Monday, April 29, 2013
Post-draft questions for AFC North
By Jamison Hensley
Every team talks about taking the best player available in the NFL draft, but filling a need does play a factor. Not all needs were addressed over three rounds of drafting. Here are the biggest post-draft questions facing each AFC North team:
Who's starting at strong safety next to Reggie Nelson?
The Bengals addressed safety, but not as early as many predicted. Cincinnati waited until the third round to take Georgia's Shawn Williams. He'll compete against Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles for the starting job. This wouldn't be a question if the Bengals had chosen to take Florida International's Johnathan Cyprien or Florida's Matt Elam in the first round. The Bengals have never made strong safety a priority in the draft or free agency the past couple of years. That's why it wasn't much of a surprise to see Cincinnati pass on safety in the first round in favor of tight end Tyler Eifert, who was clearly the higher-rated player on the team's draft board. The Bengals had Kerry Rhodes in for a free-agent visit earlier this month, but coach Marvin Lewis indicated there are no plans to sign a free-agent safety. Plus, as the Bengals have shown in the past, you can always bring back Chris Crocker.
What's going on with the defensive backfield?
There are question marks for half of the starting spots in the secondary, and the Browns obviously weren't going to be able to address them by making two picks in the first five rounds of the draft. It's crazy to think the Browns have over $30 million in salary-cap space and they don't know with any certainty who is starting at cornerback and free safety. At cornerback, the top candidates are rookie third-rond pick Leon McFadden, penalty-prone Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade and Chris Owens. The prospects are slightly better at free safety, where the Browns will decide between Eric Hagg and Tashaun Gipson. In other words, it's a major step down after cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward. The Browns had better hope their much-improved pass rush won't allow quarterbacks to look downfield.
Who is starting at left tackle and wide receiver?
No one really believed the Ravens were going to find the answer at left tackle when drafting at the bottom of each round. There was hope, however, the Ravens would bring in someone to complement Torrey Smith. But Baltimore didn't draft a wide receiver until the seventh round. The Ravens' decision now is whether to start Jacoby Jones (which would likely reduce his role as a returner) or go with an unproven young receiver like Tandon Doss. Another option is to go with more two tight-end sets and use Dennis Pitta in more of a wideout role by splitting him out. At left tackle, the Ravens have Kelechi Osemele penciled in that spot for right now. Baltimore can always bring back Bryant McKinnie, but he may only be re-signed if Osemele shows he can't play left tackle in minicamps. This is what the Ravens' lineup could look like heading into spring workouts: Osemele at left tackle, Jah Reid at left guard, Gino Gradkowski at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle.
What happens if tight end Heath Miller isn't ready for the start of the season?
The Steelers have been vague on Miller's recovery from knee surgery and have yet to comment on whether he'll miss a significant amount of time in the regular season. By Pittsburgh not taking a tight end in this draft -- and passing over Notre Dame's Eifert in the first round -- you could see that as a message that the Steelers believe Miller won't miss a chunk of time at the start of 2013. But, by not adding a tight end, the Steelers have put themselves in a predicament if Miller is sidelined for an extended period. This is the depth at tight end: Matt Spaeth and David Paulson. Spaeth has averaged eight catches per season, and Paulson had seven catches last season as a rookie. That's not exactly going to replace Miller's eight touchdowns from last season.