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NFL Mock Draft: Cleveland Browns & AFC North

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(credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

(credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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By: Tony Meale

The 2012 NFL Draft is just one week away so we’ve pulled together a mock draft featuring the first and second rounds for the NFC East. Do you agree with the picks? Comment below.

AFC North

Browns

The Browns need offense. A lot.

In 2011, Cleveland went 0-6 against the AFC North, 1-7 on the road and scored 20+ points just twice.

Yes, the Browns are that bad.

Which is why selecting Morris Claiborne fourth overall – as some say the Browns should do – is a tad perplexing. Sure, he could be a staple of the Cleveland secondary for the next decade, but the Browns had statistically the second best pass defense in football last season. The offense was 29th.

Provided the Browns don’t trade the fourth pick, they should take Trent Richardson. Running backs have become devalued in recent years, but there’s no denying Richardson’s beastly tendencies – and his sub-4.5 40. He’s a tough, pass-catching, between-the-tackles runner who could be the heart and soul of a team that desperately needs, well, a heart and soul.

The football fan in me would like to see the Browns draft Justin Blackmon at 4 and Brandon Weeden at 22, but Cleveland appears interested in Ryan Tannenhill. Plus, there will be decent wideout options at Pick 22, including Kendall Wright.

If the Browns do draft Tannenhill, what becomes of Colt McCoy? Does Cleveland simply give up on him? McCoy has been far from impressive, but in his defense, who exactly has he had to throw to? I’m not saying McCoy is the quarterback of the future, but Browns fans should take McCoy’s performance thus far with at least a slight grain of salt – because he has no pieces around him.

If I’m Cleveland, I go RB/WR in the first round to give McCoy some weapons. With three of the top 37 picks – and 13 overall – the Browns can draft a quarterback later if they so choose.

Bengals

The Bengals boast three of the top 53 picks, including two of the top 21 – thanks largely to the coup owner Mike Brown pulled off by unloading the cantankerous Carson Palmer to the Raiders. Cincinnati went from worst in the AFC North in 2010 to a playoff team in 2011, and the pieces are in place for the Bengals to make a playoff push in 2012.

Cornerback and wide receiver are among the Bengals’ most pressing needs, but don’t be surprised if they draft an offensive lineman in the first round – either Stanford’s David DeCastro or Georgia’s Cordy Glenn. Protecting Andy Dalton, who showed great promise as a rookie, is a top priority, but so too is opening holes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose acquisition from New England may have been one of the offseason’s more underrated transactions. Cedric Benson had his moments in Cincy (three straight 1,000-yard seasons) but was at times unreliable (12 fumbles the last two years).

While it appears Mike Wallace will re-sign with Pittsburgh, the Bengals should be doing everything they can to get him. A.J. Green, who last year averaged 16.3 yards per catch and tallied 43 first-down receptions, was phenomenal as a rookie, but the Bengals lack a true No. 2. Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham are solid pass-catchers, but it would behoove the Bengals to draft at least one wideout. Michael Floyd is an option if he were to fall to Pick 17, but there are too many solid secondary options to pass up on, including Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephen Gilmore.

While Pittsburgh and Baltimore remain the class of the division, Cincinnati has unquestionably the brightest future – not to mention the potential to win the AFC North.

Ravens

For all the talk about how the Ravens are getting old – and they are – they still came within one dropped pass of the Super Bowl last year. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Baltimore comes that close again or goes even further, but if the Ravens are going to do it with Ray Lewis, it needs to be this year or next.

In the past, Baltimore has typically been more concerned with drafting the best player available than with filling needs – and it’s hard to argue with the success that strategy has produced. But seriously, can the Ravens get a receiver?

Joe Flacco, believe it or not, is a good quarterback. A 48-24 record. Two trips to the AFC Championship. At least one playoff win every year. Two wins over the Steelers last season.

Yeah, not bad.

As for Ray Rice, call me crazy, but he’s the best running back in football. He can run, he can catch, he can pass-protect – and unlike Arian Foster and now Adrian Peterson – he’s durable.

The Baltimore defense, meanwhile, is the Baltimore defense. Depth is a concern at a spot or two, but with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, you know this unit is going to be Super Bowl-caliber come playoff time.

But back to receivers. Anquan Boldin is good, but he’s 32 and he can’t do it alone. He led the Ravens in catches last year despite missing two games. Torrey Smith has game-breaking speed – and that’s certainly a good thing to have – but he’s more of a burner than a receiver.

After that, who do we have? Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson? Those guys won’t lose games, but they aren’t going to win them, either.

A wideout like Stephen Hill would be a good first-round pick, but the Ravens will likely draft defense (think Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower) or invest in the trenches (think Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams). Neither pick would be bad, but it wasn’t a linebacker or an offensive lineman that cost the Ravens a trip to the Super Bowl last year.

It was a receiver.

Steelers

The Steelers enter the offseason with more questions than usual:

Will Mike Wallace be back? How will Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley get along? How will the franchise cope without former mainstays Chris Kemoeatu and James Farrior, among others?

And yet, Pittsburgh has two bigger questions that need answering: Can Big Ben stay upright? And who is carrying the ball?

Big Ben is one of the game’s elite quarterbacks, and his freelancing style of play has helped the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances in less than a decade. But Roethlisberger, who just turned 30, still takes way too many hits. Part of that is the result of the way he plays; the other – and maybe bigger – part is the offensive line. Doug Legursky, Maurkice Pouncey, and Willie Colon are solid, but the Steelers would be wise to draft Ohio State’s Mike Adams if he’s available at Pick 24.

The tailback situation is even more tenuous. Rashard Mendenhall’s bum knee might cost him the entire season, and Isaac Redman – with one career start – is first in line to get the bulk of the carries. In other words, the Steelers need a running back. Investing a second-round selection in Boise State’s Doug Martin would be worth it.

>> more: Mock Draft AFC South | Mock Draft AFC East | Mock Draft AFC West | Mock Draft NFC North | Mock Draft NFC South | Mock Draft NFC East | Mock Draft NFC West

Tony Meale is a freelance writer for MLB.com, cincinnati.com and ffjungle.com, among others. His fantasy football work has led to guest appearances on several radio outlets, including ESPN Radio and Sirius Radio. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Ohio University and has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding work. A Cincinnati native, he is currently writing a book on one of the great sports stories never told. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

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