The offseason is upon us for three of the four teams in the AFC North, which means NFL draft talk will begin to heat up. Always ahead of the curve, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. provided his first of many mock drafts that will run for the next four months.
Here is a look at Kiper's first offering:
Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
Pick: No. 4 overall
Kiper's pick: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Analysis: The Bengals' roster is hard to forecast in January, as there could be a lot of changes in free agency at positions such as running back and receiver. But as of right now, I think adding Bowers at defensive end makes the most sense. A potential pairing of Bowers and rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who came on strong in the second half of the season, would add a good dimension to the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati's pass rush the past few years is definitely an area the team needs to improve.
Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Pick: No. 6
Kiper's pick: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Analysis: This pick tugs at me, and I'm warning you now that I'll probably go back and forth with Green to the Browns between now and April. On one end, wide receiver is obviously Cleveland's biggest need, and Green is a great talent and the best at his position. On the other end, I hold firm to the theory that you do not draft a receiver with a top-10 pick. Teams selecting that high have too many holes, and a wide receiver is not very important on the positional hierarchy. Case in point, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are arguably the three best receivers in the NFL and none of their teams had winning records this season. With the No. 6 pick, maybe the Browns should look elsewhere. But quarterback Colt McCoy, running back Peyton Hillis and Green at receiver does have me thinking of the possibilities. It's an interesting debate we will revisit in the coming months.
Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
Pick: No. 26
Kiper's pick: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Analysis: The Ravens have a great track record of drafting quality players late in the first round. I can't say I know much about Harris at this juncture, but cornerbacks are in short supply in Baltimore. Keep in mind the healthy return of Domonique Foxworth may alleviate the need to take a corner so early, and I think the Ravens could get more help in other areas. A pass rusher to assist Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs would help the defense tremendously. Someone I like for Baltimore is Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, who I think would be a great fit for the Ravens if he falls this late. A deep threat at receiver could also help third-year quarterback Joe Flacco.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Kiper's pick: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Analysis: The mock has the Steelers with the last pick (No. 32) in the first round, because they have the best record of the remaining teams. But the results of the playoffs will determine the final order. I like Kiper's line of thinking with Pittsburgh upgrading at offensive tackle. Jonathan Scott is not the answer at left tackle for the Steelers. Max Starks will be healthy and return next season, but Flozell Adams' future is up in the air. So Pittsburgh needs to infuse some youth at the position. The Steelers hit it big with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round this season. Another hit in the first round at offensive tackle would make franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger happy.