2009 NFL Team Needs Analysis Second Edition: AFC North

David McClureCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2009

The Pro Bowl has ended, signifying the end of the 2008 NFL season. The best athletes from the NFL have finished their Mojitos and have left the beaches. Thus, begins the offseason.

Amongst others, the Broncos, Lions, Raiders, Rams, and Chiefs have made major changes. At this point in time, each NFL franchise has to evaluate what they have and what they will need to win in the upcoming season. It appears, oddly enough, that the list of teams looking to improve this year even includes the Detroit Lions.

For the second edition, I will be taking a look at the AFC North. This includes the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Baltimore Ravens

As usual, the Ravens' defense paved the way for their deep postseason run. Joe Flacco was a nice addition and will probably be the Ravens' starter for years. Free agency is a significant offseason concern for the Ravens, as they only have moderate cap space and three major free agents to sign in the linebacking core.


  1. Wide Receiver - Derrick Mason played well this season and should provide a few more good years. However, they need both young talent and an upgrade in the No. 2 spot. Even if Clayton can take another step forward, they still need a viable option at the No. 3 spot. The Ravens can take advantage of Flacco's big arm with a big play wide receiver.
  2. Linebacker(s) - Surprisingly, the Ravens may have considerable issues in back end of their front seven. They could lose one to three starting linebackers (Bart Scott, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs) to free agency.  This is an important factor considering that depth was a concern for them last year.
  3. Cornerback - Depth is the goal. The starters do a good job, but youth is needed secure the future of the secondary.
  4. Youth - The Ravens need to continue to develop young talent to fill the roster. Ray Lewis and Derrick Mason are getting older and will need to be replaced, which will be a tall task.

How to fix the problems?

  1. The Ravens should look to the draft. They need to be careful in free agency. They will need the money to sign draft picks and retain current players. The first round of the draft should have a prime candidate waiting for the Ravens to pick up.
  2. The Ravens need to try and retain at least two of the three free agent linebackers. They will need to draft a linebacker or two this year as well. If they cannot sign two of their free agent linebackers, they need to draft one in the first round.
  3. Depending on the linebacking situation, they should look for young players in the draft. They may be able to pick up a free agent, but it would be better to get a quality cornerback in the second round and another prospect in day two.
  4. Youth can only be gained through the draft. Occasionally, you can pick up a rookie free agent, but the Ravens will want to hit on one or two of their late-round picks.  This will keep the team fresh and near the top of the league for the next several years.

Cincinnati Bengals


The Bengals had a rough season with injuries and discontent. With Palmer healthy, they should improve, but they have many holes to fill this off season if they want to be in the hunt for a playoff spot. They were ranked as the worst offense in total yards and no Bengals had more than three sacks.


  1. Offensive Line – The Bengals gave up 51 sacks this season and it's leading rusher only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. That is horrible. This has to be addressed with multiple picks.
  2. Defensive End – The Bengals only had 17 sacks on the season but  did surprisingly well against the pass. A top notch defensive end could make the Bengals' defense a potential top-ten defense. They were ranked in the top 15 this year. A sack artist is the main missing link.
  3. Wide Receiver – T.J. will be gone and Chad Johnson may be as well. The Bengals will need to fill the void.
  4. Running Back – Cedric Benson and Chris Perry are not getting the job done. New offensive lineman could help this problem, but another running is still needed.

How to fix the problems?

  1. With the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, the Bengals can get a big offensive tackle. They should look to bring in a free agent as well to possibly start or add depth. The third round of the draft should give them another offensive lineman to work with as well. That is three new players for the front line that should look to contribute.
  2. The early part of the second round will possibly have some defensive end prospects. If not, the Bengals do have some decent room in their salary cap to work with.
  3. The draft is deep with receivers and several free agents are available. I think the Bengals should look to both the draft and free agency for two receivers. A third or fourth round prospect and a decent free agent should work fine as long as Palmer has more than one second to throw.
  4. An impact player in the front five could fix this problem. A quick young back in the draft would be a good investment, too. Jeremiah Johnson comes to mind.

Cleveland Browns


The Browns were generally in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistical category, particular in sacks. The offense seems to have some firepower but was unable to get things done. This is most likely due to a limited running game. Coaching would be on the list but has been addressed.


  1. Running Back – Jamal Lewis is just about done. A fresh, young running back is needed. They need someone to carry a load and relieve the pressure on the QB.
  2. Quarterback – The Browns need to figure out what they are doing and stick with one guy. They need consistency at the position.
  3. Linebacker – The Browns have to stop the run more effectively and get pressure on opposing quarterback. An upgrade at outside linebacker is needed.
  4. Defensive End – The Browns' front three needs to generate more pressure.

How to fix the problems?

  1. The Browns should be able to pick up a good running back or two in this draft without problem. They may also be in the market for one of the top free agents available. Sproles would be an excellent pickup along with a high draft pick. An early second round prospect like Lesean McCoy or Donald Brown would be the smart move.
  2. The Browns need to pick their starter for the future and move whoever is the odd man out. By moving one of these quarterbacks, they can create more cap space.
  3. I think the Browns should make themselves the front runner to acquire Julius Peppers. He has said he would like to play the outside linebacker spot and would provide exactly what the Browns need. I also think the Browns should select Aaron Curry with the No. 5 pick in this years draft. These two moves would dramatically impact the defense. Curry, Peppers, and D’Quell Jackson would be the type of core that you need to be a top 3-4 defense.
  4. The Browns can grab a DT/DE prospect like Fili Moala or Mitch King in round three or later to help bolster the defensive line.

Pittsburgh Steelers


Coming off a Super Bowl Championship season the Steelers still have a few glaring holes to fill. The offensive line gave up over 50 sacks on the season, and the defense has some age concerns and possible cap casualties.


  1. Offensive Line – A young group that should improve some next year still needs help. I think the Steelers need to add at least two new linemen this off season, one veteran to help the young line and at least one rookie at any position.
  2. Youth – The Steelers need to add youth if they are interested in staying on top.
  3. Offensive Line – It is just that important.
  4. Wide Receiver – Youth is the key. A  solid backup to replace the big shoes of Hines Ward or play No. 3 role.

How to fix the problems?

  1. The first round pick needs to be another offensive linemen. The best available player at any position will due. Alex Mack, Duke Robinson, William Beatty, Max Unger, and others could be there.
  2. The Steelers need to do well to add depth to their team. I think they should target a safety, linebacker, and a late round quarterback prospect as well to possibly replace free agent Byron Leftwich.
  3. The third round has some decent prospects in it such as Fenuki Tupuo, Alex Boone, and Trevor Canfield. A free agent veteran would be a wise addition as well.
  4. I think the second round of the draft is a good spot to look. Derrick Williams or Ramses Barden would be interesting picks. A young tight end later in the draft would be worthwhile as well.