AFC North: Pittsburgh needs big draft to hold off improving
March 27, 2008
By Pete Prisco
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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The fifth in a series on division needs leading up to the April 26-27 NFL Draft:
AFC East | NFC East | AFC South | NFC South
Heading into the 2007 season, some considered the AFC North to be the best division in football.
They aren't saying that now.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won the division, but the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both had disappointing seasons. The Cleveland Browns surprised with a 10-6 record, but is that something that will be sustained?
The Browns have been the most active team in free agency, adding several key players. But to be the champs, they have to find a way to beat the Steelers, who defeated them twice last year.
Pittsburgh, as is its style, pretty much sat out free agency. The Steelers always choose to focus on the draft. But with Cleveland making strides and the Steelers doing little, Pittsburgh's front office better have two good draft days or the team might be overtaken in the division.
The Ravens and Bengals still have talent, but they have big holes. The question is whether they can plug them well enough with one draft to get back to the playoffs.
This year's draft will be huge in whether this division can return to being a power player.
The skinny: The Steelers have been a good drafting team for a long time. They don't get involved as much as some teams in free agency, in large part because they draft so well. General manager Kevin Colbert does a nice job. But he heads to this draft with some real areas of concern and big holes to fill.
Primary need: Offensive line. Pittsburgh lost Alan Faneca, and the tackles played poorly last year. This is problematic for a team that likes to run the football.
Secondary needs: Cornerback, wide receiver and safety.
Possible targets: Virginia tackle Branden Albert, Kansas State tackle Anthony Collins, South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins, Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib and Tennessee State cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie.
Summary: The Steelers are still a quality team. They do need to fix that offensive line. What about Ben Roethlisberger's want for a big receiver? At some point, the corner play has to get better. Steelers fans need not fret -- this organization knows how to find good football players.
The skinny: The Browns have been as active as any team in the league when it comes to free agency. They had issues on their defensive line last year, but have addressed that with the trades for Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. They also re-signed quarterback Derek Anderson and running back Jamal Lewis. That's the good news. The bad news is they have no draft picks in the first three rounds. The focus will be on finding one or two gems in the later rounds.
Primary need: They got a good, young corner in last year's draft in Eric Wright, but they need to try and find another in the later rounds.
Secondary needs: Running back, outside linebacker and offensive line depth.
Possible targets: Auburn cornerback Patrick Lee, Boise State cornerback Orlando Scandrick, Clark Atlanta outside linebacker Curtis Johnson.
Summary: The Browns will sit out the first three rounds, which will be tough on general manager Phil Savage. He will instead focus on finding some good players in the later rounds. The Browns have had a good offseason -- anything they do in the draft is gravy.
The skinny: The top offseason priority has been to try and fix the defense. They added end Antwan Odom in free agency, and he will help. Now they need to get some help inside. That should be the focus in the early part of the draft. This is a big one for coach Marvin Lewis.
Primary need: Defensive tackle. They have to get somebody who can help choke off the run.
Secondary needs: Linebacker, safety and tight end.
Possible targets: USC defensive Sedrick Ellis, LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey or USC linebacker Keith Rivers.
Summary: We know they can score on offense. But it's time they stopped people. The defense should be a focus for many of their picks. Lewis is a defensive coach and it has to be killing him that his isn't doing its part.
The skinny: They went from a division winner to a cellar team in a year. Why? Age and poor quarterback play were the reasons -- that's a bad combination. They have to find a young quarterback in this draft, maybe not in the first round but at some point. The age on defense is a concern. General manager Ozzie Newsome knows how to find good football players, so he'll get this team back on track.
Primary need: Quarterback. They might not admit it, but that's what it is.
Secondary needs: Cornerback, linebacker, offensive line and receiver.
Possible targets: Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, Pittsburgh tackle Jeff Otah, Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin, Jenkins and Talib.
Summary: There is still a lot of talent on this team, but with age becoming a factor they have to add some young contributors. They also have to realize that they can't win a Super Bowl with the quarterbacks they have on the roster.