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Monday, April 22, 2013
Ranking team needs: Outside linebacker

By Jamison Hensley

The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Monday, the blog is addressing outside linebackers. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five outside linebackers are: Oregon's Dion Jordan, LSU's Barkevious Mingo, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Connecticut's Sio Moore and Kansas State's Arthur Brown. Kiper projects Jordan, Mingo and Jones to be 3-4 outside linebackers and considers Moore and Brown to be 4-3 outside linebackers.

Here are the rankings (based on need heading into the draft):

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: It's hard to believe the Steelers are content to go with Jason Worilds at outside linebacker. He hasn't lived up to expectations of being a 2010 second-round pick, recording 10 sacks and 82 tackles in 42 career games. It's easy to see why many have linked Jones to the Steelers. If he can remain healthy, Jones has the look of being another James Harrison-type pass-rusher for Pittsburgh. Pressuring the quarterback and generating turnovers have been problems for the Steelers' highly rated defense the past couple of seasons. The Steelers are hoping for a bounce-back year from LaMarr Woodley as well.

2. Cleveland Browns: The plan right now is to start Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard on the outside. While Kruger can get to the quarterback, there are questions whether he is a strong enough run defender to be an every-down linebacker. There are bigger concerns with Sheard, who didn't sound enthused at first to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. The Browns might even think about trading Sheard. For that reason, Jordan and Mingo are considered targets in the first round for the Browns.

3. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals may have been higher on this list if they hadn't signed Harrison to a two-year contract on Friday. Cincinnati has to decide whether it wants Vontaze Burfict or Rey Maualuga to play the other outside linebacker spot. The Bengals have average depth with Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey. Beyond that, there are question marks with Dontay Moch, Aaron Maybin and Brandon Joiner. Cincinnati could add an outside linebacker in the middle rounds (like the team did with Moch) to develop behind Harrison, who is a short-term solution at this point in his career.

4. Baltimore Ravens: Outside linebacker is one area on the defense that appears to be set. The Ravens made their biggest splash in free agency when they signed Elvis Dumervil, who should deliver a strong one-two punch with Terrell Suggs. That is, if Suggs can bounce back from Achilles and biceps injuries from last season. Baltimore spent its top pick last season on Courtney Upshaw, who could see time in Dumervil's spot on early downs. Pernell McPhee, a defensive end for his first two seasons in the NFL, is going to move to rush linebacker as the top backup to Suggs.