Wednesday, April 27, 2011

AFC North Draft Preview

As the clock ticks closer to the NFL Draft on April 28-30, we'll be doing our best to preview the team needs of all 32 teams to give you all an outlook on what to expect come draft day. Of course, there are no guarantees with things like mock drafts (even though they are fun to do) so we did our best to get some insight from bloggers/fans of other teams. Today we take a look at the AFC East. Our friends Phil from I Hate JJ Redick and Aaron from Draft Breakdown were cool enough to help us out with some inside perspective on their team needs.

For reference, we compiled the draft picks each team currently has. Compensatory picks are listed in parentheses.

2010 Record: 12-4
AFC North Champion, Lost Super Bowl XLV to Green Bay

Draft Picks: 31, 63, 95, 128, 162, 196, 232

We'll be posting previews for the Steelers offense, defense, and special teams later today. Stay tuned.

2010 Record: 12-4
Lost in Divisional Round to Pittsburgh

Draft Picks: 26, 58, 90, 123, (164), (165), 180, 191, 225

The Ravens brought in Anquan Boldin to be Joe Flacco's #1 man last year then he did a disappearing act in the playoffs. A lot of people out there have projected that the Ravens will target a receiver early in the draft, particularly one that can stretch the field and give Boldin room to operate underneath. The Ravens also need help along the offensive line and would love to land an interior lineman early in the draft. The Ravens are still thin in the secondary, particularly at corner, and this showed last year as they finished 21st in the league in pass defense. More surprisingly, the Ravens finished 29th in the league in sacks. Last year's first round pick OLB Sergio Kindle's future is still up in the air after being injured in the offseason last year so the Ravens may look for another pass rusher at some point as well.

Usually, we try not to associate ourselves much with Ravens fans, but our friend Phil from I Hate JJ Redick is the exception. Not only was his blog voted the best Maryland Sports blog, but they cover just about every sport from Baseball to Wrestling. Check them out on Twitter @iHateJJRedick

1. What are the biggest needs Baltimore has entering the draft?

Some people might say offensive line or cornerback but the Ravens will never get past the Steelers in the playoffs without a pass rushing DE/OLB. Without putting pressure on Big Ben he will just pick us apart like he does every year. Unfortunately, most if not all the big name DE/OLB will be off the board by the 26th pick so they will have to get creative. If Muhammad Wilkerson is there I think they take him. Quinn Sturdivant is a guy I like in Round 3 if they go in a different direction in rounds 1 and 2. A good Ravens draft would get the team new starters at CB, OL, and DL and it the late round depth at RB, WR, QB. Surprisngly the Ravens have alot of holes despite a strong 2010 season and with their championship window likely closing they need guys to contribute right away, something they didn't get from their 2010 draft class.

2. Do you think Baltimore will address those needs in the draft or wait for free agency?

Since you don't know when free agenecy will happen I would think most important needs will be addressed via the draft.

3. What players would you like to see the Ravens target in the draft?

I really hope they address the receiving corp in this draft and Torrey Smith & Titus Young are two guys I really like. Either way I hope they bring in someone to stretch the field and compliment possession receivers like Boldin and Mason. At offensive line I love Derek Sherrod and if they trade back I like Ben Ijalana as a versatile guy that can play multiple positions. Muhammad Wilkerson would be a great 1st round selection if he falls to them.

2010 Record: 5-11

Draft Picks: 6, 37, 70, 102, 137, 168, 170, (248)

After Mike Holmgren cleaned house in Cleveland he brought in Pat Shurmur as the new coach. It looks like the Browns will be converting to a 4-3 defense after the Shaun Rogers experiment failed at nose tackle. The Browns need help all over the field, seemingly at every position except running back. If the new coaches feel that Colt McCoy is their guy at quarterback, then I guess the Browns have something there too. If McCoy is the guy, he needs someone with reliable hands to throw to and some more linemen in front of him to block. On defense, the Browns have two decent corners in last year's first round pick Joe Haden and Eric Wright and an up-and-coming safety in TJ Ward. The problem is in the front seven where they basically need 7 new starters.

