AFC North draft needs: Ravens can score an elite talent

Baltimore Ravens

2013 record: 8-8

Key player departures: CB Corey Graham, S James Ihedigbo, DE Arthur Jones, LB Jameel McClain, OT Michael Oher, TE Ed Dickson

Free-agent acquisitions: WR Steve Smith, TE Owen Daniels  

Positions of Need: Offensive tackle, safety, guard, wide receiver

Analysis: Baltimore was wise to bring back free agents Eugene Monroe and Jacoby Jones, and extend Terrell Suggs with a new deal. They also signed Steve Smith and Owen Daniels to fiscally sound deals, banking on both players’€™ past production and a faith that they can contribute to the offense this year.

Last year’€™s offseason roster turnover stunted the team’€™s start to the season and back-to-back losses to the Patriots and Bengals in Weeks 16 and 17 kept the defending champions from qualifying for the playoffs. General manager Ozzie Newsome typically takes the best player available on the board, regardless of team needs.

In this year’€™s talent-rich draft, an elite talent that can play right away will almost surely drop to the Ravens at 17th overall. I’€™d look at three players — Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Stanford guard David Yankey — as three possibilities in the first round.

Cincinnati Bengals

2013 record: 11-5

Key player departures: OT Anthony Collins, CB Brandon Ghee, DE Michael Johnson

Free-agent acquisitions: QB Jason Campbell, OT Marshall Newhouse, S Danieal Manning

Positions of need: Cornerback, linebacker

Analysis: Another year, another playoff trip, and another January wild-card round bathed in disappointment and unfulfilled hopes. The Bengals are now 3-0 in going to the playoffs with Andy Dalton as their quarterback, but 0-3 in those playoff games. The team lost Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins and Andrew Hawkins this offseason, but still look like favorites in the AFC North.

Dalton’€™s contract will be the big discussion point all year, but the team could pick up a solid first-year contributor with the 24th pick. Cornerback and linebacker make the most sense to me. I’€™d keep an eye on Alabama LB C.J. Mosley and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.

Cleveland Browns

2013 record: 4-12

Key player departures: OT Oniel Cousins, LB D’€™Qwell Jackson, G Shawn Lauvao, Safety TJ Ward

Free-agent acquisitions: S Donte Whitner, LB Karlos Dansby, K Billy Cundiff, TE Jim Dray, RB Ben Tate, WR Andrew Hawkins, OL Paul McQuistan, WR Nate Burleson

Positions of Need: Quarterback, cornerback, guard, safety

Analysis: The Browns have their third head coach and third general manager in 24 months. They’€™ll also have another opening day starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The team added a few pieces in the offseason in Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, Ben Tate and Andrew Hawkins, but are still a long way off from the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers.

If Cleveland wants to go big with the fourth overall pick, either Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater will be available. If they go the best player available route, Khalil Mack would make for an awfully nice addition to an already talented young defense. One thing’€™s for certain — they won’€™t be taking a running back with a top five pick this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 record: 8-8

Key player departures: S Ryan Clark, WR Jerricho Cotchery, RB Jonathan Dwyer, DE Ziggy Hood, FB David Johnson, WR Emmanuel Sanders, LB LaMarr Woodley, DE Al Woods

Free-agent acquisitions: DT Cam Thomas, WR Lance Moore, S Mike Mitchell

Positions of Need: Cornerback, wide Receiver, tight End, defensive line

Analysis: The Steelers were keen on keeping several of their core veterans together this offseason, working or re-working deals with Jason Worilds, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller. The loss of Lamar Woodley should be offset by the emergence of Worilds, but losing Emmanuel Sanders could sting on the offensive side of the ball. It’€™s a crowded AFC North and the Steelers haven’€™t been to the playoffs in a few years.

With the 15th overall pick, Pittsburgh could snag an elite tight end like Eric Ebron, an offensive lineman like Notre Dame’€™s Zack Martin, or beef up their secondary with a guy like Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State or Calvin Pryor out of Louisville.