AFC North: Markice Pouncey
February, 25, 2010
By James Walker | ESPN.com
US Presswire/Icon SMIOffensive weapons like Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Illinois' Arrelious Benn could help spice things up in the AFC North.INDIANAPOLIS -- Three of the NFL's top five defenses were from the AFC North last season. Therefore, don't expect any major turnover defensively from the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But when it comes to offenses in the division, it's a totally different story.
The AFC North was filled with inconsistencies, weaknesses and limitations on that side of the ball in 2009. Whether it was the offensive line in Pittsburgh, the passing games in Baltimore and Cincinnati or the rotating quarterbacks with the Cleveland Browns, offensive deficiencies prevented each team from getting to the next level.
So look for this usually defense-oriented division to search for the best offensive talent it can find at this week's NFL combine. The AFC North blog teamed up with Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson to examine every team's offensive weakness and preview which college players your favorite teams could be looking at to fill those needs.
Offensive needs: Wide receiver, tight end
2009 recap: As the season went on, it became obvious that Baltimore's lack of big-play receivers would prevent the team from competing for a championship. There was no way the Ravens could keep up with the likes of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees by running the ball 52 times, which is what Baltimore did to win its opening playoff game. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome admitted that his goal moving forward is to build a team that can win offensive shootouts as well as defensive struggles. So this offseason is mostly about surrounding quarterback Joe Flacco with the proper weapons to make sure he reaches his full potential.
Potential offensive targets: Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham, Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn, Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate
Scouts Inc. analysis: "Baltimore needs pass-catchers. I want to see someone who can really get deep, because Flacco has a huge arm. Not only do they need an over-the-middle, move-the-sticks, red zone guy, but they also need somebody who's really going to threaten you deep outside the numbers. Maybe there's a chance that Donte' Stallworth is that guy. That signing could be helpful, but it's not nearly enough. Derrick Mason is not a No. 1 [receiver] anymore. Even if he comes back and everything is gravy with him, he's your move-the-sticks guy. But they need pass-catchers bad. There are a couple of tight ends that are interesting and could be [available] at the end of the first round like Gresham. Aaron Hernandez, he's not really their style. But they can get creative, detach him and use him like a Dallas Clark-type. I also think Arrelious Benn's stock is really going to grow over the next few days at the combine. But I don't know if Baltimore sits in a really good spot to fill their [offensive] needs in terms of value." -- Matt Williamson
Offensive needs: Wide receiver, tight end, offensive guard
2009 recap: Last season's division champs were much different offensively from the Bengals in 2005, which was the last time they made the playoffs. Cincinnati ran the football extremely well and finally looked like a true AFC North team. The problem was, when the Bengals had to throw the football, they couldn't do it with any consistency. Receiver Chad Ochocinco had a solid season with 72 receptions for 1,047 yards, but there was a tremendous drop-off after that. No. 2 receiver Laveranues Coles didn't live up to his hefty contract, and the team didn't get much production from its tight ends.
Potential offensive targets: Gresham, Benn, Hernandez, Tate
Scouts Inc. analysis: "I would say the Bengals' biggest need is wideout, because historically they don't use the tight end. They used a high pick on Chase Coffman last year. So maybe their big-picture plan is to incorporate the tight end into their passing game, but they just didn't get the opportunity because their top three guys got hurt. If they can get Gresham and they dedicate themselves to throwing the football to him, that could be great. But considering Ochocinco's age, the uncertainty around Matt Jones and Jerome Simpson hasn't panned out at all, wide receiver would be a great first-round pick for them. Or, they can make a free-agent acquisition." -- Williamson
Offensive needs: Wide receiver, quarterback, tight end, right tackle, right guard
2009 recap: When you're ranked last in the NFL in total offense, there is nowhere to go but up. Besides the left side of the offensive line and fullback, a case can be made that Cleveland needs an upgrade at every offensive position. The Browns couldn't pass all year and struggled running until the second half of the season. That's where new team president Mike Holmgren comes in. He has a tremendous offensive pedigree and led two teams to Super Bowls, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Offensive options with the No. 7 overall pick are somewhat limited. But with 11 total picks, the Browns have an opportunity to plug a lot of offensive holes.
Potential offensive targets: Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford
Scouts Inc. analysis: "They've got nothing at tight end, and they might have the worst wide receivers in the whole league. I like Mohamed Massaquoi, but I think at best he's going to be a very good No. 2 [receiver]. It would be great for the Browns to get Dez Bryant -- someone who is a stud, someone who is a potential Andre Johnson and someone who can really change the game for them. But that doesn't matter if you don't have a quarterback. That's the biggest issue: What do you do at quarterback and what offense are you going to install? Are you running a West Coast offense? Do you give Brady Quinn a shot for another year? Will you pick up a vet? Those questions are hard to answer from where we sit right now." -- Williamson
Offensive needs: Offensive tackle, guard, center
2009 recap: Pittsburgh's offense was very good in 2009. They had a 1,000-yard rusher (Rashard Mendenhall), two 1,000-yard receivers (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes) and a 4,000-yard quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger). But despite the gaudy numbers, the Steelers sputtered in the red zone and averaged only 23 points per game. Pittsburgh needs to get much tougher near the goal line, and it starts up front. The Steelers struggled to get the tough yards because their offensive line is below average and they have no dominant force to run behind when it's time to punch it into the end zone. Although cornerback help is probably the team's biggest need, a dominant offensive tackle or guard wouldn't hurt.
Potential offensive targets: Idaho guard Mike Iupati, Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams, Florida center Maurkice Pouncey
Scouts Inc. analysis: "If you look at their offensive line, there isn't one position that I would say, 'Wow, they are brutal there. Boy, do they need a center, or boy, do they need a tackle.' But if they could get one stud, if they can get one Alan Faneca or Dermontti Dawson and live with the other four, I think their O-line would go from below average to above average. Guys like Willie Colon, Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu would all of a sudden be a little better. I don't want to see them use a third-round pick on a guard or a center. Either go get the lineman that is a potential Pro Bowler or don't even bother, because I don't think it's going to make that big a difference. There are so many great interior defensive linemen in this division that you can't be average up the middle. You need to be really, really good. Use the first-round pick on a guy like Iupati from Idaho or don't even bother. Just go back with what you have and use your resources somewhere else." -- Williamson