My favorite weekend of the year is coming up, and it's not because my first day is part of it. The NFL draft kicks off on Thursday night with first round selections, then Friday rounds two and three with four through seven taking place on Saturday. To put it in Comic terms, its like the weekend when the X-Men editors get together and decided which mutants are on the Blue team, which go Gold and which are Red. Making a selection in the draft is not easy. Experts study all the players coming out of college, trying to find their strengths and weaknesses both on and off the field and trying to predict how they'll project as a professional and rank them based on all the other players available. From there a team makes their decision based on those rankings and their particular needs. Just because someone is the best player available doesn't mean they're right for the team choosing at that point. And need can make a team reach on a player not as good as some of the ones available. Need is why quarterbacks are always taken higher than their ranked. So going into the weekend, knowing what your team needs may help you figure out who they'll take. Here are the basic needs for the AFC North:
BALTIMORE RAVENS – This is kind of a make or break season coming up for Joe Flacco. He's been playing on a huge contract but not putting up the numbers to match and the team will need to figure out the future here. But he hasn't really had the talent around him to be at his best. Expect the team to look at wide receivers and tight ends early, trying to get Flacco some weapons to throw to and maybe some help on the offensive line to give him some more time in the pocket. They might also look at some of these young quarterback prospects to see if they can find their next face of the franchise in case Flacco doesn't turn it around.
CINCINNATI BENGALS – The Bengals will be looking for a few 'Hog Mollies' this week. The team had a hard time running the ball and stopping the run, so focusing on both the offensive and defensive line should be high on their to do list. But that isn't their only holes on defense as the team could use some upgrades at both linebacker and corner. Andy Dalton is still cemented as the team starter, but now that A.J. McCarron has moved on, they'll need to pick up a new back-up/developmental signal caller somewhere later in the draft. They should be able to get someone on day three.
CLEVELAND BROWNS – The team is in an amazing position going into the draft, the have two of the first four picks and five picks in the first three rounds. They added Tyrod Taylor to play quarterback, but he's just a stop gap and it is more than likely that the Browns will take one of the top quarterback prospects, but whether it will be at #1 or #4 is the mystery. Saquon Barkley is considered the top player in the draft and the team could grab the running back first and then take which over QB is left at four because the odds of Barkley being there at four is slim. Later in the draft they should be looking for secondary help and a big body for the offensive line.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS – The injury to Ryan Shazier was devastating to the team and his recover is going to take a while. They will need to look to the draft to find some help at both inside and outside linebacker, made extra important as they play a 3-4 defense meaning that most of their pass rush and blitz comes from the linebackers and the Steelers love to blitz. They'll also have to look at the runningback position with the issues arising from the contract of Le'Veon Bell. Picking up a three-down back on day two could not only provide depth, but strengthen their bargaining position on a long-term contract with Bell.