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In the Hood offers the following guide to each AFC North teamâ€™s needs in the upcoming NFL draft scheduled for April 28th and 29th. Let’s start with the 2006 AFC North Champions:
With a solid nucleus of returning starters, the team has very few question marks as opposed to a year ago at this time. If they draft as well as they did in 2006, the Ravens will be positioned to contend for the division title and the playoffs for the foreseeable future.
QB: With its investment in Steve McNair set for 2007 and 2008 expect the team to draft a QB to groom as the heir apparent. Kyle Boller is in the last year of his rookie contract and may choose to look for a potential new suitor in 2008.
RB: With the trade completed for Willis McGahee, the Ravens have depth at the RB position as Mike Anderson, Musa Smith and PJ Daniels return in 2007. The departure of FB Ovie Mughelli will create a hole possibly for Justin Green to fill. Look for the team to draft a FB on draft day 2.
TE: The Ravens are set and are strong at this position with Todd Heap, Quinn Sypniewski, and Daniel Wilcox all returning in 2007.
WR: The Ravens have never been as solid at this position with the emergence of Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, as well as the solid play of Derrick Mason. If the board allows, the team could target a pure speed / breakaway threat at the receiver slot. This could serve to plug an additional hole if BJ Sams is unable to effectively recover from his ankle injury or if off the field issues ultimately keep him off the field.
O-Line: With the departure of OT Tony Pashos, G Edwin Mulitalo and the potential retirement of Jonathan Ogden, this position looks to be the closest to being a need for the 2007 draft. Remember that Jason Brown, Adam Terry, and Chris Chester all saw the field a lot in 2006. No doubt that by Sunday, the Ravens will have at least one new offensive lineman in the fold.
D-Line: Not necessarily a need spot with the return of Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs; however you never really ever have enough pass rushers, so the Ravens may end up drafting an end if the board works in that direction.
LB: The departure of Adalius Thomas opens up a slot for Jarrett Johnson whom the team re-signed, but opens up a hole on the depth chart. Remember also that Ray Lewis is another year older. Many believe that the Ravens will pursue a LB on day 1.
Secondary: The secondary looks solid enough, but speculation abounds that the Ravens will draft a corner to protect against the inconsistent play of Samari Rolle in 2006. Remember that the team has young talent at the corner spot in Evan Oglesby and Ronnie Prude plus they burned a No. 3 in ’06 on David Pittman. No need exists at safety with the return of Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, and Gerome Sapp.
Special Teams: With the exception of Samsâ€™ (see WR analysis above) return to the line-up, the team is set with Stover, Katula, and Koch in tow. One of these years, the team will be faced with replacing Mr. Automatic (Stover), but I wouldnâ€™t expect the team to draft a kicker this year.
The Steelers are one year removed from having won the Super Bowl and will enter 2007 with new Head Coach Mike Tomlin and the need to re-tool a team that finished 8-8 in 2006.
QB: This is not a need position in the 2007 draft. With Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and Brian St. Pierre on the roster, the Steelers may look for a QB on day 2 of the draft.
RB: The Steelers return Pro Bowl RB Willie Parker and re-signed veteran Najeh Davenport. The team has veteran FB Dan Kreider who is their lead blocker. ITH feels that a power rusher to complement Parker is a need that the team should address in the draft.
TE: Heath Miller and Jerame Tuman man this position for the Steelers. Miller either underachieved in 2006, or he wasnâ€™t a large enough focus in the offensive game plan as a receiving threat; maybe both. Unless they see a star fall into their laps, it is unlikely that the Steelers will draft for this position.
WR: This is a position of strength on the roster with a large monetary investment in Hines Ward and last yearâ€™s #1 selection, Santonio Holmes. Add to that the likes of Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington and one could conclude that there is no need to draft a WR.
O-Line: ITH views this position as a big need in the 2007 draft. In 2006, the Steelers had great difficulty at times protecting the passer. Jeff Hartings is gone, Alan Faneca is unhappy that the team has not extended his contract, and the tackle play of Marvel Smith and Max Starks was inconsistent. Expect the Steelers to draft on the O-Line.
D-Line: With the likes of Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and the recent signing of Nick Eason this has the look of a fairly solid group. A pass rusher is needed on the line in addition to the LB corps.
LB: Big need for the Steelers. Joey Porter has moved to Miami and the team had problems rushing the passer in 2006. James Farrior and Clark Haggans are the most recognizable names of the returnees, but this group could use some fresh infusion of young talent.
Secondary: This group has seemingly been a troublesome spot for the Steelers, especially when the pass rush is lacking (see 2006). The team is solid at safety with Troy Polamolu and an emerging talent in Anthony Smith, but the team looks vulnerable at corner with the likes of youthful Bryant McFadden, Chidi Uwuoma and the aging Deshea Townsend. Ike Taylor needs to recover after an off year in ’06. Drafting a corner should be a priority for Pittsburgh.
Special Teams: Jeff Reed is a solid placekicker. Chris Gardocki has been punting for 16 years in the NFL and the Steelers have hinted that they may look for a punter to replace him. Perhaps a day 2 play is in order.
The Cincinnati Bengals return a solid and sometimes explosive offense from the 2006 season. In order to contend for the playoffs, the team must improve its inconsistent defense. It must overcome losses at the LB position and must vastly improve a secondary to better blend with, balance and complement its strengths on offense. ITH expects the Bengals to focus on its defense with the 2007 draft.
QB: After Carson Palmer, the team has a need at the #2 spot as Anthony Wright has signed with the NY Giants. The team is looking at Tim Rattay as a potential replacement for Wright. Doug Johnson is the only other QB on the roster, so if Rattay goes elsewhere and another veteran cannot be found, the draft may be an option for the Bengals to consider.
