NFL Draft Preview: AFC North
In 2012, the AFC North produced the Super Bowl champion, and, in 2013, the division could be among the league's most competitive. The Browns are the only team selecting in the first half of the first round, but there are plenty of opportunities for these teams to improve.
Cleveland Browns (5-11 in 2012)
Picks: #6 (1), #68 (3), #104 (4), #139 (5), #164 (5), #175 (6), #227 (7)
Needs: QB, OG, LB, CB
Outlook: Cleveland is yet another team on the “Quarterback Watch List.” Will they take Geno Smith in Round 1 or another quarterback in Round 2? Or, are they willing to give Brandon Weeden another year to lead the Browns forward? If the Browns pass on a quarterback in the first round, “this draft could offer the Browns a shot to draft dynamic CB Dee Milliner at pick #6, or an edge rushing OLB like Jarvis Jones, Ezekiel Ansah, or Barkevious Mingo,” said DrafTek.com Cleveland Browns analyst Michael Sudds. He also argued that Weeden “will get every chance to fail” and “the Browns are expected to continue adding offensive weapons around” him. In addition to offensive weapons, the Browns ought to look at protection and Chance Warmack of Alabama or Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina could be options at guard as well. While the Browns do not have a second round pick, pass rusher Corey Lemonier of Auburn, cornerback David Amerson of NC State, or guard Larry Warford of Kentucky could be options in Round 3. Sudds also noted that “the Cleveland Browns have done a thorough house cleaning after Jimmy Haslam bought controlling interest in the team after another losing campaign in 2012” and “the front office and coaching staff have been replaced.” For the Browns to finally build a winning product, this draft will need to be one of their best.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8 in 2012)
Picks: #17 (1), #48 (2), #79 (3), #115 (4), #150 (5), #186 (6), #206 (6), #223 (7)
Needs: RB, WR, TE, LB, CB, S
Outlook: The Pittsburgh Steelers look like they are poised to bolster their defense with their first round selection as the linebacker position or safety position seem to be the most likely targets. Jarvis Jones of Georgia is likely the top target if he is available at #17 and has been cleared by team doctors. One of the draft’s top safeties, such as Kenny Vaccaro of Texas, or a top corner, like Florida State’s Xavier Rhoades, can also be options. If they pick a player on offense, a playmaker like Tavon Austin of West Virginia or Cordarelle Patterson of Tennessee could be a solution. Tight end Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame would be a nice surprise pick for Pittsburgh as well. The Steelers could find a running back or fill some needs at wide receiver or corner in the second round. Robert Woods of USC could be a strong pick-up at wide receiver in the second round.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6 in 2012)
Picks: #21 (1), #37 (2), #53 (2), #84 (3), #118 (4), #156 (5), #190 (6), #197 (6), #240 (7), #251 (7)
Needs: RB, WR, OT, LB, CB, S
Outlook: Thanks to perhaps arguable one of the most lopsided trade in the history of professional sports, the Bengals have two second round picks to go with the 21st overall selection. In Round 1, the Bengals are likely to target a safety in Round 1. The Bengals may find stellar prospects like Vaccaro, Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International, or Matt Elam of Florida available at the spot. While some have speculated that Cincinnati could look at linebacker, and a prospect like Alec Ogletree could be tempting. However, with the signing of James Harrison, the Bengals ought to look at other needs. Two Alabama prospects to keep an eye on in Round 1 are D.J. Fluker, the offensive tackle, and Eddie Lacy, the running back. Fluker could get a look particularly since the team has not yet come to an agreement with the overweight Andre Smith. A wide receiver is an option as well to draw some attention away from A.J. Green. In Round 2, Kyle Long of Oregon could fill that offensive tackle void, and Jonathan Franklin or Montee Ball would likely be available to improve the running back position. With these selections, the Bengals could move closer to be a contender and perhaps the frontrunner in the AFC North.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6 in 2012)
Picks: #32 (1), #62 (2), #94 (3), #129 (4), #130 (4), #165 (5), #168 (5), #199 (6), #200 (6), #203 (6), #238 (7), and #247 (7)
Needs: WR, OT, C, MLB, S
Outlook: Ozzie Newsome has a reputation of drafting the best available player, and it has been a formula for success for the Ravens. This makes the defending Super Bowl champs a little hard to predict, but the Ravens have rarely had this many holes on their roster after a mass exodus this offseason. Baltimore’s primary needs are at offensive tackle, middle linebacker, and safety. Linebacker and safety are potential high value picks for the Ravens if a prospect like linebacker Arthur Brown of Kansas State or safeties Matt Elam of Florida or Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International are available. In Round 2, the Ravens could land a much needed tackle if they like what they see out of Menelik Watson of Florida State, Kyle Long of Oregon, or Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. With Matt Birk’s retirement and the loss of Anquan Boldin, players like center Barrett Jones of Alabama or wide receiver Robert Woods of USC could be appealing targets for the Ravens, however, those needs are of a less pressing nature. In later rounds, I expect the Ravens to focus on the defensive side of the ball, particularly along the line and in the secondary. However, if there is a player the Ravens are high on, Newsome will take him regardless of position.