Our buddy Aaron from our favorite draft website, Draft Breakdown, gave us an in-depth analysis of what the Browns are looking for on draft day. If you have any questions about the draft at all, related to the Browns or any other team, hit him up on twitter @AaronAloysius

1. What are the biggest needs Cleveland has entering the draft?

The Browns' biggest needs are on the defensive line and at wide receiver. By switching to a 4-3 defense, the team opened up gaping holes at both defensive end and tackle; Ahtyba Rubin may be their only credible starter. They need a disruptive 3-technique to complement Rubin's stout play at the point of attack, as well as a pair of ends who can consistently get after the quarterback. Third year man Marcus Benard could provide some pressure, but he's better off in a situational role.

In addition, the team needs a lot of help at wide receiver. Not since Braylon Edwards' beastly '07 season has the team had a legit #1 wide receiver. At this point, even a reliable possession WR would be an upgrade over Massaquoi and Robiskie, but McCoy would benefit greatly from having a big target who can make plays downfield. Otherwise, his below average vertical accuracy could hold back the Browns' offense.

Also, the team could use upgrades in the secondary and at offensive tackle. With Mangini gone, Abe Elam's probably done in Cleveland, and Sheldon Brown looked eminently beatable late in the season. Perhaps the best solution would be to draft a corner and move Brown back to free safety.
Tom Heckert has expressed confidence in right tackle Tony Pashos, but the aging and injury-prone lineman looked mediocre at best in limited action last fall. Heckert's comments probably are a smokescreen; the team wanted Rodger Saffold last year and very well could target an offensive tackle in the second of third round.

2. Do you think Cleveland will address those needs in the draft or wait for free agency?

The team most likely won't be able to add three starting-caliber defensive linemen in the draft; they'll go with a hodgepodge of rookies and FA's. Former Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards should appeal to the club, as could some of the players Heckert was involved in drafting in Philly. Juqua Parker and Brodrick Bunkley may be trade targets for the club.

While the team may bolster its receiver corps with a vet or two, the better option would be to add a young stud who can become Colt's long-term go-to guy. Perhaps the team will look at Sidney Rice or some of the receivers that Shurmur coached in St. Louis, but AJ Green would be a considerably better option for the club.

It's hard to say whether the team will manage to draft rookie starting DBs or an OT. I suspect Falcons offensive lineman Tyson Clabo will appeal to them, should the team not come away with an early round stud.

3. What players would you like to see the Browns target in the draft?

AJ Green is my #1 rated prospect in the entire draft, so it's no surprise that I'd love to see him in a Browns uni. His sure hands would be a nice departure from what we've seen recently in Cleveland, and his ability to go up and fight for jump balls would prove valuable whenever Colt chucks one of his floating deep balls.

Also, I'd love to see a pair of LSU products in Cleveland: Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard. Nevis is an excellent penetrating defensive tackle who was dominant at times in the SEC, but his lack of ideal size will push him down draft boards. It's possible that he'll be there when the Browns pick in the third round, which would be a tremendous value pick: he could come in and start right away as the team's three-technique.

Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard would be a bit of a luxury pick, given that the team already has its starting three in D'Qwell Jackson, Chris Gocong, and Scott Fujita. However, those three guys have missed a combined 35 games in the last two seasons, so having a quality backup in Sheppard would be ideal. He's better than D'Qwell at meeting and greeting blockers, and he possesses better range than Gocong. It's possible that he could impress in the pre-season and unseat one of those guys as a starter.

I had the opportunity this year to attend the East-West Shrine Game practices, where I became smitten with Richmond cornerback Justin Rogers. The small but feisty corner possesses excellent ball skills, as well as good kick return/special teams ability. He could make the team based on specials alone, and his instincts could earn him some rookie PT as a nickel corner.

2010 Record: 4-12

Draft Picks: 4, 35, 66, 101, 134, 167, 207, (246)

In a year when some of the "experts" out there were predicting big things from a Bengals offense that added TO to the OchoStinko disaster. Now, with both of their contracts set to expire, it seems as though the Bengals might part ways with both and start anew. But a bigger problem exists in quarterback Carson Palmer who swore he would not come back and play for the Bengals. Can Cincinnati afford to call his bluff and not draft a quarterback? Can they risk starting Jordan Palmer or Dan LeFevour on opening day? On one hand, Mike Brown and company are dumb enough that they didn't trade Carson for draft picks while they could and now they might risk having to start the season with one of the aforementioned signal-callers. On the other hand, they might just cut the cord with Palmer and use their 4th overall pick on one of the top quarterbacks in the draft that they could build their offense around. The Bengals have never shied away from guys with character issues, and their needs along the defensive line make us think that Nick Fairley (DT-Auburn) could be a possibility as well.

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