Earlier this week, we took a look at the AFC West and NFC West 2021 NFL Draft wish lists for our selfish, fantasy football means. We continue our look around the NFL by moving on to the AFC North. If the Bengals get their act together and Big Ben makes it 2010 again through science or magic, then this could be the best division in football. But, where should each team go in the 2021 NFL Draft in order to make our fantasy football dreams come true?
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Picks: #27, #58, #104, #131, #171, #184, #210
Key Additions: Sammy Watkins (WR), Kevin Zeitler (G)
Key Losses: Mark Ingram (RB), Willie Snead (WR), Matt Skura (C), Dez Bryant (WR)
2021 NFL Draft Fantasy Football Wish List: Wide Receiver, Center
The Baltimore Ravens feel on a perpetual search to find a wide receiver that can unlock Lamar Jackson’s next level. It might be Marquise Brown, but we know it wasn’t Willie Snead or Dez Bryant. The Ravens could snag a big-name wide receiver in late first or late second to pair with Hollywood Brown. Some mock drafts have them taking LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall, which I don’t hate, honestly.
On top of that, the Ravens had some trouble along the interior, and losing long-time center Matt Skura doesn’t help matters. I wrote center for their wish list, but strengthening the interior of their offensive line should do wonders.
The Ravens lost Mark Ingram, but I feel confident enough in their J.K. Dobbins/Gus Edwards/Justice Hill power stack that I don’t see running back as a priority for them in this draft.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Picks: #5, #38, #69, #111, #149, #190, #202 (MIA via HOU), #235 (DET via SEA)
Key Additions: Riley Reiff (OT)
Key Losses: A.J. Green (WR), John Ross (WR), Bobby Hart (OT)
2021 NFL Draft Fantasy Football Wish List: Offensive Line, Offensive Line, Offensive Line, Pass Catcher
With rumors growing that teams are blowing up the Falcons for their #4 pick to take a quarterback, the NFL Draft really starts with the Bengals at #5. There are one of three ways they likely go: OT Penei Sewell, WR Ja’Marr Chase or TE Kyle Pitts. Sewell is the smartest play, given that their QBs ate a sack 7.6% of the time (eighth-highest rate) in 2021. This problem did a little thing called “tear their #1 overall pick franchise rookie quarterback Joe Burrow’s ACL.” So, if they Bengals play this correctly, they take Sewell (or trade back and take Slater later).
But, pairing Joe Burrow with Chase or Pitts is just more fun. Pitts at five seems strange, given that he’s a tight end, but he’s the most athletic tight end to come out since Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, Mike Gesicki, George Kittle, Jordan Reed, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis. As you can see, he’s a unique talent. And we definitely haven’t said this year over year about a bunch of different guys.
Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Picks: #26, #59, #89, #91 (NO), #110 (PHI), #132, #169 (LAR), #211, #257 (BUF)
Key Additions: Nobody
Key Losses: Nobody
2021 NFL Draft Fantasy Football Wish List: Nothing?
The Browns are an insane case for fantasy football purposes. The closest I can come to finding a need for them to address is… WR3? But then again, they already have Rashad Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones to fill those needs. Maybe RB3? But with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield, they don’t really need a running back. It isn’t an offensive line; Cleveland snagged Pro Football Focus’s top 2020 OL rank. They are about to give Baker Mayfield a contract for $30 million per year. Consider this my free space for the NFL Draft Wish List, because the Browns likely dump all of their top-150 picks into defense and depth.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Picks: #24, #55, #87, #128, #140, #216 (TB), #245 (MIA), #254 (BAL)
Key Additions: Kalen Ballage (RB)
Key Losses: Matt Feiler (OG/OT), James Conner (RB)
2021 NFL Draft Fantasy Football Wish List: OL, RB, Future QB
The Pittsburgh Steelers traditionally have a strong offensive line, but they are starting to age out of that. In 2020, the Steelers ranked below average at offensive line for the first time in what feels like two decades. They ranked just seventeenth, but given their loss along the line, it would be smart for them to get an interior offensive lineman.
Their fantasy football-relevant need comes at running back. They have Anthony McFarland, Benny Snell, and Kalen Ballage under contract. If you add up their contributions to the NFL, you get a big pile of nothing. McFarland is my favorite of those guys, but he’s best suited as a 1B in a Devonta Freeman-Tevin Coleman Falconsesque combo. Ideally, they clean up this depth chart with a solid running back in the first two rounds. Whoever they add is in for a top-fifteen season, as the Steelers don’t mess around with giving their backs the ball. Since Mike Tomlin entered the league, only the Rams gave one back 20+ touches more times than the Steelers.
Also, the Steelers and Big Ben are on borrowed time. They need to get someone to address the future of their position sooner or later. Preferably, it’s sooner, but Ben Roethlisberger already told everyone he isn’t much interested in grooming a successor when the Steelers took Mason Rudolph in the 2018 NFL Draft. Maybe literally begging the Steelers to not cut him changes his tune if Pittsburgh decides to go big and move up for Trey Lance (for example). More than likely, they get a day two guy they can sit and build this season if they decide to go quarterback.