AFC North: John Parker Wilson

Leading up to the start of the NFL draft (it's only 10 days away), the AFC North blog will evaluate each position and where it stands as a need for each division team. Let's start with the quarterbacks, which is an intriguing draft talking point in the AFC North.

The Cleveland Browns are the only AFC North team without an established starter, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the other division teams use a mid-to-late round pick on a quarterback. While I list the Browns as having the biggest draft need at quarterback, you can make a case for the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers being No. 2.

This is the ranking in terms of needing to draft a quarterback:

1. Cleveland Browns: I don't see Cleveland taking a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns, though, could take one as early as the second round if they trade back in the first round and acquire a pick in the second. Cleveland has taken an up-close look at most of the top quarterbacks, from Geno Smith to Matt Barkley to E.J. Manuel to Ryan Nassib. All of the options are open for the Browns, who can draft a quarterback to compete with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell or select one to develop behind them.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have Josh Johnson and John Skelton as backups to Andy Dalton. I wouldn't say they are set at quarterback. Johnson and Skelton have a combined 8-14 record as starters. The Bengals have worked out Manuel and Nassib, which shows they're doing their homework on some of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Still, it would be a surprise to see Cincinnati draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. The Bengals may take one in the middle rounds if the right quarterback is there.

3. Baltimore Ravens: This may raise some eyebrows because the Ravens have gone with Tyrod Taylor as the backup to Joe Flacco for the past two seasons. There has been a sense that the Ravens would like to upgrade the backup spot. Baltimore brought in Curtis Painter to compete with Taylor last offseason. Taylor also didn't instill confidence in a sporadic performance in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The Ravens have multiple picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. In other words, they have enough to take a flier on a quarterback.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have been questioned in recent years about when they're going to draft a quarterback to develop behind Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger turning 31 last month, those questions will only increase. The Steelers created some buzz when they had dinner with quarterback Tyler Bray before attending his pro day. Pittsburgh is set at backup quarterback after signing Bruce Gradkowski this offseason. The Steelers, though, can draft a quarterback to compete with John Parker Wilson for the No. 3 spot.
I will be rolling out the top salary-cap figures for the Steelers and Ravens today. Just click here to see the ones for the Bengals and Browns from yesterday. Our weekly feature "Eight in the Box" will get posted at noon. With those programming notes out of the way, here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens are expected to show interest in 49ers defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, according to The Baltimore Sun. Francois, an unrestricted free agent later this month, only has five career starts but he was part of San Francisco's rotation, playing nose tackle and both defensive end spots. The Ravens could be looking to replace aging Ma'ake Kemoeatu, a free agent who beat out Terrence Cody last season. The Packers are also reportedly interested in Francois.

BENGALS: Special-teams coach Darrin Simmons looked at his stopwatch frequently at his 16th NFL combine. "When it comes to special teams," Simmons told the team's official website, "it's the only play that every snap is at least 40 yards. So you better be able to run. I'm looking for size-speed guys." In 2012, the Bengals ranked in the top half of the NFL in both punt-return and punt coverage but they were in the bottom half in kickoff-return and kickoff coverage.

STEELERS: Free-agent wide receiver Steve Breaston, who is from Pittsburgh, took a physical with the team Thursday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There is no news to whether negotiations have begun with Breaston, who was released by the Chiefs on Feb. 19. The Steelers also claimed former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson off waivers from the Jaguars, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has spent his first three years in the league on the Falcons' and Jaguars' practice squads.

BROWNS: Have teams been tampering with Browns' soon-to-be free agent Josh Cribbs? In an interview with ESPN Radio in Cleveland, Cribbs said, "There is a lot of interest. There are already numbers brought to the table. Things are happening. Wheels are turning behind closed doors." Cribbs' agent, Peter Schaffer, told The Plain Dealer that Cribbs is inaccurate. "Our conversations to this point have been exclusively with the Browns," Schaffer said. League rules state that teams can't talk to free agents from other teams until March 9. All we know right now is someone's not telling the truth. Either Cribbs is lying to make it sound like he's a hot commodity or the agents are lying about not talking to other teams.



Sunday, 1/25