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2014 NFL Draft Preview: AFC North
By Matt Horkman

Cincinnati Bengals

Recent Selections: RB Giovani Bernard, OG Clint Boiling, QB Andy Dalton, TE Tyler Eifert, WR A.J. Green, DE Margus Hunt, S George Iloka, & OG Kevin Zeitler

Recap: In each of the past three seasons, Cincinnati has made the playoffs. However, they were unable to advance pass the wild card round each year. Many point the blame at Dalton for their lack of postseason success, as his performances in the playoffs have been a resounding disappointment. Still, he has improved in each of his three seasons in the NFL. He enters 2014 with a ton of pressure on his shoulders, though, as the Bengals need him to solidify himself as a franchise quarterback. He’ll have no short of weapons, thanks to solid drafting by Cincinnati president Mike Brown. Prior to drafting Dalton in the second round of the 2011 draft, the Bengals took Green with the No. 4 overall pick. He has been one of the game’s best receivers since entering the league. Boiling, who also came from the 2011 class, has helped solidify the offensive line along with Zeitler. Expectations are high for the class of 2013, as Bernard, Eifert, and Hunt all expect to play major roles this season.

Best Scenario: OLB Kyle Van Noy, CB Keith McGill, & S Ahmad Dixon

Draft Preview: Over the last three drafts, Cincinnati has done a nice job of replenishing their roster with quality young talent. As a result, the Bengals could get bold and move up to draft an impact player. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert make sense. If they were to trade away their first-round pick in next year’s draft, they could entice a team (Oakland) picking in the top five to move down to No. 24. This could open the door for the Bengals to select Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack if he were available. Brown’s draft day approach is conservative, however, so the Bengals will allow the board to come to them. Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier probably has more upside than Van Noy does, but he lacks the size and toughness of the BYU prospect. Moreover, in Cincinnati’s defense, Van Noy is a better fit as a SAM linebacker, while Shazier is more of a WILL linebacker. The Bengals already have Vontaze Burfict playing the WILL. Drafting Dixon and McGill would go along ways to solidifying the secondary depth.

Cleveland Browns

Recent Selections: TE Jordon Cameron, OLB Barkevious Mingo, OT Mitchell Schwartz, OLB Jabaal Sheard, & DT Phil Taylor

Recap: Former team president Mike Holmgren ran two of Cleveland’s last three drafts. Holmgren did manage to draft some quality defensive players in Sheard and Taylor, but overall, his tenure in Cleveland was a massive failure. He selected running back Trent Richardson with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Richardson now plays for the Colts. He also took quarterback Brandon Weeden with the No. 22 overall pick. Weeden turns 31 this October and currently plays for Dallas. The 2013 draft class only had five picks. Mingo is the most important of those picks. His role will likely expand under new head coach Mike Pettine.

Best Scenario: WR Sammy Watkins, QB Derek Carr, S Jimmie Ward, CB Keith McGill, & ILB Chris Borland

Draft Preview: With five picks in the first two days, it’s very likely the 2014 draft will set the tone for Cleveland's next three seasons. The Browns have needs on both sides of the ball, but identifying a franchise quarterback tops the list. They don’t necessarily need to take one with their first pick, though. In fact, they shouldn’t. They’re in position to land an impact player with the No. 4 overall pick. Watkins would make for an excellent weapon in Cleveland’s offense, but they could also target offensive tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews. In other words, the sky is the limit at No. 4. The attention turns to quarterback with their second pick. Carr has the accuracy, arm strength, and mechanics to develop into a high-level starting NFL quarterback. Don’t be surprised if the Browns trade up to select him in the middle of round one by packaging the No. 26 overall pick with a day two choice. Despite needing offense, the Browns won’t ignore the defense. They signed Donte Whitner to play strong safety, but they still need a viable free safety. Ward would be an excellent candidate. McGill could fill a role at cornerback and Borland could step in and play along side Karlos Dansby at linebacker.

Baltimore Ravens

Recent Selections: ILB Arthur Brown, S Matt Elam, OG Kelechi Osemele, CB Jimmy Smith, & WR Torrey Smith

Recap: Baltimore recently won a Super Bowl, yet their drafting hasn’t lived up to the standard they’ve set over the last 10-plus years.  They landed a solid receiver (Smith) in round two of the 2011 draft and Osemele played very well in their Super Bowl run, but they laid the foundation for that team much earlier. This upcoming season is important for Brown and Elam. The latter played well in 2013, but Brown didn’t start a single game. Their developmental is vital to the team’s defensive performance this season.

Best Scenario: OT Zack Martin, WR Jordan Matthews, CB Marcus Robinson, & C Marcus Martin

Draft Preview: Following this draft, if Baltimore came away with a better offensive line, then they should feel good about themselves. The Ravens re-signed left tackle Eugene Monroe in the off-season, but they currently need to find a right tackle. Martin is the perfect candidate. He had an outstanding Senior Bowl week, where he displayed toughness and versatility. His durability (53 consecutive starts) will appeal to teams picking in the top 25. Baltimore did add Steve Smith this off-season, but they need a big-bodied receiver on the outside for quarterback Joe Flacco. Matthews (6-foot-3) is likely to hear his name called in round two. Baltimore will address the secondary at some point during this draft. Robinson is a developmental prospect, but the Ravens aren’t afraid of taking on projects. Given Baltimore’s void at center, Martin could compete for playing time immediately.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Recent Selections: CB Cortez Allen, RB Le’Veon Bell, OG David DeCastro, OT Marcus Gilbert, DE Cameron Heyward, OLB Jarvis Jones, & WR Markus Wheaton

Recap: The Steelers have one of the league’s best front offices. They learn from their mistakes, make good decisions, and aren’t overdramatic. They’ve had a string of disappointing seasons, but their recent draft classes provide hope for 2014 and beyond. The 2011 class continues to get better, especially with Allen and Gilbert joining Heyward in the starting lineup. DeCastro was the team’s first-round pick in 2012. His career started slow out of the gates, thanks to a knee injury his rookie year, but he has consistently improved. The team received good, not great production from Bell. The coaching staff is fully behind him as their No. 1 running back this coming season. Contributions from Jones and Wheaton would go along ways in solidifying the 2013 class.

Best Scenario: CB Justin Gilbert, WR Jordan Matthews, & TE Troy Niklas

Draft Preview: Coming away with a cornerback and wide receiver would be a good start to Pittsburgh’s 2014 draft. Gilbert will probably be the first cornerback taken on day one. His athleticism is outstanding and he has a nose for making plays. He is a better fit for Pittsburgh’s defense than Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, who is a pure man-coverage cornerback. Many solid receivers will come off the board on day two of the draft. Among them will be Matthews. His route running is spectacular and his size would compliment Antonio Brown and Wheaton well. Drafting a developmental tight end also wouldn’t be a bad idea. Niklas probably won’t make an impact in his rookie season, but the Steelers are a patient franchise. He could learn from veteran Heath Miller.

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