Breaking down the AFC North

This is the final edition in a series about the NFL Draft, which will be held April 26 and 27.<br><br> <b>Today: The AFC North</b>

Baltimore
Wily genius Brian Billick finds himself in an interesting spot. With the 10th-overall pick, the Ravens will have a shot at taking a quarterback for the future, or more likely the present, as immobile Chris Redman and his cranky back aren't likely to be in the starting role very long.

The Ravens could also use a defensive lineman or two to keep blockers off of Ray Lewis and allow him to knife his way to opposing ball carriers. Also, the wide receivers aren't very good either, and overpaying to get Arizona's Frank Sanders isn't going to fix that.

Yet, picking at 10, the genius will have a tough time passing on quarterback Byron Leftwich - if he's there - or Kyle Boller. The only way the Ravens would do that is if Dewayne Robertson took a Warren Sapp-like slide down the board. If they do decide to go for a defensive tackle, Jimmy Kennedy doesn't seem like a good fit at nose tackle, even though he would provide value at that point. Kevin Williams may be the better fit in their defense.

Cincinnati
Marvin Lewis has really done a makeover on this team during the offseason and, in another year or two, it could be the Bengals challenging the Steelers for supremacy in the AFC North. Who would have thunk it?

They've already agreed to a contract with QB Carson Palmer as the No. 1-overall selection in this year's draft. Whether you're sold on Palmer or not, at least they aren't going to throw him to the wolves right away like they have with guys like David Klingler and Akili Smith.

The Bengals will be looking to upgrade at cornerback and safety with the first pick in the second round, so if the Steelers trade down, they may not want to go past Cincinnati. In the second round, safeties Mike Doss and Rashean Mathis, and cornerbacks Eugene Wilson and Nnamdi Asomugha are possibilities.

Cleveland
Boy has Butch Davis messed this team up. A playoff team last season that should have beaten the Steelers in the first round, the Browns will be lucky to be .500 in 2003 after gutting an already shaky defense and signing a bunch of bad replacements. The whole starting linebacking corps is gone from a year ago, as are this team's playoff hopes. The trouble is, the strength of this year's draft, the defensive line, is about the only place on defense where the Browns are solid.

With the 21st overall pick, Cleveland will likely look for the best offensive lineman available in the first round of this year's draft. Linebacker Boss Bailey would fill a huge need and they would love for guard Eric Steinbach to fall, but neither is likely to happen. Stanford tackle Kwame Harris is one possibility, while they could go after center Jeff Faine and grab a cornerback or linebacker in the second round.

Pittsburgh
The Steelers' offseason so far has been much ado about nothing. The only major free agent signing has been that of tight end Jay Riemersma, while tackle Todd Fordham was brought in to provide offensive line depth. Starting left tackle Wayne Gandy signed with New Orleans, while starting strong safety Lee Flowers remains unsigned and won't be back.

The Steelers failed in their attempts to sign a replacement for Flowers. First, Cory Hall signed with Atlanta, declining the opportunity to visit the Steelers the next day; then Dexter Jackson took more money to sign with Arizona. The Steelers would like to add at least one safety and one corner in this draft and will likely do that in the first three or four rounds.

A defensive end also wouldn't hurt as he could rotate with Kimo von Oelhoffen for a season and allow the team to release backup nose tackle Kendrick Clancy and let von Oelhoffen back up Casey Hampton.

They would love for USC's Troy Polamalu to fall to them with the 27th-overall pick, but that's looking more and more unlikely. Texas A&M cornerback Sammy Davis is also a possibility, as are Oklahoma corner Andre Woolfolk and Bethune Cookman's Rashean Mathis. It seems they've chilled a bit on Ohio State's Mike Doss.

If they go for a defensive lineman, Penn State's Michael Haynes has the size/speed combo to play end in the 3-4, while Ohio State's Kenny Peterson is also a possibility. Getting a quarterback and outside linebacker are also priorities later in the draft. Watch for linebackers Chaun Thompson, Shurron Pierson or Nick Burley as possibilities. At QB, watch Seneca Wallace in later rounds along with Tony Romo and Curt Anes.

Dale Lolley
SteelCitySports.com


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