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A Northerly draft

Posted: 10:40 p.m.

If you can't beat 'em, out-draft 'em.

That's what faces the Bengals in two weeks when their 10 draft picks match the total held by the two teams that finished ahead of them in the AFC North.

The Steelers, with six choices, and the Browns, with four, go into the April 26-27 draft with much different agendas off twin 10-6 finishes.

Despite a literally huge offseason in acquiring big talent up front, Cleveland is still looking to upgrade the NFL's 30th-ranked defense. With the free-agent loss of Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and battered running back Willie Parker coming off a pounding, the Steelers are looking to bolster their offensive line.

And the Ravens, with nine picks, are just seeking depth with all their starters back from a 5-11 team.

A look at the draft picture for the Bengals' division foes. The possible matchups come strictly from the Mock Drafts of Pro Football Weekly and Ourlads Scouting Services, and what rounds they had players available.

In other words, it is Fantasy Football.


RECORD: 5-11

PICKS: 9 (No. 8 in the first round)

NEEDS: Depth anywhere, particularly at cornerback, offensive tackle and quarterback.

POSSIBLE ROOKIE MATCHUPS: Oklahoma CB Reggie Smith, who the Ravens could select in the second round, vs. Houston WR Donnie Avery, who could be available when the Bengals select in the third round. The Ravens don't have a third until the last choice of the round, which could be Nebraska tackle Carl Nicks. Could he end up lined up against possible Bengals first-rounder, Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey?

Don't just assume that the Ravens are going to take Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with that eighth pick. If a player with a higher grade (i.e. USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, Boise State left tackle Ryan Clady) is there, watch the Ravens jump. Personnel guru Ozzie Newsome almost never misses in the first round, although the failed Kyle Boller gambit is a big reason Baltimore could take Ryan.

But the Ravens also need a left tackle if Jonathan Ogden isn't back. Adam Terry got beat out by a rookie last year at right tackle and he has never started and finished a season all the way through, and the immense Jared Gaither is a project that has yet to pan out Stacy Andrews-style.

Maybe Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin would interest them in the first round since both starting corners Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle are now 30, and free agent Frank Walker isn't an answer.

Of course, Ryan makes sense, too. Marvin Lewis showed John Harbaugh that the right quarterback can be a rookie head coach's first and best-ever draft pick if it pans out. Plus, Steve McNair is hobbling into what looks to be his final season, Boller is working on a one-year deal and is Troy Smith Jeff Blake in Ravens clothing?


RECORD: 10-6

PICKS: Four (No. 122 in the fourth round)

NEEDS: Inside linebacker, outside linebacker, cornerback.

POSSIBLE ROOKIE MATCHUPS: Boise State CB Orlando Scandrick, who could be there in the fourth round, vs. LSU wide receiver Early Doucet. Is it too Early for the Bengals to take Doucet at No. 46? All speculation, of course. Indiana wide receiver James Hardy figures to be gone in the first 40 picks.

Would the Browns take Purdue linebacker Stanford Keglar at that pick? Or has his stint in the Ignition gym in Mason, Ohio under the watchful eye of former Bengals strength assistant Clif Marshall propelled him into the third round? The scouts wonder if he's more athlete than football player, and he may not be a fit as a 3-4 backer, but they say he can play SAM or WILL.

The Browns had such a good offseason that head coach Mike Tomlin of the defending division champ Steelers picked them as the North favorite earlier this month at the NFL meetings.

"The things that they've done this offseason," Tomlin said, "acquired some big men up front defensively, signed their quarterback to a long-term deal, probably makes them the front-runner."

Bengals boss Marvin Lewis, who picked Pittsburgh, says that a team gets a lift knowing when a quarterback is settled upon and that's what Cleveland did when it signed Derek Anderson to a three-year deal.

"I think Cleveland has done a good job," Lewis said. "They added some guys, they continue to play together, they've settled on a quarterback."

"Added some guys" is like saying Barak Obama won a couple of primaries in a row. Trades for defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams have automatically transformed the NFL's sixth-worst run defense and the weakest link on the team. The Shauns (former Bengal Shaun Smith) are expected to rotate at nose tackle with Williams playing left end, Robaire Smith at right end, and Rogers playing a bit of end, too. Throw in the Smiths and the Browns can line up in a formidable four-man front out of their 3-4 base.

They need to find a cornerback after giving up Leigh Bodden and a third-rounder for Rogers. Cleveland is hoping last year's fifth-rounder Brandon McDonald emerges opposite Eric Wright.

But the Browns figure they'll still see their first three picks in the person of backup quarterback Brady Quinn (taken late in the first last year), Williams (traded for a second by Green Bay) and Rogers.

They should be out of the receiver derby after snagging Donte' Stallworth, putting him opposite Braylon Edwards, and making Joe Jurevicius the No. 3.


RECORD: 10-6

PICKS: Six (No. 23 in the first round)

NEEDS: Guards and tackles, wide receiver, cornerback, running back

POSSIBLE ROOKIE MATCHUPS: Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart vs. USC DT Sedrick Ellis in a marquee duel of first-rounders. Or, maybe the Bengals wait until the third round to take the D-tackle and pit Auburn's Patrick Sims against Virginia guard Branden Albert, a guy that figures to be there for the Steelers at No. 23.

Faneca's departure means it's time for the Steelers to address that offensive line that carried them through the Super Bowl win and out of the Cowher era and into the Tomlin epoch that began with a division title.

But if the Steelers don't get people to protect their new $100M-plus man in QB Ben Roethlisberger, it will be a short run. Not satisfied with the way they handled the retirement of C Jeff Hartings with Sean Mahan, they swooped up Justin Hartwig hours after he was cut by Carolina and he looks to their lone starter acquired in free agency.

But LT Marvel Smith has been hurting and just had back surgery as he goes into the last year of his deal. RT Willie Colon and RG Kendall Simmons aren't viewed as long-term answers.

Maybe even just as important as the line in taking the heat off Roethlisberger is finding some relief for Fast Willie Parker at RB. The man is a beast on the perimeter, but he got hurt last year, and it's time to spell him inside with his successor.

Stewart is a specimen whose stock has fallen because of a toe injury, but keep in mind that the Steelers haven't used a first- or second-round draft pick on a back since Stewart was a toddler and Tim Worley was the man in 1989.

The NFC championship game served as another reminder that Pittsburgh has never really replaced Plaxico Burress at wide out. And if that wasn't enough, then Roethlisberger has yapped enough about needing taller receivers than the 5-11 Santonio Holmes and the 6-0 Hines Ward.

The Steelers have gone pretty heavy on defense the past two drafts and seem pretty solid as usual. Their first two picks last year, linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley (Woodley had a better rookie year) allowed them to let Clark Haggans walk.

The Steelers don't have a seventh-round pick, given up for the kick returner that they cut after the season, Allen Rossum.

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