The gritty AFC North is never lacking in excitement and this year should be no different. The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a super bowl birth, the Cleveland Browns loaded up with Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper, the Baltimore Ravens are always a threat, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have never had a losing season under Mike Tomlin. The way the 2022 NFL draft shakes out could mean all the difference in who wins this division.
In this article we are going to look at each team and lay out what they have for draft picks. Then we’ll look at where they are set (unlikely to use high draft capital), where they have immediate draft needs (likely to use a pick in the first 2-3 rounds), or where they might need depth (mid to late round picks). So let’s get to it.
Baltimore Ravens - 10 Picks
- First Round: 14
- Second Round: 45
- Third Round: 76, 100
- Fourth Round: 110, 119, 128, 139, 141
- Sixth Round: 196
Set: Wide Receiver, Safety
Wide Receiver - The Ravens are not like the Bengals or Rams who use three wide receivers on nearly every snap. The Ravens use multiple tight end sets as well as fullbacks like Patrick Ricard. In fact, Ricard played 44.69% of the snaps which is more than any back on the team. Every time you bring in a second tight end like Nick Boyle or a fullback like Ricard, that takes a WR off the field. If you have two tight ends, a running back, and a fullback out there, that’s a single wide receiver set. They have Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman as every down guys and Devin Duvernay is fine as a part-time slot guy so they don’t need to spend up on another wideout given what they do.
Safety - They addressed this one in free agency by signing Marcus Williams - arguably the best free-agent safety available on the market. He along with Chuck Clark make an impressive duo and they have decent depth behind them.
Immediate: Edge, Offensive Line, Cornerback
Edge - The Za’Darius Smith saga was one of timing. Had they gotten pen to paper sooner, it might have happened. But it’s been speculated that the Chandler Jones and Von Miller signings changed the kind of deal Smith wanted and the Ravens simply weren’t willing to go there. This year’s draft is deep with pass rushers - the Ravens pick at 14 and there’s Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Travon Walker, and George Karlaftis all up top there waiting to make an impact somewhere. If one of them slides that would be a steal.
Offensive Line - If Orlando Brown Jr. would have been content playing right tackle, this wouldn’t be a problem. Alas, he wanted to be left tackle and Ronnie Staley is already the left tackle. So he was shipped out before he could leave as a free agent. They brought in Morgan Moses who can reliably play right tackle this year but a popular move in the modern NFL is to draft a tackle and start them off playing guard (or draft a tackle and move one of your current tackles to guard). At 14, if a top guy like an Iken Ekwonu or a Charles Cross falls, you’d be hard-pressed to pass on that value. Or at pick 45 they could take a guy like Kenyon Green who has played both tackle and guard and could be this year’s Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Cornerback - The return of Marcus Peters should make everyone feel a bit better opposite Marlon Humphrey. But Peters is also an unrestricted free agent this year. Slot corner Tavon Young was also signed away by the Bears so, with one of those four picks in the top three rounds, it would be wise to grab a corner that can start out in nickel and then eventually progress to outside corner. Kyler Gordon from Washington is a guy who played both slot and outside in college and could be a decent pick at 45. Or, if one of the three big dogs in Stingley, McDuffie, or Gardner is there at 14, maybe that’s too good to pass up.
Potential early round picks: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan), EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), EDGE Travon Walker (Georgia), and EDGE George Karlaftis (Purdue), EDGE Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State), EDGE Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), T Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), T Charles Cross (Mississippi State), T Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan), T/G Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), CB Roger McCreary (Auburn), CB Kyler Gordon
Depth: Quarterback, Running Back, Tight End, Defensive Line
Quarterback - Here is my argument for quarterback as a Ravens depth pick. Lamar Jackson is obviously your starting QB and this pick assumes he gets a long-term deal. Tyler Huntley is back as a restricted free agent but he will almost certainly get scooped up as an unrestricted free agent next off-season (which would net the Ravens a third round compensatory pick). However, signing a backup QB on the free-agent market next March could affect the comp pick formula and negate either that pick or another one. So it might be a sneaky move to draft a backup QB late this year and let him learn the system to avoid signing one next year and risk affecting any comp picks. All this is part of why Tyler Huntley hasn’t been traded - they have him on an insanely cheap deal for his skill level and they are slated to get a third for him when he walks next year anyway so any conversation around trading for him starts at a second round pick or better. Which also makes Tyler Huntley an amazing draft-day trade chip if a QB needy team wants to go there.
