Cleveland has had nine top-16 picks since 1999 and two No. 1 picks. The problem is only two players — tackle Joe Thomas and cornerback Joe Haden — remain on the team to show for it. The two No. 1 picks — Tim Couch (1999) and Courtney Brown (2000) — were busts. The Browns have had nine years of double-digit losses, except for the 10-6 record in 2007.
The Browns amazingly stood pat in free agency, and in fact lost running back Peyton Hillis to the Chiefs. With four picks in the first 67 selections, including two first rounders, the Browns are confident they can improve on their drafting and their team.
With the No. 4 pick the Browns get a chance to add a blue-chip player, and don’t care what position it comes at because they need help everywhere. What I can’t see them doing is reaching for quarterback Ryan Tannehill with that pick. This is less an affirmation in their faith in current starter Colt McCoy as much as Mike Holmgren hasn’t selected a quarterback in the first round in his 30-year career. I can’t see him doing it on speculations about the Texas A&M QB with his 19 starts.
The Browns would love to trade back and pick up additional picks, but if that doesn’t happen running back Trent Richardson would be a great replacement for Hillis.
They desperately need a wide receiver, but No. 4 may be too high for Justin Blackmon. Kendall Wright and Alshon Jeffery could be options with their No. 22 pick or Rueben Randle at 37th overall.
Finished: 9-7 Eliminated in wild-card round
Drafting: 23rd pick
Last season, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis got everything he could out of his young team and made the playoffs. They won all nine games against non-playoff teams, but ironically lost all eight games against teams that made the postseason.
Drafting wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton set the tone for the Bengals offense. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and the return of the injured receiver Jordan Shipley leaves Cincinnati set in the passing game. Lewis wants to beef up the ground game and may use one of their first four picks on a running back.
Mike Brown deserves some credit for getting his quarterback situation under control. The Bengals acquired a first-round pick from the Raiders in the process of trading Carson Palmer.
Defensively, the Bengals did more with less than any other defense in the NFL.
They must rebuild a secondary unit that was hit by free agency last year and injury. They had to decide between Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, who they chose but ended up blowing an Achilles’ tendon.
The Bengals have the firepower to move up, but that is unlikely given the players available in the middle of the first round.
The Bengals could come away with a group of players with Alabama ties: defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama); cornerback Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama); along with safety Mark Barron (Alabama), to instantly stack their secondary.
In the second round, they could find pass-rush help from Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry or Nebraska’s Jared Crick. They would love to have Miami (OH) guard Brandon Brooks fall to them in the third round.
Finished: 12-4 Eliminated in wild-card round
Drafting: 24th pick
Cap issues, injuries and being exposed in the playoffs as a team that can’t play man coverage are just a few of the difficulties facing the Steelers. The Steelers never say they are rebuilding, but reloading. This year could be the exception.
The Steelers have to address the offensive line, both inside and out, and their secondary. If they lose Mike Wallace to free agency, wide receiver can be added to this list as well. The linebacking corps, always a key to the Steelers’ success, needs to add some depth.
The Steelers have never been a major player in free agency, but they lost a number of longtime contributors like linebacker James Farrior, guard Chris Kemoeatu, defensive end Aaron Smith, wide receiver Hines Ward and cornerback Bryant McFadden.
Last year’s first-round pick defensive end Cameron Heyward didn’t progress much as hoped, but could see substantial improvement in Year 2. They did find a starter in the second round with tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe would be a great pick to follow Casey Hampton in the middle, if he lasts to the 24th pick. Tackle Cordy Glenn from Georgia would fill a much-needed spot, as would Ohio State’s Mike Adams. Adams is still developing but could be the best overall talent at the position in the draft. If the Steelers do lose Wallace, wide receiver Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill might be what they are looking for.
Iowa State guard Kelechi Osemele looks to be a Steelers type of offensive lineman that could be there with their second-round pick.
Finished: 12-4 Eliminated in AFC Championship Game
Drafting: 29th pick
Some have categorized the Ravens as getting old, but that stems from the questions of how long Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will continue to play. General manager Ozzie Newsome has systematically infused younger talent on this team, which should sustain them for a while. The Ravens franchised Ray Rice and are trying to tie up quarterback Joe Flacco long term. They will be the faces and cornerstones of the Ravens when Lewis and Reed decide to call it quits.
Even with the success of last year’s first- and second-round picks — Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith — the Ravens still need to address their secondary and wide receiver positions.
Although the top priority for the Ravens could be in the offensive line.
Free-agent acquisition Bryant McKinnie proved solid enough at left tackle, but is showing signs of slowing down. The interior of the offensive line was hit hard in free agency with the loss of Ben Grubbs to the New Orleans Saints. They persuaded center Matt Birk to not retire, but he may have a tough time finishing the season.
The Chargers signed defensive end Jarret Johnson, which will affect the Ravens defense as he was a subtle staple on the squad. The Ravens have been trying to find a complement opposite Terrell Suggs, but have failed in their attempts.
The Ravens have been very successful with late first-round picks and they will likely have solid options in all of these areas except for the pass rusher. Peter Konz or Kevin Zeitler, both from Wisconsin, could be available for the interior line.
They might be lucky enough to have Baylor’s Kendall Wright fall to them at 29. It is unlikely cornerback Janoris Jenkins from North Alabama would fall this far, but if he did they may take a chance on his character like they did Jimmy Smith last year. If that doesn’t happen, they may be in the market for cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska or Trumaine Johnson from Montanta in the second round.