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2013 NFL DRAFT TOP NEEDS: AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-6)

2013 Draft Picks: 32 (1st), 62 (2nd), 94 (3rd), 129 (4th), 130 (4th), 165 (5th), 168 (5th), 199 (6th), 200 (6th), 203 (6th), 238 (7th), 247 (7th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: LB Courtney Upshaw, ALA (35, 2nd), OG/OT Kelechi Osemele, IWST (60, 2nd), RB Bernard Pierce, TEMP (84, 3rd)

Decision Makers: GM Ozzie Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh

The Baltimore Ravens finally won their second Super Bowl in 2012, but the celebration didn’t last long as they faced a major roster exodus in the off-season losing multiple starters, especially on defense. Ray Lewis retired as expected, but what followed was surprising to say the least. They made a couple nice moves in free agency to slow the bleeding, but a number of holes on both sides of the ball still need to be filled. Ozzie Newsome has twelve picks to work with, so watch for the Ravens to be a team that could move up the board throughout the draft.

1.   Inside Linebacker – Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis finally called it a career and retired on top, but also left a hole the team has been trying to find an heir apparent to fill with for a number of years. The team was shocked when fellow starter Dannell Ellerbe spurned them and signed with Miami as a free agent. Solid backup Jameel McClain is also coming off a season ending spinal cord contusion. They signed former Raider and high draft pick Rolando McClain, but he was a major disappointment in Oakland and has had a few off the field problems with the law.

2.   Left Tackle – Bryant McKinnie remains a free agent and there is at least a little bit of interest from the Ravens in bringing him back, although teams like the Saints and Chargers are also interested. The Ravens offensive line was at their best when they put McKinnie back in as the starting left tackle and moved Michael Oher back to the right side. Oher can play left tackle and 2012 second round pick OG Kelechi Osemele has been talked about as a possible option as well.

3.   Safety – The Ravens need to add a young starting safety. Longtime Raven Ed Reed signed with Houston, while fellow starter Bernard Pollard was cut before signing with the Titans. They brought in another former Raider in Michael Huff on a 2-year deal and he will be one starter. Backup James Ihedigbo was resigned, but should remain a reserve.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-8)

2013 Draft Picks: 17 (1st), 48 (2nd), 79 (3rd), 115 (4th), 150 (5th), 186 (6th), 206 (6th), 223 (7th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: OG David DeCastro, STAN (24, 1st), OT Mike Adams, OSU (56, 2nd), LB Sean Spence, MIA-F (86, 3rd)

Decision Makers: GM Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin

Age finally caught up to the Steelers in 2012 as they failed to make the playoffs and may be in for a bit of a rebuilding period. Their defense is especially old with multiple aging starters still remaining and is in need of some young talent. A few of which will probably need to start right away. The offense needs multiple players as well, especially at the skill positions. The 2013 NFL Draft is an important one for the Steelers.

1.   Outside Linebacker – The outside linebacker position for the Steelers has been the weakest it has been in years. Lamarr Woodley remains solid on one side, but recorded just four sacks in 2012, his fewest since his rookie year. James Harrison got old and slow and was released this off-season, while Jason Worilds has yet to really break out in his three seasons in the league.

2.   Running Back – Pittsburgh used a number of different backs throughout last year and will come into 2013 with just Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman on the roster. Both are solid backups, but neither is the workhorse back the Steelers need and desire. The Steelers also want to get back to being a more run-oriented offense this season. They’ve talked to former Giants starter Ahmad Bradshaw, while Rashard Mendenhall signed with Arizona.