Running Back - Normally I’d say they are set with JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Ty’son Williams, Justice Hill, and the fullbacks. But they reportedly showed some interest in Melvin Gordon which has to have you questioning the health of Dobbins and/or Edwards. So maybe they do go with some depth here.
Tight End - Mark Andrews is obviously a star but we mentioned how much they like their multiple TE sets. Nick Boyle is getting up there and Josh Oliver is more of a pass-catcher than a blocker so they could potentially bring in a young blocking tight end with a late pick as the inevitable Boyle replacement.
Cincinnati Bengals - 8 Picks
- First Round: 31
- Second Round: 63
- Third Round: 95
- Fourth Round: 136
- Fifth round: 174
- Sixth Round: 209
- Seventh Round: 226, 252
Set: Quarterback, Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Running Back
Offensive Tackle - Jonah Williams was finally healthy for a year and they brought in La’el Collins at right tackle. Jackson Carman was also a tackle in college at Clemson so he could slide over if need be. Tackle is pretty good.
Wide Receiver - The Bengals have arguably the best group of starting wideouts in the league with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd and they are all under contract until at least 2024. Maybe they make a depth pick to fill out the depth chart but no need to use an impact pick.
Running Back - Joe Mixon was able to stay healthy and he ran for the third most yards in the league. He’s signed for at least next year. Samaje Perine is a decent change of pace option and Chris Evans flashed his receiving chops as well. Taking another RB would be a luxury pick and not one that needs to be made early on.
Immediate: Defensive Line, Interior Offensive Line, Cornerback
Defensive Line - Larry Ogunjobi is still out there after he reportedly failed a physical which prevented him signing with the Bears. But the failed physical itself is obviously a red flag. DJ Reader is a nice run stopper but the Bengals now lack pass rush up the middle. There are two defensive tackles from Georgia that might fit that bill in Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis but word around the draft is that Wyatt could have some domestic violence baggage that teams aren’t interested in. They could also choose to go with a defensive end if the right guy is available and rotate them with Sam Hubbard. The Bengals have the luxury of taking “best player available” so they’ll likely just let the board come to them with pick 31.
Interior Offensive Line - The signing of Ted Karras takes the pressure off a bit and gives them some flexibility in the draft as he can play both guard and center. That allows you to take the best available guy at the right spot in the draft rather than trying to force a specific role. If you draft center Tyler Linderbaum, you just move Karras to guard or, if you grab someone like Boston College’s Zion Johnson, he’d compete with Jackson Carman or Alex Cappa. If they don’t go interior O-line at pick 31, they can always take someone with raw upside and have them develop behind the veterans.
Cornerback - The beauty of the Bengals position is they don’t have too many glaring needs anywhere. Bringing back Eli Apple means that they can roll into the season with Chidobie Awuzie and Apple on the outside with Mike Hilton in the slot if they want. But Eli Apple is only on a one year deal and he’s not likely the answer long term. Plus Mike Hilton skews towards more of a run stopping slot corner than a high-end cover guy. The Steelers actually used to platoon Hilton with Cam Sutton, the former playing clear run downs and the latter passing downs. Given that and the general lack of depth, taking a corner at pick 63 or pick 95 who can start out in nickel or dime packages makes a lot of sense.
