Continuing my look ahead to the NFL Draft, I am focusing on the AFC North team needs.You can see the AFC East team needs here if you missed them on Monday.
One of the biggest concerns for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason was that they may lose veteran leaders Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Fortunately, they were able to retain the heart and soul of their defense, Ray Lewis, but lost Scott and safety Jim Leonhard to the New York Jets. Another big loss for the team was when center Jason Brown bolted for St. Louis, and the cutting of corner Chris McAllister. The Ravens have signed Matt Birk and Domonique Foxworth to help fill those voids, but this team still has some work to do this offseason.
Wide Receiver: Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco looked like the real deal last season. If the team wants to assist his development; they are going to need to add more receiving options around him. Derrick Mason looked like a hero at times last year playing despite his shoulder popping out of socket play after play, but outside of Mason, Flacco’s main targets are Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and Yamon Figures.With the Ravens first pick, I would like to see a guy like Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey selected. Heyward-Bey would add an excellent dynamic to the offense. He was the fastest player at the 2009 Scouting Combine (4.30), and I think his speed would be a perfect fit for Flacco’s cannon of an arm.
Linebacker: Ray Lewis returned, but there are still some holes in the linebacking corp. The right outside linebacker position is solidified for years with Terrell Suggs, assuming he eventually gets the long-term deal he deserves, but there is absolutely no depth behind that. Baltimore selected Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden last season to be a potential replacement for Ray Lewis, and if they do not address the need at this position he may be forced to start earlier than anticipated. The left outside linebacker position is held down by consistent underachiever Jarrett Johnson. In sixteen games last year he racked up a whopping fifty seven tackles, five sacks, and one forced fumble. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but I would like to see more from him, especially since the linebacking corp has been what makes this team run year after year.
Cornerback: Even with the addition of Domonique Foxworth, the Ravens defensive backfield still looks a little sketchy to me. Samari Rolle has requested his release, and the starter opposite of Foxworth would be Oakland castaway, Fabian Washington. Now Fabian isn’t a terrible player, but he is in no way a fit for a starting role. He is best suited working out of the slot. If Rolle gets his release that leaves three corners on the roster outside of Foxworth and Washington: Frank Walker, Evan Oglesby, and Anwar Phillips. With a deep pool of talent in the cornerback class, the Ravens could grab someone in the second or third round who would be able to contribute as a rookie.
The Bengals haven’t suffered any real big blows in free agency. TJ Houshmandzadeh was a loss, but they added Laveranues Coles to help fill that void. The problem is, the Bengals really haven’t made any big moves either which leaves their roster exactly where it was last season; a group of mediocre guys in the dreaded and ill fated tiger striped helmet. There is no question that Cincinnati has some talent on the roster. Despite his big mouth, Chad Johnson is a talented receiver. They also have a franchise quarterback in Carson Palmer, and last years first round pick Keith Rivers, who prior to having his face arranged by Hines Ward, has looked pretty good.
Offensive Line: This is where the Bengals will likely go with their first round pick. They did lose Stacey Andrews in free agency, and while he wasn’t the biggest star, he had shown promise when he was healthy. The loss of Andrews would mean that Anthony Collins, a rookie out of Kansas a season ago, would be starting at right tackle and the thirty year old Levi Jones at left. The Bengals need to do everything in their power to make that offensive line adequate, so they can protect their guy Carson Palmer. Without Carson Palmer, they would be forced to go to his younger brother Jordan.
Defensive Tackle: Cincinnati has two decent defensive ends in Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers; they just need some help in the middle of that line to allow them a better opportunity to rush the passer.The Bengals spent multiple draft picks last season on Jason Shirley out of Fresno State and Pat Sims from Auburn, but they still need some help. Domata Peko is a pretty solid player, but the same can’t be said for his backup Orien Harris. If the Bengals could add a starting caliber defensive tackle, not only would Odom and Geathers rejoice, but it would also benefit the linebacking corp.
Tight End: Reggie Kelly, Nate Lawrie, and Matt Sherry; those are the tight ends on the roster for Cincinnati. With Chad Johnson and Laveranues Coles on the outside, Carson Palmer could definitely benefit from having a tough receiving tight end that wouldn’t be afraid to sit down in the middle of the field.Last season they had acquired Ben Utecht from Indianapolis hoping that he would be able to help, but that experiment failed miserably and Reggie Kelly with his thirty one catches for two hundred and seven yards with no touchdowns, was the “stud” tight end.