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    AFC North 2022 NFL Draft Preview: Team needs, top draft targets, prospects to watch, and more

    Our AFC North Draft Preview includes QB prospects for the Steelers, an outside-the-box Round 1 idea for the Bengals, and team needs.

    The AFC North is upside down. Ben Roethlisberger is gone, the Cleveland Browns have a quarterback, the Baltimore Ravens finished last, and the Cincinnati Bengals are the defending conference champs. Will things get back to normal in 2022? It might depend on the NFL Draft. We explore team needs and draft prospects that make sense in our AFC North draft preview.

    AFC North 2022 NFL Draft Preview

    Will the Steelers draft a quarterback? Will the Bengals do enough to get back to the Super Bowl? And will the Ravens get back on track? Or does this division now belong to Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns?

    Cincinnati Bengals: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 19)
    $17.6 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-31, 2-63, 3-95, 4-136, 6-174, 6-209, 7-226, 7-252

    The Bengals were one possession away from winning it all, but that great success shouldn’t (and didn’t) blind team leadership to some real concerns about their roster. The offensive line was among the worst in football, and Duke Tobin spent big to fix it, adding La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras in free agency.

    That left the Bengals without any glaring massive roster holes, but that’s not to say they can’t upgrade. They still could use long-term answers at center and safety (particularly if they can’t get an extension done with Jessie Bates III) and should look to improve at cornerback and tight end. Karras’ position flexibility could also let the Bengals target a guard early and play the vet at center.

    There are plenty of suitable options at all of those positions in the top 100. Potential first-round targets include interior linemen Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), and Zion Johnson (Boston College); safety Daxton Hill (Michigan); and cornerbacks Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson) and Kyler Gordon (Washington).

    But how about an off-the-radar pick? The Bengals’ good work in free agency presents them the option of taking a flier on Michigan pass rusher David Ojabo, a top-10 talent who probably will miss the entire 2022 season after tearing his Achilles at Michigan’s Pro Day.

    Pittsburgh Steelers: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 19)
    $13.3 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-20, 2-52, 3-84, 4-138, 7-225, 7-241

    The Steelers have major uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in 18 years. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement makes this a transitional season in Pittsburgh. But he’s not the only organizational cornerstone headed for the exits.

    General manager Kevin Colbert will also call it a career after the draft. Colbert surely wants to set the franchise up for future success before he retires, which means he’ll give great consideration to all of the first-round quarterbacks — Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Malik Willis (Liberty), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), and Sam Howell (North Carolina).

    But forcing a quarterback in Round 1 could be an even bigger mistake than not addressing the position at all, particularly with a strong crop of prospects looming in 2023. If the Steelers pass on a quarterback, expect them to target a tackle, wide receiver, safety, or cornerback with the 20th pick.

    Options include WR Chris Olave (Ohio State), WR Jameson Williams (Alabama), CB Trent McDuffie (Washington), CB Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU), S Hill (Michigan), OT Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), and OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State).

    Cleveland Browns: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 19)
    $19.9 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    2-44, 3-78, 3-99, 4-118, 6-202, 7-223, 7-246

    The Browns have a lopsided roster. Their cap allocations are 2-to-1 offense-to-defense, largely driven by Baker Mayfield’s $18.9 million fully guaranteed salary. The Browns have, up to now, unsuccessfully sought an exit strategy from the Mayfield mistake. Perhaps that off-ramp comes on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.

    Between now and then, however, priority No. 1 should be loading up to win with Watson before his contract balloons in 2023. The Browns still have ample cap space, but considering how picked through the free agent class is, they might be wise to carry that over into next season.

    So what to do about their not-insignificant needs? They badly need to upgrade their front seven and wide receiver room and won’t have a first-round pick to do it.

    Options at 44 include Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, Penn State edge defender Arnold Ebiketie, Connecticut defensive tackle Travis Jones, Alabama linebacker Christian Harris, Oklahoma edge defender Nik Bonitto, and two non-Power Five wide receivers — Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) and Christian Watson (North Dakota State).

    Baltimore Ravens: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 19)
    $6.7 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-14, 2-45, 3-76, 3-100, 4-110, 4-119, 4-128, 4-139, 4-141, 6-196

    The Ravens are coming off their first last-place AFC North finish since 2007. Big changes followed that season. Steve Bisciotti fired Brian Billick and hired John Harbaugh. There was no such organizational changeup this offseason, however. But that doesn’t mean there’s no great urgency inside the building to fix it.

    Getting back a healthy Lamar Jackson should go a long way in fixing it. The Ravens also added two significant free agents: safety Marcus Williams and right tackle Morgan Moses. That allows them to stick to their board during the draft weekend. If they do, there are real opportunities to improve with 10 draft picks — including seven in the third and fourth rounds.

    Expect the Ravens to use a majority of those picks on defense. They could use a talent infusion at all three levels — the defensive line, linebacker, and the secondary. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if they package a couple of those mid-round picks to target a player they like in Round 1 that falls to Day 2.

    Who’s on their wish list at 14? No one knows for sure, but possibilities include Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd, Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean, Washington cornerback McDuffie, LSU cornerback Stingley Jr., and Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis.

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