The NFL offseason is an arduous and frustrating process for fans, media and players alike, but the prospect of the annual NFL Draft helps even the most impatient of football fans get through the spring. To help you negotiate the NFL′s premiere event of the offseason, which kicks off on May 8, we′ve looked at the needs of the AFC North and come up with some names you should certainly keep an eye on!
Needs “ S, OT, CB
General Manager Ozzie Newsome has done a good job so far of addressing the Ravens′ needs in free agency, but the right tackle, free safety and nickel corner spots still stand out as undermanned and/or short of starter quality. The defensive line and receiving corps could be further bolstered later in the draft, whilst they will also likely target a running back on the third day, with Baltimore keen to add a bruising runner to their current contingent.
Round 1, Pick 17: A dream scenario for Newsome would be for one of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Safety, Alabama), Taylor Lewan (Offensive Tackle, Michigan) or Justin Gilbert (Cornerback, Oklahoma St.) to fall to the Ravens, but if not, it will likely be a case of taking the best player available. C. J. Mosley (Linebacker, Alabama) and Timmy Jernigan (Defensive Tackle, Florida State) could be the top remaining players on their draft board when they come to pick, whilst Louis Nix III (Nose Tackle, Notre Dame) could be a player to keep an eye on, especially with Haloti Ngata accounting $16 million towards the cap in each of the next two seasons.
Second and Third Day Targets: Cyrus Kouandjio (Offensive Tackle, Alabama) and Antonio Richardson (Offensive Tackle, Tennessee) are prospects the Ravens could target in the second and third rounds respectively if Newsome is convinced they′re mobile enough to excel in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak′s scheme. In the secondary, Walt Aikens (Cornerback, Liberty) is a player who the Ravens have shown an interest in, whilst Newsome could also be tempted back to his Alma Mater by Vinnie Sunseri (Safety, Alabama), both of whom are likely to still be available on the third day of the draft. Terrance West (Running Back, Towson) fits the mold of what Baltimore want in a running back, and if he is still available when the Ravens are on the clock with either of their compensatory picks in the fourth round, he could well end up staying in Maryland.
Needs “ DE, CB, OL
Although Michael Johnson had a down year in 2013, the Bengals still need to replace his production in the draft now that he has left for Tampa Bay, and there should be a couple of prime candidates to do just that in the early rounds of this year′s draft. Corner is another pressing need with Terrance Newman and Adam Jones now both the wrong side of 30, and Dre Kirkpatrick, as of yet, not having the impact the Cincinnati brass would have expected. It would not be a surprise to also see the Bengals target a quarterback in the middle to later rounds, to push Andy Dalton in the starting role and/or groom as his replacement if they don′t believe he can take them to a Super Bowl.
Round 1, Pick 24: Dee Ford (Defensive End, Auburn) and Kony Ealy (Defensive End, Missouri) make the most sense here, and general consensus seems to be that if one of these two players is still available, the Bengals will take them. Alternatively, if there hasn′t been a significant rush on corners, Kyle Fuller (Cornerback, Virginia Tech) or Bradley Roby (Cornerback, Ohio St.) could be enticing picks for Cincinnati, but any of the remaining corners would likely be too much of a reach with the 24th pick.
Second and Third Day Targets: If the Bengals can snag a pass rusher in the first round, the trio of Pierre DeSir (Cornerback, Lindenwood), Keith McGill (Cornerback, Utah) and Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Cornerback, Nebraska) could all be realistic second round prospects, and would give Cincinnati a strong, rangy corner, built in the Richard Sherman mould. Logan Thomas (Quarterback, Virginia Tech) is an exciting talent that Cincinnati could look to on the third day of the draft, but he is not pro-ready, and would have to be seen as a long-term project rather than immediate competition for Dalton.
Needs “ QB, RB, G
Despite drafting Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson just two years ago, neither in Cleveland′s roster today, the Browns have arguably no bigger needs than at their respective positions. The Browns are also a couple of guards away from having an elite offensive line, and although it wouldn′t necessarily be popular with fans, doubling up at the position in the draft could be beneficial in the long run. The Browns have further needs, including bolstering their receiving corps and finding a running mate for Karlos Dansby at the heart of Cleveland′s 3-4 defense.
Round 1, Picks 4 and 26: If Houston trades away their number one overall pick or opts to draft Jadeveon Clowney, chances are the Browns could have their pick of the ˜big three′ quarterbacks with the fourth overall pick, or they could hold out till the 26th pick, and pick up Derek Carr (Quarterback, Fresno St.). If they like Carr, or take their chances and hope that one of Teddy Bridgewater (Quarterback, Louisville), Johnny Manziel (Quarterback, Texas A&M) or Blake Bortles (Quarterback, Central Florida) falls to 26, Sammy Watkins (Wide Receiver, Clemson) becomes a very realistic candidate for the 4th pick, and would potentially form a highly effective duo with Josh Gordon. Another option for the 26th pick, especially if Cleveland goes quarterback with their first pick, would be Xavier Su′a-Filo (Guard, UCLA), who is widely-regarded as the best guard in the class.
Second and Third Day Targets: Cleveland signed Ben Tate in free agency, but finding another running back to provide a change of pace and contrasting running style will be important. Carlos Hyde (Running Back, Ohio State) offers a more physical running style than Tate, whilst Dri Archer (Running Back, Kent State) would provide a fleet-footed option who would look to make ground on the outside. Both players would compliment Tate well, and both should be available when Cleveland picks in the second round. Adding depth to an improving defensive line will also be high on the Browns′ list of priorities and Eathyn Manumaleuna (Defensive Tackle, Brigham Young) could be exactly the kind of run-stuffing lineman they′ll be seeking in the later rounds.
Needs “ CB, DL, WR
The Steelers addressed a big need by signing Mike Mitchell, whilst Lance Moore adds a reliable target in the passing game, and Darrius Heyward-Bey offers a bundle of potential, though whether or not he can realize that in Pittsburgh is another question. Finding a big-bodied receiver to compliment Antonio Brown, a cornerback to step into the cleats of the ageing Ike Taylor, and a disruptive presence on the defensive line will be Pittsburgh′s priorities in this year′s draft.
Round 1, Pick 15: Darqueze Dennard (Cornerback, Michigan State) makes so much sense for Pittsburgh, that it′s a struggle to see them going elsewhere if he is available when the 15th pick comes around on May 8. Justin Gilbert will probably be gone by the time the Steelers are on the clock, but Dennard would give them a strong press corner who is also proficient in coverage, and has all the physical tools to be an elite corner in the NFL. Alternatively, bolstering the defensive line could be an option, with Ra′Shede Hageman (Defensive Tackle, Minnesota) an intriguing prospect who could add some nastiness to the Pittsburgh′s ailing defensive line.
Second and Third Day Targets: Given the depth of this year′s wide receiver class, Jordan Matthews (Wide Receiver, Vanderbilt) and Martavis Bryant (Wide Receiver, Clemson) could still be available when Pittsburgh′s turn rolls around in the second round, and either player could start opposite Antonio Brown and provide the Steelers with a physical presence that can make contested catches on third downs and short-yardage situations. Will Sutton (Defensive Tackle, Arizona State) is another guy to keep an eye on, and like Hageman, could help rebuild the defensive line of the Steelers that has certainly diminished in recent years. Consistency and weight issues are concerns with Sutton, but if he′s still available in the third round, the reward arguably far outweighs the risk at that point.
Image credit: Baltimore Ravens via Facebook.com