by Baltimore’s selection. So, look for them to go with either Zach Baun from the University of Wisconsin or Malik Harrison from the Ohio State University late in the first round. 

However, if the Ravens decide to go with an offensive lineman, Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is a target pick. At linebacker, Oregon’s Troy Dye would be a good selection with the No. 60 pick. 

As the draft goes on, expect the Ravens to address their wide receiver room at some point, which was not exactly impressive this season. Jackson is going to need some help if the Ravens want to contend for a Lombardi Trophy in the coming years.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Josh Belgrad, Maroon-News Staff 

Expectations for this offseason are particularly high in Cincinnati, and after a terrible season, they will select at No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Bengals have made it obvious they will select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow is arguably the most sure-fire Bengals selection since quarterback Carson Palmer in 2003. He will hope to turn around the franchise, after they have been near the bottom of the league for the last five years. 

Aside from Burrow, the Bengals can use help at almost all other positions, with the exception of wide receiver. After the first overall pick, the Bengals should be looking to take the best player available, despite positional needs. They need a lot of help all around, so giving Burrow the pass protection he needs and the defense to go out and win games will both be extremely important. 

While this will not all be attainable by means of the draft, the Bengals can make great progress in their rebuild. Burrow has made it clear that he has no intention of going into Cincinnati with a losing attitude. The Bengals have talent for Burrow to throw the ball to, so the rest of this draft will consist of them filling in the other holes to give them a chance to compete.

 

Cleveland Browns 

Clark Austin, Maroon-News Staff 

The Cleveland Browns entered the offseason coming off a disappointing regular season. The pre-season hype and pundit expectations proved too high for the poorly coached and undisciplined 2019-20 team. On paper, the Browns seem to be a few key pieces away from establishing themselves as playoff contenders and the draft provides the best opportunity to secure those last few crucial additions. At No. 10, the Browns are in an ideal position to select whichever player sits at the top of their draft board, regardless of position. 

The first position that stands out as a need is left tackle. Ever since the legendary offensive tackle Joe Thomas retired, the Browns have been missing an anchor to protect their quarterback’s blindside. Luckily for them, this draft happens to be loaded with elite tackle prospects. I see the Browns considering four prospects: Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills. All four tackles offer different skill sets and seem to have star potential coming out of college. 

Realistically, at least one of them will be off the board by the Browns’ No. 10 selection, so it comes down to who is left and who is towards the top of their draft board. 

Wirfs possesses phenomenal athleticism and new head coach Kevin Stefanski emphasizes athleticism as a vital trait for lineman in his offensive scheme. Thomas seems to be an excellent pass protector who could help protect the young QB of the future in Baker Mayfield (and he is also familiar with blocking for pro bowl running back Nick Chubb). Tackle seems to be the last piece of the puzzle for a talented Browns offense, and the right pick at No. 10 could pave the way for an exciting offense in 2020.  

The only other realistic direction the Browns could go at No. 10 would be a defensive player. If Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons or Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah are (by some outside chance) available, the Browns should consider bolstering a defense that needs help at all three levels. 

There is also the possibility of trading up or trading down, but I believe the Browns will stay at No. 10 and hope one of the top prospects on their board is available. I predict the Browns will take a tackle and focus a majority of their later picks on strengthening the defense (which is primarily lacking skilled linebackers and defensive backs). 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ethan Marchetti, Editor-in-Chief   

Pittsburgh enters the 2020 NFL Draft without its first-rounder for the first time since 1967 after trading the pick to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. With future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger slated to return from injury this coming season, along with the blossoming of the new-look team, the Steelers can utilize the middle rounds to add much-needed depth on the offensive side of the ball.

Last year featured the turbulent departures of running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, which certainly left voids that remain to be adequately filled. Pittsburgh can take advantage of the abnormally deep talent pool this year to try and find a young playmaker. Barring any top draft prospects falling out of the first round, the Steelers might aim for a running back in the second round. LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Florida State product Cam Akers or Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins could provide reliable depth for a notoriously injury-prone Pittsburgh backfield that will soon have to deal with contract negotiations with James Conner.

The return of Roethlisberger also provides Pittsburgh with a unique opportunity to bolster a fairly depleted receiving core. Wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown promise with Big Ben at the helm. With the offseason addition of former Colts tight end Eric Ebron, as well as the emergence of rookie receiver Diontae Johnson, adding another receiving option should only benefit the offensive scheme. Wideouts like Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Baylor’s Denzel Mims and ASU’s Brandon Aiyuk have all shown promise during their college careers and have the potential to become an integral part of the Steelers’ passing attack for years to come.