RB: With Rudi Johnson as the primary ball carrier on a team that throws the ball a lot, the Bengals may be satisfied with back-ups Chris Perry and Kenny Watson. While drafting a RB on draft day 1 is highly unlikely, they could make a play for one on day 2.
TE: The team re-signed Reggie Kelly, who is an average TE, but the team does not look to this position for big plays. Think how tough the passing attack could be if the Bengals had a stud at this spot. Not necessarily a need position, but has interesting possibilities if a top flight pass catcher fell to them on the draft board.
WR: After Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh things are uncertain at this spot. Chris Henry is serving an 8 game suspension to start 2007 and Kelley Washington signed with the Patriots. Second year player Bennie Brazell (LSU) or Antonio Chatman could step in to the 3 spot. At some point in the draft, the Bengals will be looking for a WR.
O-Line: Injuries along the offensive line in 2006 forced the Bengals to use reserve players, and the good news resulting from that is they developed some depth. Bookend tackles Levi Jones and Willie Anderson return. The team picked up free agent Alex Stepanovich at C and young Andrew Whitworth is expected to compete for the vacancy left by the departing G Eric Steinbach. Not a need spot, but maybe a day 2 investment is made in the O-Line.
D-Line: The team may need help in the middle with the loss of Shaun Smith to the Browns and the decline in effectiveness of aging T Sam Adams and John Thornton and may look to the draft to find it. The team recently signed Michael Meyers (DEN, 10 yr player) to help at DT. Theyâ€™re set at the end positions with the franchise designation placed on Justin Smith and the return of Robert Geathers.
LB: Need position. A quick look at the season ending roster for the Bengals reveals that Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson are the only recognizable names. Brian Simmons is gone (NO), David Pollack had a season ending neck injury in 2006 and Odell Thurman was suspended for all of 2006. This team obviously needs the draft for help at LB as the return of a healthy Pollack and the unlikelihood of Thurmanâ€™s return would yield major holes to fill.
Secondary: Need position. Madieu Williams, Dexter Jackson, Deltha Oâ€™Neal and Jonathon Joseph didnâ€™t get the job done consistently in 2006. Joseph looks like he will be a solid cover corner and Williams is a thumper when healthy. A safety and a corner will be draft priorities for the Bengals.
Special Teams: P Kyle Larsen signed a new contract and K Shayne Graham returns, so the Bengals appear to be set with their kicking.
With talent at the WR (Braylon Edwards) and TE (Kellen Winslow) positions acquired in recent drafts, the Browns have focused this off season on improving what had been a moribund rushing attack and a weak offensive line as evidenced by the acquisitions of RB Jamal Lewis, C Seth McKinney from the Dolphins and G Eric Steinbach from the Bengals. The Browns also picked up quality players in the draft on defense in 2005 and 2006, but with many obvious needs they are likely 1 or 2 solid draft classes away from becoming a serious playoff contender.
QB: The Charlie Frye experiment takes off or ends in 2007. A tough, strong-armed talent, Frye must figure out a way to cut down on his red zone mistakes. Derek Anderson played towards the end of 2006, but he was as inconsistent as Frye. With the 3rd overall pick in the draft and and with Jamal Lewis in the fold, most speculators believe that the Browns will make a play for JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn.
RB: ITH suggests that the Browns forget about Russell and Quinn and draft Adrian Peterson who could be the next primetime back in the NFL. Plus, Peterson could spend 2007 learning the ropes from Lewis. The team has young RB Jerome Harrison and Jason Wright as back-ups and has just now signed former Raven Alan Ricard for FB help with the free agency loss of Terelle Smith.
TE: The Browns are deep at this spot with Kellen Winslow, Steve Heiden (recently signed to a 4 year deal), the recently signed Ryan Krause and Darnell Dinkins returning for 2007.
WR: A tempting proposition for the Browns would be to draft Calvin Johnson if he is still on the board at the 3 spot. Not a big need position on a team with other holes, the Browns return Joe Jurevicious with Braylon Edwards and the speedster Joshua Cribbs who had some big kick returns in 2006. More than likely the Browns will wait until day 2, if at all for help at this position.
O-Line: With the acquisition of McKinney, Steinbach, the re-signing of C-G Len Friedman, the return of Nat Dorsey, Ryan Tucker, Hank Fraley and the hopeful return from injury of C LeCharles Bentley (in 2008), the Browns have some tools to work with. The team also picked up rookie G Fred Matua in 2006. The feeling here is that they might see fit to draft a youthful tackle or guard to be groomed behind the veterans.
D-Line: The Browns acquired free agent DE Antwan Peek (Houston) and DT Shaun Smith (Cincinnati) to join Orpheus Roye, Ted Washington and Robaire Smith on the line. This is an aging group that is in need of a youthful injection. There are some young and inexperienced players on the roster, but the Browns should look to the draft to find some talent to replace the older players on the line.
LB: This is a young, talented and well-prepared group. Kamerion Wimbley, Dâ€™Qwell Jackson, and Leon Williams began to gel in 2006 and returning veterans Andra Davis and Willie McGinest make this a solid group. This is not a need position for draft purposes for Cleveland in 2007.
Secondary: The Browns signed S Mike Adams (SF) earlier this month, but with key injuries in 2006 (Gary Baxter most notably) and a lack of quality talent besides up and comers Leigh Bodden and Daven Holly, look for the Browns to draft corners on day 1 and day 2. They might also seek help at safety.
Special Teams: Unlike other positions on the team, the kicking game is very reliable in Cleveland. Dave Zastudil at Punter and Phil Dawson at placekicker could both be around for several years to come.