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State of AFC North: Steelers could send a message; Browns can’t screw up; Ravens need top WR

The Steelers could send a message to Martavis Bryant with who they draft. The Browns need to use this draft to successfully add to their rebuilding effort. The Ravens should supply Joe Flacco with one of the top receivers in this draft.

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2017 NFL Draft begins on Thursday night. Before it does, let’s take one last look at the needs of each of the AFC North team and who they may draft. Can one of the top receivers in the draft can make Joe Flacco “elite” again? The Browns need to substantially improve with this draft. Plus, a look at who the Steelers are targeting in Round 1.

Baltimore Ravens

Top receiver could return Flacco to elite

The Ravens have hosted Mike Williams, Corey Davis, and John Ross for visits before the draft, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of them land in Baltimore after the draft. These are some talented receivers, but their value is affected by a solid group of second tier receivers.

The Ravens lost Steve Smith Sr. this offseason, and the team needs to think about the future of the position. They have Breshad Perriman, and whether he is the future primary receiver remains to be seen. Still, the Ravens should add one of these players for insurance purposes and to boost their receiver unit.

Each receiver could help out quarterback Joe Flacco in his own way. Williams is a receiver who can go up and get the ball at its highest point. Flacco hasn’t had that since he had Anquan Boldin. Davis seems to have it all, but he could take some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game. Ross adds even more speed to a receiver group that already has Perriman and Mike Wallace.

The Ravens could choose to wait to address the receiver position, but it will be hard for them to pass on one of these receivers in Round 1.

Biggest needs for Baltimore

The Ravens have some serious needs going into the draft. Receiver is one, but they still need to improve several positions if they want to contend in 2017.

There is a need to replace Elvis Dumervil, who they cut during the offseason. There are a bunch of pass rushers near the top of this draft and one worthy of a top 16 selection is almost certain to fall to Baltimore.

Next up is offensive tackle. The Ravens offensive line has lost two starters over the past two offseason, and Rick Wagner leaving for Detroit has left a huge hole on the right side of their line. If the Ravens want Flacco to improve from last season, they need to keep him upright. The Ravens will probably have to wait until after the first round to address that need as there isn’t an offensive tackle who would come at a good value at pick No. 16.

Cornerback is also a priority for Baltimore. Jimmy Smith’s durability concerns have caused the Ravens to bring in Brandon Carr for some security. But, Carr will be 31-years-old by the time the season starts and it’d be smart to address the position in the draft to find the future starting perimeter corner opposite Smith.

Cleveland Browns

Browns can ‘substantially’ improve with this draft

The Browns were bad last season. That was probably on purpose, but that can’t continue. They can’t be that bad again next season. They have had a productive free agency that included signing Kevin Zeitler to sure up one of the worst offensive lines that has ever stood in front of an offensive line. It isn’t fair to call what they did last year “pass protecting.”

The Browns have a ton of draft picks. They have four picks in the first 60. Most of those picks need to have an instant impact. The only exception may be adding a quarterback who can sit and learn. The other guys can’t be project players that need time to be productive. Myles Garrett is the easiest addition with the first overall pick.

They can also use the other first round pick to select another defensive cornerstone, like a safety who falls to them. Maybe Malik Hooker slides out of the top 10. Either way that defense needs some serious help after being a disaster last year.

The main take away is the Browns can’t take risks on players who are raw. They need players who just need some polishing up to increase their win total from one.

1 last quarterback prospect for Cleveland

This has been an interesting pre-draft season in which to talk about quarterbacks for Cleveland. There isn’t a consensus best quarterback, and the Browns have a ton of picks so they could realistically add whoever they want.

One quarterback we haven’t looked at is DeShone Kizer. The former Notre Dame quarterback has the physical gifts and the work ethic to put in the effort off-the-field to become the guy the Browns need.

Kizer’s own college coach wasn’t happy with his decision to leave. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly thought another year could’ve really helped his stock and ability. One thing it couldn’t improve is his confidence. Kizer has used his media availability before the draft to show he has no doubts regarding being the best of this year’s quarterback group.

“Name a college quarterback who goes into the game-plan meetings on Monday and throws his notes at the coaches,” Kizer told the News Harold. “No one else game-plans the way I do. No one else prepares the way I do. No one else knows football the way I do. No one else is as big as I am. No one else is as powerful a runner as I am. Pat Mahomes might throw the ball 80 yards and I can only throw the ball 72, but I guarantee he can’t throw an out route the way I can.”

He makes a really good point. Remember how scouts ooed and awed over JaMarcus Russell’s throwing ability? However, he didn’t have the drive to put in the work to be one of the best quarterbacks. Kizer has that plus fairly comparable talent. Kizer could be just the confidence exuding quarterback Hue Jackson needs to officially start this turn around.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Who could Pittsburgh add in round one?

The Steelers have the 30th pick in the draft, which means it is hard to guess who will still be on the board when they pick. The Steelers have a huge need at pass rusher, and this draft is ripe with them. It’s hard to see them going anywhere else unless a top receiver takes an unexpected slide, or Pittsburgh has fallen in love with one of the quarterback prospects.

The list of pass rushers who may be available at that point in the draft isn’t bad. T.J. Watt is probably at or near the top of the list. He was only a one-year starter, and he had a knee injury prior to that. Still, he has loads of potential, and was pretty productive in his only full year of starting. The fear of him being a flash in the pan seems to be the biggest thing holding him back.

The Steelers could always reach in the first round, and draft Carl Lawson out of Auburn. Lawson was very productive during his college career, but his short arms have hurt his value. He also has been suspect against the run, but the Steelers won’t need him on running downs early in his career.

If we learned anything from last season, it’s that the Steelers aren’t afraid to reach for a need in the first round.

Pittsburgh's’ plan for Bryant will become clear after the draft

Last offseason, Josh Gordon got suspended for the league’s substance abuse policy, and the new Cleveland regime sent a very clear message to him by drafting five receivers in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Steelers’ actions during this draft will also send a message to Martavis Bryant who received a one-year suspension in 2016 and is working toward reinstatement for this season.

Many draft experts have claimed receiver as a need for Pittsburgh, but if Bryant returns, that would solve most of Pittsburgh’s need there. That is still an uncertainty though. The Steelers could draft a receiver toward the end of the second round to assure they are properly providing Ben Roethlisberger with a proper second receiver in the event Bryant’s appeal falls through, or he fails another drug test.

Drafting a receiver on the second day would also provide Bryant with some competition to keep him from thinking he can waltz right back into his starting role. The young receiver could end up making everyone better just due to the threat of what he means for their job security.

We won’t know until the draft is over what the Steelers’ intentions are for the receiving group next season, but it won’t be hard to assess once they make the call.