By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Even though the Browns own a much better position in the draft order – by virtue of their losing record – their rivals in the AFC North have two distinct advantages over them in the draft.
One is their rosters are deeper and more talented. The other is they don’t have to worry about taking a quarterback. The latter point can’t be overstated.
Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said to me a few years ago, “To me, it's a never-ending process building a football team when you don't feel you have that quarterback who can take you to whatever that next level is.
"I do believe it wears on you when you're always in the hunt and searching for the guy who can spin the ball effectively for you and move the ball downfield. It affects your organization in the draft, free agency and at so many levels when you're in search mode."
The Ravens, Bengals and Steelers are blessed to not be in “search mode” for a quarterback. It simplifies their draft process. Sure, they have holes to fill. But not having to waste time researching quarterbacks and pondering scenarios to take one frees them to concentrate fully on other areas of need.
Here’s a look at the state of the Browns’ rivals heading into the draft.
Baltimore Ravens: First-round pick: 29th overall. Total picks: eight.
Needs: Offensive linemen, wide receiver, pass rusher, safety.
A dropped pass in the end zone kept them out of the Super Bowl. Their defense is elite. Their offense is getting there. They have to continue to support quarterback Joe Flacco to push them over the top. An interior lineman capable of starting at guard or center is the top priority. A tackle capable of replacing Bryant McKinnie soon is next. And the search for a dependable receiver should be constant. Replacements for Hall of Fame-bound linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed will be priorities next year.
Projection: Interior offensive line early.
Cincinnati Bengals: First-round picks: 17th and 21st overall. Total picks: Nine.
Needs: Defensive line, wide receiver, offensive line.
They are the most overlooked team in the AFC. The trade of Carson Palmer, netting Oakland’s No. 1, was a jackpot that should expedite their rise. Two first-round picks give them the luxury of addressing needs at offensive and defensive line. The Bengals also are always in the hunt for offensive playmakers. It’s in their genes to be attracted to receivers. If quarterback Andy Dalton does not suffer a sophomore jinx, this team is poised to join the conference elite.
Projection: They’re in ideal position to go in any direction with their first two picks.
Pittsburgh Steelers: First-round pick: 24th overall. Total picks: 10.
Needs: Inside linebacker, nose tackle, offensive line, defensive end, running back.
We prematurely predicted the Steelers’ demise two years ago because of age at offensive and defensive line. But they won’t hit rock bottom because of their quarterback and excellence and youth at wide receiver. Running back is a problem, but they usually find suitable replacements late in the draft. Salary cap issues are starting to affect them, giving them less room for error in the draft.
Projection: A typically unglamorous first pick is in the offing.
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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