AFC North Team Needs
- Offensive Line – Ben Roethlisberger’s skillset makes the Steelers offensive line look better, and worse, than they actually are at times but there is a severe lack of talent at both tackle and guard. A number of players are due to be free agents and a few more are likely cap casualties as the Steelers are well over next year’s cap. They will need at least two new starters for next year, possibly three or even four and its about time they pony up and use a premium draft pick to give Pouncey some help up front. With the lack of cap space, they will need to find at least one starter in the draft and hope that they can maybe restructure or find a veteran on the cheap.
- Nose Tackle – Veteran backup Chris Hoke has already announced he’s retiring and start Casey Hampton has only played a full season once in the last five years. In addition to that, he’s got a huge cap number this year and is probably the most likely player to be cut. Pittsburgh would be a great fit for Paul Soliai, Sione Pouha, or Aubrayo Franklin if they can maneuver cap space to get one of them, otherwise they’ll have to grab one early in the draft with Dontari Poe, Alameda Ta’amu, and Josh Chapman as the top three in this class.
- Cornerback – The Steelers released top reserve Bryant McFadden already and starter William Gay and reserves Anthony Madison and Keenan Lewis are also free agents and the reality is, none of these guys were overly impressive this season despite having a good pass rush to protect them. There are a lot of good zone corners in this class and grabbing someone like Coryell Judie, Chase Minnifield, or Jayron Hosley on day two could go a long way.
- Inside Linebacker – James Farrior is no longer a three down player in the NFL and top reserve Larry Foote is another likely cap casualty so finding someone to replace Foote in the intermediate and Farrior in the long term has to be on the radar. Dont’a Hightower would be a good fit for the Steelers defense.
- Depth and youth – The Steelers have a large number of free agents set to hit the market this year and most of them should be allowed to leave as they have to work on upgrading the depth getting younger. Not having adequate depth really hurt them this year as injuries at a few spots really limited them in the playoff game. Some positions that fit this description: defensive end, quarterback, running back, outside linebacker, and wide receiver.
- Inside Linebacker – Starter Jameel McClain is a free agent, as are backups Dannell Ellerbe and Brendan Ayanbadejo. In addition, Ray Lewis missed some time this year for the first time since 2007 and despite what the pundits say, he’s definitely showing signs that age are starting to catch up to him. Ellerbe is a restricted free agent so he’ll likely be back and I think Ayanbadejo will return as well but he’s really a special teams ace. McClain could look to get big money similar to former Ravens Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas. Many believe the Ravens will select Vontaze Burfict in the first as they’ll remind them of a young Ray Lewis. I think Dont’a Hightower is also a real possibility.
- Offensive Line – Center Matt Birk is contemplating retirement and is also a free agent. Starting left guard Ben Grubbs is also a free agent and is believed to be out of the Ravens price range. Top backup at center and guard was Andre Gurode and he’s also a free agent and old. Michael Oher hasn’t shown signs of being able to be a high-caliber left tackle in the NFL and Bryant McKinnie was a middle of the road player last year. At worst, the Ravens will need to find one starter to replace Grubbs, they should also look to upgrade Birk at center or at least find a competent backup. Ben Jones from Georgia seems like the perfect fit in the second round. Philip Blake from Baylor is another guy I like for Baltimore.
- Safety – Ed Reed has contemplated retirement every year for the last few years and while he’s expected back, along with strong safety Bernard Pollard, top backups Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski are free agents and many believe its time to look to find Ed Reed’s long-term replacement with the roster spots opening up. This is a weak safety class but there are some draftable guys late that have lots of upside and could be starters down the road like Janzen Jackson and Philip Thomas.
- Outside Linebacker/pass rusher – Starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is a free agent and traditional the Ravens have allowed their starting strongside outside linebacker walk via free agency due to how much money they have locked up in T-Sizzle. Johnson isn’t a sack guy though so its possible he will be retainable at a reasonable rate but if he isn’t, the Ravens will need to find a starter as backup Sergio Kindle hasn’t shown anything since he was drafted. In addition, they have gotten little to no pass rush from this spot due to Johnson’s mediocre pass rush and Kindle’s inability to stay healthy. Some potential players they could look at in the mid rounds are Jonathan Massaquoi, Jake Bequette, and Brandon Lindsey, all of which seem like good fits for the Ravens defense.
- Running back – Ray Rice is a free agent and while he’ll undoubtedly get locked up long term or franchised, backup Ricky Williams retired which leaves just sixth round pick Anthony Allen behind Rice. I expect them to look for a backup via free agency, with Ronnie Brown or LaDainian Tomlinson being logical fits assuming they want to continue playing but if not, grabbing a change of pace back could make sense.
Other needs: Wide receiver that can naturally separate, Kicker?
