|Marvin Gentry/US Presswire|
|With Peyton Hillis gone, Cleveland could select the 2012 NFL Draft's top running back, Alabama's Trent Richardson.|
With the initial free-agency frenzy winding down, organizations are turning their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft. What are the biggest remaining holes for each AFC North team? Let's examine ...
Needs: SS, WR, LG, DE, OLB
Baltimore's defense led the team to the 2011 AFC Championship Game, ranking third in the league in total defense, but general manager Ozzie Newsome will look to bolster some spots with much-needed youth and depth. The loss of Tom Zbikowski to the Indianapolis Colts leaves the team thin at safety. Signing Sean Considine picks up a bit of the slack and veteran Bernard Pollard could man one starting spot again, but no one knows how much longer Pro Bowl center fielder Ed Reed will be with the team. Losing long-time starter Jarret Johnson opens up spots for young players like Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle -- or the team might add more talent through the draft. Defensive end Cory Redding signed with the Colts, too, creating an opening in the three-man front.
Quarterback Joe Flacco also needs more support at receiver to improve the Ravens' 19th-ranked passing game, as Lee Evans never really became a threat beside Anquan Boldin and rookie Torrey Smith last season. Baltimore must replace left guard Ben Grubbs, now with the New Orleans Saints, to keep Flacco upright and star running back Ray Rice moving the chains.
Needs: WR, RG, DE, OLB, CB, RB
Led by a rookie pass-catch combination of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the Bengals were a playoff team in 2011. Jerome Simpson pled guilty to a drug-related felony, however, and Andre Caldwell's defection to Denver also generated a need at receiver. Cincinnati hired New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to replace free agent Cedric Benson (who averaged just 3.9 yards a carry last season), but the Bengals might not be done that position. They replaced departed free agent Nate Livings with former Carolina starter Travelle Wharton, but still need a starting right guard if veteran Bobbie Williams is not brought back.
The team's defense finished in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed last fall, but lost key defensive linemen Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene in free agency. Meanwhile, new Bengals Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey had a total of three sacks between them in 2011. Former San Francisco 49ers first-round pick Manny Lawson started at the strong-side linebacker spot for the Bengals last year; if he doesn't return, head coach Marvin Lewis must decide if second-year player Dontay Moch is ready to start or if more talent is needed there. Former Miami Dolphins defensive back Jason Allen was signed as insurance for injured cornerback Leon Hall, but more depth is needed.
Needs: RB, QB, RT, WR, FS, CB
Cleveland averaged just 13.6 points a game last season with quarterback Colt McCoy running the show. Now that bell-cow running back Peyton Hillis has officially taken his antics to Kansas City, team president Mike Holmgren could be looking to add talent at all skill positions throughout the draft. The question will be whether the Browns pick the draft's top running back (Trent Richardson), No. 1 receiver (Justin Blackmon), or third quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) with the fourth overall pick. Unless the Browns think Oniel Cousins is their starting right tackle, they'll also need to fill that spot.
The Browns had a top-five scoring defense in 2011, and signed defensive ends Frostee Rucker from rival Cincinnati and Juqua Parker from Philadelphia. Not to mention locking up linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a five-year extension. They will need to add depth in the secondary after losing free agent safety Mike Adams.
Needs: OL, WR, NT, CB
At times in 2011, the Steelers struggled to suit up five healthy offensive linemen to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They return four starters on the line and brought back Willie Colon to potentially start at right tackle, but multiple draft picks might still be used up front. The team's all-time leading receiver, Hines Ward, decided to retire instead of going to another team, while restricted free agent Mike Wallace (1,193 yards, 8 TD in 2011) might get a substantial offer from a receiver-hungry team that the Steelers can't match. The team likes Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders in complementary roles, but losing Wallace would create a huge hole on offense.
Though the Steelers possessed the league's top defense in both total yardage and points allowed last fall, they could still use help at the cornerback position and add depth throughout the rest of the squad. The strongest need is at nose tackle, as 11-year starter Casey Hampton is recovering from offseason ACL surgery.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter