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AFC North Rivals Look to Fill Holes in the Draft

April 25th, 2012 at 10:18 AM
By Chuck Chapman

This has not been a great off season thus far for the Cincinnati Bengals divisional rivals in the AFC North. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore have lost key players on both sides of the ball because of free agency and salary cap issues while the Cleveland Browns still face a quarterback crisis and pretty much struck out in free agency. Here's what each will be looking to do when the NFL Draft begins tomorrow night.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns own two picks in this year's first round by virtue of their trade with Atlanta last year so that the Falcons could move up to get Julio Jones. While Cleveland is constructing a solid young defensive unit, they're a mess on offense. They lack play makers at the skill positions and their offensive line, outside of T Joe Thomas, isn't very solid.

The consensus is that the Browns will take Alabama RB Trent Richardson with their pick at number four. Richardson would solve the Browns problem in the backfield. The troubled Peyton Hillis is gone via free agency and the Browns saw enough of Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya last year to know they're not the answer. Scouts are convinced that Richardson is the first franchise running back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson and worth the high pick. Others question Richardson's durability. The Browns should be able to get Richardson if they want him, unless Tampa Bay trades up to take Minnesota's pick at three.

With their second first round pick at 22, it's a little muddier. The Browns need receivers, but this draft is deep at that position. The offensive line talent falls off significantly after David DeCastro and Cordy Glenn, both of whom will likely be gone by then. Some mock drafts have the Browns taking Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with this pick. The Browns clearly are not satisfied with Colt McCoy and will go for a quarterback at some point in the draft. Whether they think Weeden is worth a first round pick is debatable.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens took a hit with the loss of G Ben Grubbs and LB Jarrett Johnson to free agency. They're also aging on the defensive side of the ball. If an interior lineman falls to the Ravens spot at 29, that would likely be their priority. If one of the highly valued linebackers like a Whitney Mercilus falls to them, that would be a compelling choice as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers took the biggest hits with retirements and cap hits. Pittsburgh needs to get younger and in a hurry. They really like Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower. He would be a nice replacement for the retired James Farrior. An aggressive linebacking unit has been the core of Dick Lebeau's defenses over the years, so I'd expect Pittsburgh to focus there.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Football, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers

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