- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.
Two of Baltimore's needs involve players to fit a certain scheme. Defensively, the Ravens are searching for a versatile pass-rusher who can complement Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs and play in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Baltimore is one of the few teams that play a varying scheme. Suggs is the prototype, because he can put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end as well as stand up and rush the passer or drop into coverage. The Ravens have reportedly shown interest in several pass-rushers, including Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Georgia’s Justin Houston.
Offensively, the Ravens need a speedy deep threat at receiver to plug into offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's vertical passing game. Baltimore wants to run an attacking-style offense that puts more pressure on the defense. But the team struggled to stretch the field with mostly possession receivers last season. If the Ravens can find a burner who can make the same impact Mike Wallace did for the Pittsburgh Steelers two years ago, it could take Baltimore's offense to the next level. One option could be Maryland receiver Torrey Smith.
The Bengals are one of two Ohio teams switching to a West Coast offense this season, and that will impact their draft strategy.
For starters, Cincinnati has to draft a quarterback to fit the system, which is based on timing and accuracy. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer wants out and threatened to retire. In his mind, he's not coming back and the Bengals have to plan accordingly. Cincinnati has been linked to Auburn's Cam Newton the most. But don’t rule out Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or other top quarterback prospects.
Depending on the future of veteran Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati may also be in the market for a receiver. All indications are that the Bengals want to go younger at the position, which would make Ochocinco, 33, trade bait this offseason. Georgia receiver A.J. Green could be a possibility for Cincinnati at No. 4 overall.
The Browns are in a similar situation to Cincinnati. A new West Coast offense under rookie head coach Pat Shurmur will emphasize the passing game, and Cleveland has lots of questions at receiver.
It's hard to envision Cleveland throwing the ball at least 55 percent of the time to its current group of receivers. Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey struggled to get open consistently and make plays last season for rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.
Green could be that impact receiver for the Browns. But they have bigger needs, such as defensive line. The Browns are also switching to a 4-3 defense and are short on defensive ends and tackles. Filling one of those positions would make the most sense with the No. 6 overall pick. Teams like the Steelers (Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders) have proved that quality receivers can be found after the first round.
Pittsburgh's biggest need is at cornerback. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau specializes in getting pressure from his front seven. So the players in the secondary need to be physical and sure tacklers. One possibility could be Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, who fits that description.
Also, the Steelers are always in the market for 3-4 defensive linemen and linebackers, even when it's not a huge need. So don't be surprised if Pittsburgh adds more players to its front seven to stockpile for a couple of years and learn the system.
Offensively, the Steelers need help at tackle and guard. Many in Steeler Nation would love to see Florida's Mike Pouncey join his twin brother, Maurkice. But that's probably not going to happen unless the Steelers move up from the No. 31 overall pick.