- Secondary – After losing Jonathan Joseph last season, the Bengals got by this year using Nate Clements, Kelly Jennings, and Adam Jones at corner but Jennings and Jones are free agents and Clements was mediocre at best. In addition, starting free safety Reggie Nelson and top backup Gibril Wilson are scheduled to hit free agency and while they have the money to bring them back, Nelson could follow his old position coach to Miami. In addition, starting strong safety Chris Crocker is nothing special. Many believe the Bengals will use one of their two first round draft choices on either a corner or safety with Mark Barron, Alfonzo Dennard, and Janoris Jenkins the three guys most commonly linked.
- Running back – Starting running back Cedric Benson is a free agent that isn’t expected to be back as he’s got a lot of tread on the tires and is a middle of the road player. With running back being such an undervalued position in the NFL these days, its possible that top five talent Trent Richardson falls down boards and you have to think Cincy will be monitoring that closely looking to trade up and grab him. If not Richardson, this is a pretty deep class and they could expect one guy from the next tier of RBs to fall to them in the second, with guys like David Wilson, Chris Polk, and Lamar Miller being the top targets.
- Guard – Starting guard Bobbie Williams is set to hit free agency and being that he’s a 12 year veteran, the Bengals could be looking to get younger. There are a number of good free agents available like Carl Nicks, Ben Grubbs, and Evan Mathis and they have plenty of cap room so it would be wise for the Bengals to target one of them (although Mathis doesn’t seem likely given his history with the team). If they don’t get one of the big-time free agents, guard is a position with some good value in the first three rounds with guys like David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn, Kelechi Osemele, Kevin Zeitler, and Brandon Washington all possibilities.
- Defensive end – Carlos Dunlap has one starting spot locked down but the Bengals are looking for improved production opposite him. Frostee Rucker is due to hit free agency, Michael Johnson doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to maximize his potential, and Robert Geathers is a solid but unspectacular player. The DE class is pretty deep at the top this year and there should be some good ends into the third day that Cincinnati would be well pressed to target for depth, with guys like Malik Jackson, Jack Crawford, and Olivier Vernon being three guys I could see the Bengals targeting.
- Wide receiver – Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are both heading for free agency and its unsure if either will be back as Simpson’s off-field troubles could see him walking and Caldwell has never had the production they expected.
Other needs: Kicker if they don’t bring Nugent back, defensive tackle, outside linebacker
- Wide receiver – The Browns like their wide receivers but it is full of number 2 and 3 receivers and really lacks a number one guy. Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi both look like a good number 2 receivers, Jordan Norwood is a perfect possession/slot guy, Carlton Mitchell is a good number four as a special teams/deep threat but there is no number one receiver and I don’t feel that any of those guys have the skills to become a number one. Drafting Justin Blackmon with the fourth pick has to be heavily considered, especially if the regime decides they still believe Colt McCoy can be the guy.
- Outside linebacker – The Browns have found above average starters at middle linebacker and strongside linebacker with D’Qwell Jackson (franchise tag candidate), and Chris Gocong but the weakside linebacker position needs to be significantly upgraded. Erin Henderson is a potential target in free agency but aside from him there isn’t a whole lot out there. There are, however a number of good weakside linebackers to be found in the draft with guys like Sean Spence, Travis Lewis, and Lavonte David as three guys that should go on day two that could be immediate starters.
- Defensive end – The Browns found a starter in Jabaal Sheard but Jayme Mitchell simply doesn’t belong being a starting defensive end in the NFL. The depth also leaves much to be desired. Finding a starter to replace Mitchell has to be high on the priority list. GM Tom Heckert likes undersized, fast defensive ends that are typically considered DE/OLB tweeners so guys like Bruce Irvin, Ronnell Lewis, Nick Perry, and Shea McClellin all seem like good fits.
- Cornerback – Joe Haden has clearly locked down one starting spot but Sheldon Brown is getting up in age and could be either a cap casualty or asked to move to safety and the depth behind him is nothing too exciting so they could be looking to add another starter opposite Haden. Corner is another deep position in this class but one guy that I think would be a particularly good fit is Josh Norman.
- Quarterback – Many would have the QB position much higher than fifth on the Browns need list but I’m of the mindset that they need to find a competent backup that can legitimately push McCoy but not necessarily be a definitive replacement. If RGIII falls to them, I think it would be hard to pass him but but I don’t think the Browns should try and trade up to get him. If the regime believes McCoy needs to be upgraded, free agent Matt Flynn seems like a very good fit for this offense. If it were me, I’d either go with a veteran that can push McCoy like maybe a Shaun Hill, Chad Henne, or Drew Stanton
Other needs: Middle linebacker if D’Qwell Jackson departs, safety, right tackle, and general depth