Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Draft Watch: AFC North
By James Walker
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: biggest team needs.
For years, adding an elite No. 1 receiver has been a major topic of discussion in Baltimore. This should be the year the Ravens finally make it happen. Baltimore will likely see what's available in free agency or the trade market at receiver. But look for Baltimore also to acquire fresh legs at receiver or tight end in the draft. This offseason should be mostly about helping budding quarterback Joe Flacco reach his full potential. The recent signing of Jim Zorn as quarterbacks coach also is a good step in that direction.
Although the defense is still one of the NFL's best, cornerback depth is needed.
The Bengals were a good team in 2009. But their inconsistent passing game prevented the reigning AFC North champs from being a great team, as Cincinnati was one-and-done in the playoffs. Outside of Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals had no reliable receivers or tight ends. So look for the Bengals to address both needs in the draft. The recent addition of free-agent receiver Matt Jones might fill a need if he stays out of trouble. There are also rumors of Terrell Owens being interested in Cincinnati, which would be a solid upgrade over Laveranues Coles. Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham also has been linked to the Bengals as a possible first-round option with the No. 21 overall pick.
When your offense was ranked dead last and the defense finished 31st in the NFL last season, there are a lot of holes. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have a big project ahead of them. But 11 draft picks give the team a lot of flexibility to fill those needs.
The biggest question for Cleveland is at quarterback. Can the Browns find their long-term solution at the position or is Brady Quinn the answer? With a thin crop of quality rookie quarterbacks, Cleveland likely will explore trades or free agency. Other key positions like linebacker, safety and cornerback are also huge needs. Reportedly, the team is intrigued by University of Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Tennessee safety Eric Berry is another potential option in the secondary.
Just one year removed from winning a Super Bowl, the Steelers do not have a lot of major needs. But a 9-7 season exposed some weaknesses with Pittsburgh, and cornerback is probably the biggest. William Gay was not ready to make the jump to a full-time starter in 2009. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, there are not a lot of corners with first-round grades thus far, although that may change after the combine and individual workouts.
The status of Pro Bowl nose tackle and pending free agent Casey Hampton is another issue. The Steelers could use the franchise tag to keep Hampton for at least another year while they try to find a replacement. Defensive tackle Dan Williams from the University of Tennessee would be an enticing draft option in the first round. Depth on the offensive line is also needed.