- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
With a significant gap between the four division teams in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns attempted to play catch up, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens looked to extend their dominance.
Plenty of fresh faces were added to AFC North rosters during the 2009 NFL draft.
Here is a breakdown of the best and worst moves in the division:
Although neither the Steelers nor the Ravens made flashy selections -- defensive tackle Evander Hood and offensive tackle Michael Oher, respectively -- both of their first-round picks were solid moves.
These two AFC North teams realize games are won in the trenches. Despite picking late in the first round, the Ravens and Steelers got solid value picks, which will help them continue to control the line of scrimmage. Not coincidentally, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns also picked a pair of offensive linemen to try to catch up and win the line of scrimmage. But we will get to those picks later.
Baltimore needed to help second-year quarterback Joe Flacco in some fashion this weekend, and they did by getting added protection. Baltimore traded up three spots to land Oher of Mississippi at No. 23. He has a tremendous story of overcoming hardship and the Ravens like his mental and physical toughness.
If coached up properly, Hood also could develop into a solid starter within a couple years for Pittsburgh. After the Steelers lost just one starter (cornerback Bryant McFadden) from last year's Super Bowl team, there wasn't much of a chance any pick would start right away, particularly on Pittsburgh's top-rated defense. But Hood is a physically strong player who gives the Steelers depth and options on the defensive line, where all three starters are over the age of 30.
The Bengals continued their trend of taking risks high in the draft, starting in the first round with Smith.
Without a doubt, the Alabama left tackle was one of the best players in the country during the college season. He has tremendous talent. But a suspension before the Crimson Tide's Sugar Bowl game, a poor NFL combine and not-so-great pro day led to questions about his work ethic and decision-making. The Bengals will invest a lot of guaranteed money in Smith, which raises even more questions. Add the fact that Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe, a much safer pick, was still available at No. 6 and that will add a lot of pressure for Cincinnati's selection of Smith to pan out well.
Cincinnati also took another player with somewhat similar issues in Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson in the third round. He has tremendous first-day ability, but apparently every NFL team feels he has second-day motivation. Again, it will be up to the coaches to get the best out of Johnson at all times.
This is the ultimate boom or bust draft for the Bengals. They probably drafted more pure, athletic talent than any team in the division, which could turn out to be all that matters. But players like Smith and Johnson will need to be constantly monitored, and there has to be some reason every team passed on USC linebacker Rey Maualuga as well. Perhaps many general managers felt he was overrated, which remains to be seen.
Overall, these draft picks have the potential to either lead to Cincinnati's resurgence or add to its recurring problems.
Most surprising move
It is becoming an annual trend in Pittsburgh: The Steelers once again did not select an offensive lineman in the first or second round of the NFL draft.
The last time the Steelers selected a lineman on the first day was in 2002, when they tabbed former guard Kendall Simmons 30th overall. There was a run on centers before Pittsburgh's No. 32 pick in the first round with Mack (No. 21 to Cleveland) and Louisville's Eric Wood (No. 28 to Buffalo Bills) off the board. Pittsburgh felt center Max Unger and offensive tackle Eben Britton didn't fit in the first round and passed on several more offensive line prospects in the second round, where it traded out of the pick.
Pittsburgh's struggles with running the ball and protecting the passer last season were well documented. The Steelers finally took Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik with one of their three third-round picks.
File it away
Under new coach Eric Mangini and first-year general manager George Kokinis, the Browns did a lot of wheeling and dealing in their first draft together. With a focus on depth they made an NFL-high three trades in the first round before landing University of California center Alex Mack.
The Browns got three players and the Jets' first- and second-rounders for Cleveland's No. 5 overall pick, which turned out to be USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Browns continued their trading ways by picking up two sixth-round picks to move to No. 19 and again to No. 21, where they eventually took Mack.
This 2009 draft could eventually be judged by the way its trades led to two potential franchise quarterbacks. The Browns gave up the No. 5 overall pick, which turned out to be Sanchez, and the No. 17 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which turned out to be quarterback Josh Freeman.