Friday, May 3, 2013
Eight in the Box: Next order of business
By Jamison Hensley
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
With the draft in the rearview mirror, what's the most pressing issue on each AFC North team's agenda?
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Determine if they have someone to replace Anquan Boldin at wide receiver. Torrey Smith is going to assume Boldin's role as the No. 1 receiver. The problem is finding out who is going to step into the No. 2 role. Baltimore didn't sign a wide receiver in free agency and didn't draft one until the seventh round. The Ravens do have options, although none of them are proven. Jacoby Jones could move into the starting lineup, but that reduces his role as a returner. The Ravens can turn to Tandon Doss, a 2011 fourth-round pick, and hope he improves from last season (seven catches on 18 targets). Another possibility is splitting out Dennis Pitta and using him more as a wideout than a tight end.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Sort out who's going to start at strong safety. This was a question mark last year at this time, and the Bengals never came up with an answer. It really didn't hurt the Bengals too much because their defense ranked No. 6 overall and seventh against the pass. Cincinnati waited until the third round to address this spot this year, taking Georgia's Shawn Williams with the 84th overall pick. The Bengals passed on Florida International's John Cyprien in the first round and South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger in the second. If Williams isn't ready to start immediately, the Bengals will look to two players who failed to establish themselves a year ago in Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles. And it seems like you can never rule out the return of Chris Crocker.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Figure out if Leon McFadden or Buster Skrine will start at cornerback. The Browns put themselves in a predicament by not signing a veteran starter in free agency to replace Sheldon Brown, who wasn't re-signed. In the first round of the draft, Cleveland also decided to draft LSU pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo over Alabama's Dee Milliner, the top cornerback in the draft. Without a second-round pick, the Browns had to wait until the third round, where they selected San Diego State's McFadden. He's experienced (45 starts in college) and has good awareness. The knock on McFadden is his small frame and lack of height (5-foot-9). Skrine is also the same height, but he has much more speed. His biggest problem last season was committing nine penalties, which ranked third among cornerbacks. The Browns had better hope their improved pass rush gets to quarterbacks this year.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Make sure tight end Heath Miller is going to be ready for the regular season. Miller tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 23, and the Steelers have been vague about his timetable to return. Some suggest the Steelers know Miller won't miss significant time because they didn't use any of their nine picks on a tight end. Pittsburgh needs Miller to be ready considering the rest of the depth chart. Matt Spaeth, David Paulson and David Johnson have combined for 74 career catches and nine touchdowns. Just last season alone, Miller caught 71 passes for eight touchdowns. There would be a major transition for the Steelers' passing game if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have Miller in addition to wide receiver Mike Wallace, who signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Miller and Wallace accounted for 41 percent of Pittsburgh's receiving yards last season.