Potential early round picks: DT Devonte Wyatt (Georgia), DT Jordan Davis (Georgia), DT Logan Hall (Houston), DE Jermaine Johnson (Florida State), DE David Ojabo (Michigan), C Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), G Zion Johnson (Boston College), CB Kaiir Elam (Florida), CB Jalen Pitre (Baylor), CB Roger McCreary (Auburn), CB Kyler Gordon (Washington)
Depth: Tight End, Safety
Tight End - After being traded from the Ravens to the Falcons then replaced with Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst is starting to look more and more like an NFL journeyman. But for what the Bengals do he’ll get it done in 2022. Drew Sample is a solid blocking tight end and they have guys that can fill in in case of emergency but it could be smart to take a stab on someone with pass catching upside. If you look at some of the top tight ends in the league, you don’t really need to take one super early to hit. Travis Kelce (3rd), Mark Andrews (3rd), George Kittle (5th), Darren Waller (6th) etc. are the cream of the crop and none of them were drafted as high as Hayden Hurst (2nd).
Linebacker - The Bengals 4-3 is actually more of a 4-2-5 with how much nickel they play which makes having a ton of linebackers less of an importance. They could potentially go for a hybrid player that could do multiple roles - more on that below.
Safety - Franchising Jessie Bates was a big step but they still need to sign him to a long term deal. Vonn Bell is also in the last year of his deal so they might want to draft a little insurance at the safety position. Since they have Mike Hilton who is a slot corner that skews towards the run, maybe they could take a hybrid slot corner/safety that would get playing time right away and then down the road potentially play safety.
Cleveland Browns - 7 Picks
- Second Round: 44
- Third Round: 78, 99
- Fourth Round: 118
- Sixth Round: 202
- Seventh Round: 223, 246
Set: Quarterback, Cornerback, Offensive Line, Safety
Quarterback - The Browns made their bed here so they are going to have to lie in it even if there is a suspension. They have Jacoby Brissett in that event and they still need to trade Baker Mayfield. If they draft a QB this draft, the fan base would likely lose their minds.
Cornerback - Maybe they go for a depth pick later but they have Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Greedy Williams, and Troy Hill. That’s a pretty solid group all the way through nickel and dime. They don’t have a first round pick and they have bigger needs elsewhere.
Offensive Line - Again, maybe you go for some depth later but they actually have 15 linemen under contract so they are looking pretty good there. The Browns have one of the best starting offensive lines in the league.
Safety - Similar to corner, they have their starters in John Johnson and Grant Delpit with enough depth to get it done this season if need be. Maybe a late pick but they only have three picks in the top 100 and one of them is 99 so not really a lot to spare in terms of impact picks.
Immediate: Defensive End, Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle
Defensive End - On one side they are all set with Myles Garrett. But replacing Jadeveon Clowney with Chase Winovich is not necessarily the answer, especially considering how willing the Patriots were to give him up. When you look at how thin the depth chart is with only three defensive ends even under contract, it seems pretty clear the Browns plan to at least add someone. It’s a deep class at the position so they might get lucky at pick 44 with someone like Boye Mafe or Nik Bonitto. There are some rumors floating around that Clowney may be back however so, if he signs, you can take this out of the “needs” category.
Wide Receiver - Here’s what you have: Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones can both play split end/flanker on the outside. Anthony Schwartz is the speedy field stretcher to take the top off defenses. But Jarvis Landry is gone and Jakeem Grant is much more valuable on special teams than he is running out of the slot. They only have five total receivers under contract so they really need to add something for new QB Deshaun Watson. Having the two big bodied receivers already means they don’t need to force a split end with size and can simply take the best WR available at 44 or 78. A guy like Skyy Moore would be perfect in the slot as he led college football in broken tackles but you might need to move up to get him. In the second round, Khalil Shakir or John Metchie might be there.
Defensive Tackle - Much like defensive end, the depth chart is flat out thin simply in terms of the number of bodies they have. They’ve got Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai, and Taven Bryan. That’s it. Would not be surprised to simple see them use what few early picks they have on the best players available along the defensive line.
Potential early round picks: DE Boye Mafe (Minnesota), DE Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), DE Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State), DE Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), DE Drake Jackson (USC), WR Skyy Moore (Western Michigan), WR Khalil Shakir (Boise State), WR John Metchie (Alabama), DT Logan Hall (Houston), DT Perrion Winfrey (Oklahoma)
Depth: Running Back, Tight End, Linebacker
Running Back - For 2022, the Browns have arguably the best running back room in the league with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D’Ernest Johnson. This time around however, retaining Hunt might be a little cost prohibitive and Johnson is also a free agent. It might be wise to use a late pick on a running back to see if you can find a cheap option. If he doesn’t pan out, you can always try to bring back one of those guys.