3.  Wide Receiver – They lost Mike Wallace in free agency to the Dolphins and nearly lost Emmanuel Sanders to Patriots after he signed an offer sheet with them before the Steelers matched. Although, Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent following the season. They found Wallace and Sanders late in the third round and their top wide out for 2013 Antonio Brown was a sixth round selection, so look for Pittsburgh to add a guy or two in the mid-rounds.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-6)

2013 Draft Picks: 21 (1st), 37 (2nd), 53 (2nd), 84 (3rd), 118 (4th), 156 (5th), 190 (6th), 197 (7th), 240 (7th), 251 (7th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, ALA (17, 1st), OG Kevin Zeitler, WISC (27, 1st), DT Devon Still, PSU (53, 2nd), WR Mo Sanu, RUTG (83, 3rd)

Decision Makers: Owner/GM Mike Brown, Head Coach Marvin Lewis

It has been extremely impressive how the Bengals have turned their much maligned franchise around the last few years, particularly by doing it through the draft. They have added talent and depth across the board using the draft and will look to do so again with ten picks, including a pair of second-round selections that could allow them to trade up for a particular prospect they may desire. With the Steelers set for a potential step back and the Ravens possibly reeling from losing a number of starters, the AFC North could be prime for the taking for the Bengals. If they can’t come to terms with Andre Smith, adding a right tackle in the draft will become imperative.

1.   Strong Safety – The safety position has been an area of weakness for the Bengals the last number of years, although Reggie Nelson turned in a good year last season at free safety. Chris Crocker wasn’t nearly as good next to him and is a free agent that probably won’t be back and needed to be upgraded anyway. Nate Clements spent some time at safety in 2012, but is a 33-year old free agent on the decline. Taylor Mays continues to be awful.

2.   Running Back – They brought in Benjarvus Green-Ellis last year and while he is a reliable, consistent back, he’s not the dynamic three-down workhorse they’ve been searching for the past few seasons. Adding a feature ball-carrier could take this offense to the next level.

3.   Linebacker – The linebacker corps may be going through a slight transition period. They found a diamond in the rough when they signed Vontaze Burfict, who went undrafted last year following a legendary drop down draft boards. He was fantastic for them last year and is the only linebacker with a guaranteed starting job this season. Starting MLB Rey Maualuga was resigned, but he was terrible in 2012 and finished the year as one of the worst rated starting linebackers in the league. Thomas Howard is a solid outside linebacker, but missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL and is still a free agent, while Manny Lawson signed with Buffalo in free agency. They recently signed former Steeler James Harrison, but at 35 years old, injury prone and in decline, he may not contribute much. Another young linebacker or two should be added.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-11)

2013 Draft Picks: 6 (1st), 68 (3rd), 104 (4th), 139 (5th), 175 (6th), 227 (7th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: RB Trent Richardson, ALA (3, 1st), QB Brandon Weeden, OKST (22, 1st), RT Mitchell Schwartz, CAL (37, 2nd), DT John Hughes, CIN (87, 3rd)

Decision Makers: GM Mike Lombardi, Head Coach Rob Chudzinski

A new regime begins again in Cleveland in 2013, although it starts directly at the top with new owner Jimmy Haslam taking over the franchise during last year. NFL Network analyst and former executive Mike Lombardi returns to the Browns to handle general manager duties, while Rob Chudzinski starts his first Head Coaching job. Lombardi has already done some nice work adding talent in free agency leaving this roster just a few players away at key positions from challenging for a playoff spot. Cleveland fans hope this regime is the one that finally turns this franchise in the right direction. They are without a 2013 2nd round pick after sacrificing it to select WR Josh Gordon in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. Part of the new regime involves a switch from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4.

1.   Cornerback – Joe Haden remains one of the top corners in football, but the Browns don’t have anyone sufficient enough to start across from him. Former 2011 fifth round pick Buster Skrine was a nice late round find and is set to start, but someone better should be brought in ahead of him. Sheldon Brown is 34-year old free agent and has yet to be resigned by the Browns.

2.   Quarterback – New regimes often mean new quarterbacks and in the Browns case the new guys in charge aren’t fans of 2012 first round pick and starter Brandon Weeden. They’ve made it pretty clear that they are on the hunt for new signal-caller to build the franchise around. They also traded backup Colt McCoy to San Francisco and replaced him with veteran Jason Campbell.

3.   Offensive Guard – The Browns could use upgrades at both guard positions, but in particular RG Shaun Lauvao continued to struggle in 2012 and hasn’t developed into a legit NFL starter. He’s in the last year of his rookie contract and should be replaced with a better prospect. John Greco was decent at LG after replacing Jason Pinkston in the starting lineup mid-season.

Written By: Mark Scott

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