In the National Football League, the first goal at the beginning of every league year is to win your division, and the first order of business is to make sure you have the resources to win your division. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the AFC North, a division in which two teams made it to the postseason in 2015, while the other two have top-10 picks.
But division rivals don’t just compete with one another with helmets on. It’s a year-long process, during which every step of the way, from free agency to the draft, teams measure themselves up against the teams they know they’ll play at least twice that season.
At times, it can be an arms race. Last year, both the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals tried to bulk up in the trenches, while Baltimore Ravens added offensive pieces early, and the Steelers tried to address the secondary and edge rushing positions.
With the first round of the draft set to commence tonight, it’s set the table for the AFC North on this day.
Likely Targets: CB, OL, LB, DL
Strategy: While the Ravens might still want to add a wide receiver, it wouldn’t make sense to do it at the sixth spot. They will have a chance to add a premium prospect at one of the positions listed above, whose value would outweigh and receiver there. After losing linemen and linebackers, and cutting loose a few players from these positions, they need an infusion of talent at each.
Likely Targets: QB, WR, LB, OL, DL
Strategy: The Browns went out and got a quarterback, but could still be in play at eight. And of course, they are in perpetual need of wide receivers. They lost two linemen in free agency with only one to replace them, and also lost two of their top three inside linebackers. Meanwhile, they haven’t stopped the run in years.
Likely Targets: DL, WR, LB
Strategy: After losing two of their top four wide receivers, the Bengals will likely want to add another. Meanwhile, their aging defensive line can use an infusion of premium talent, even if their pass rush improved last season. At linebacker, they are dealing with suspension and depth, having signed a Browns cast-off in response.
Likely Targets: CB, S, DL, OLB
Strategy: You know the drill by now. The Steelers are pretty well set on the offensive side of the ball, particularly when it comes to players that they need to contribute right away, but that certainly can’t be said for the defensive side of the ball.
For starters, at cornerback, they have lost two in free agency and released another, retaining only two that spent all of last season on the 53-man roster, while carrying over second- and fourth-round draft picks from last year, the former spending the year injured and the latter spending half the year on the practice squad.
The Steelers are still looking to find a long-term starter at safety, and they lost their nose tackle in free agency because he couldn’t get after the passer, and thus didn’t merit the investment he got considering how limited his snaps would be in their nickel. That makes defensive line a priority, as does the general lack of depth needed to spell their starters more than they could last year.