Tight End - For most teams, the tight ends they have would be fine. But Kevin Stefanski uses more multiple tight end sets than any team in the league. Last year, even as the third tight end, Harrison Bryant played 36% of the snaps. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them take another tight end late.
Linebacker - The Browns base defense is really nickel so they only need two full time linebackers. For 2022, that’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker. But Walker is on a one year $5 million deal so some future planning might be in order.
Pittsburgh Steelers - 8 Picks
- First Round: 12
- Second Round: 46
- Third Round: 77
- Fifth Round: 156
- Sixth Round: 184, 191, 192
- Seventh Round: 250
Set: Running Back, Tight End
Running Back - They took Najee Harris in the first round last year and he proved to be a stud. If something were to happen they have Benny Snell or early work and Anthony McFarland for pass downs. That and Trey Edmunds means there’s no reason to draft another high end RB.
Tight End - The emergence of Pat Freiermuth made Eric Ebron expendable and they really didn’t feel his absence last year when he was hurt. Zach Gentry is a decent enough backup plus they have Kevin Rader and Jace Sternberger under contract. If anything maybe they take someone late for depth but it’s not a need.
Immediate: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Safety
Quarterback - By now everyone has heard about the untimely passing of Dwayne Haskins. The remaining depth chart is Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, neither of which are guaranteed to be the quarterback of the future. In my opinion, taking a stab on a quarterback this year would create the perfect amount of competition in that room. You’ve got some mobile options like Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, and Sam Howell or there are classic pocket passers that you’re used to with Big Ben like Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett, and Carson Strong
Offensive Line - The Steelers offensive line has long been their strength, but as of late, it’s been due for an overhaul. Bringing in Cole Mason and James Daniels certainly helps but they could honestly use an upgrade at either tackle spot or at left guard. If they do end up going quarterback in the first, there are some interesting names that could be there at 46 like Kenyon Green who has played tackle and guard and could compete for one of those spots right away.
Safety - You have your free safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick but can you really be confident starting someone like Miles Killebrew or Tre Norwood opposite him? Safety is not a premium position with the draft so you can potentially find a guy to start right away with pick 46 or 77.
Potential early round picks: QB Malik Willis (Liberty), QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), QB Sam Howell (North Carolina), QB Matt Corral (Mississippi), QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), QB Carson Strong (Nevada), G Zion Johnson (Boston College), G Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), T Abraham Lucas (Washington State), S Jaquan Brisker (Penn State), S Kerby Joseph (Illinois), S Nick Cross (Maryland)
Depth: Wide Receiver, Inside Linebacker, Defensive Line
Wide Receiver - If the right guy is there, maybe they pull the trigger earlier. But the Steelers of all teams have been one of the best at identifying wide receiver talent, including late in drafts. Sure they let Juju and James Washington leave but they had a wealth of good pass catching talent just like they did back when they let Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders leave. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool on the outside with Anthony Miller in the slot is plenty but you never know when the Steelers might identify the next value star so the position is always on their radar.
Inside Linebacker - This all really boils down to what they want to do with Devin Bush. After tearing his ACL in 2020, he was slow in returning to form in 2021. The Steelers have a decision to make regarding his 5th year option as he was a first round pick. If they pick up the option, both Myles Jack and Bush are signed with the team for this year and next and linebacker is really just a depth pick. Otherwise, they might consider one earlier.
Defensive Line - The status of this position relies a bit on Stephon Tuitt but I have a feeling that he’ll be back. With him, Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, and the pass rushers Watt and Highsmith, they would be looking pretty stout up front. Otherwise, they might need to add someone.
- 2022 NFL Mock Draft: Will Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett Be the First QB Taken?
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- 2022 NFL Draft: NFC East Team Needs
- 2022 NFL Draft: AFC East Team Needs
- 2022 NFL Draft: Wide Receiver Breakdown for Dynasty Fantasy Football