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AFC Central Draft Preview

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Posted: Wednesday April 12, 2000 10:45 PM

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated


Baltimore Ravens

Total picks: 6

Priority positions: RB, WR, OL, S

The state of things: The Ravens' needs fit ever so nicely with the strength of this year's draft, where there is some real depth at receiver and running back. Blessed with two picks in the first round, Nos. 5 and 10, it would be an upset of some proportion if the Ravens didn't come away with one potential impact player at each position. But Baltimore may not be done dealing. The Ravens are attempting to trade out of the No. 5 spot, winding up in the No. 12-18 range. Baltimore is convinced that neither of their top two targeted players are worth the salary that comes with the fifth pick. For that reason the Ravens will try to trade down a few spots, gain another pick or two and still get theri man. Tennessee's Jamal Lewis appears to be the running back that Baltimore covets, if the team doesn't deal for disgruntled Bengals running back Corey Dillon. The Ravens aren't sold on Virginia's Thomas Jones and would trade out of their spot with a team desperate for him. At receiver, the Ravens' choice is Florida's Travis Taylor, and they are also high on Jackson State's Sylvester Morris. If the Ravens would stay at No. 5, the pick would be Florida State defensive tackle Corey Simon. Safety and linebacker depth will get attention starting in the third round or so.

The hunch: The Ravens want to move out of their No. 5 slot, but may not be able to find the right tango partner. Both of their top two players -- Lewis and Taylor -- can be had lower than fifth. The risk the Ravens face is how much lower? If a second deal doesn't materialize, look for Simon at No. 5 and Taylor at No. 10.


Cincinnati Bengals

Total picks: 7

Priority positions: RB, WR, CB, S

The state of things: The Bengals are rather easy to figure. With receiver Carl Pickens perpetually unhappy, it's time to chose his replacement. With running back Corey Dillon joining the ranks of malcontents, it's time to pick his successor, too. Cincinnati can't get both situations addressed in the first round, but Florida State receiver Peter Warrick should take care of the Pickens problem. Then the Bengals can shop Pickens, maybe for Dillon's eventual replacement. In switching to the 4-3 defensive formation on a fulltime basis this year, Cincinnati is in need a pass-rushing defensive end. Ex-Packer Vaughn Booker was a decent pickup, but look for the Bengals to address the position in the second round. Cornerback is another trouble spot. Last year's second-round pick, Charles Fisher, blew out a knee last year in the opener and some fear he may never return to form. Always a revolving-door position for the Bengals, cornerback remains at least a third-round priority.

The hunch: Despite feelers from clubs seeking Warrick, the Bengals look to be a lock to sit tight and take the impact receiver whose speed came into question with his pre-draft workout. He's this year's Desmond Howard to some, but Warrick should fuel the excitement level at new Paul Brown Stadium this season.


Cleveland Browns

Total picks: 14

Priority positions: DE, WR, RB, DT

The state of things: The Browns need so much help at so many positions that it's almost irrelevant to draw up a need list. Let's start with the pass rush, which was led by linebacker John Thierry's seven sacks. If Cleveland makes Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown their choice at No. 1, at least the Browns have a cornerstone to build on for years to come. Cleveland could still turn to linebacker LaVar Arrington in the top spot, but that figures only to be the choice if Brown poses problems on the signability front. The Browns have 14 selections, tied with Green Bay for most in the league, and can't afford to waste any of them if they are to take a huge step toward respectability this year. Wasn't it this time a year ago that some folks were calling the Browns a possible playoff contender? On offense, Cleveland has to surround second-year quarterback Tim Couch with more weapons. The Browns signed Errict Rhett away from Baltimore, but he's anything but a long-term answer at running back. Miami of Ohio running back Travis Prentice is an option in the second round, with J.R. Redmond of Arizona State another name to know.

The hunch: As one respected NFC personnel director said recently, when comparing two very talented players, one big and one bigger, take the bigger one. That spells Brown over Arrington, and puts Cleveland on the very solid ground of valuing a defensive end over a linebacker.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Total picks: 11

Priority positions: WR, OG, DE, LB

The state of things: The Jaguars are thought to have the best overall talent in the NFL and should have been able to showcase it in the Super Bowl last season. Unsurprisingly, Jacksonville has no glaring need that must receive first-round attention. But the lack of a productive third receiver who is a speed threat showed up at times last season. Florida State receiver Ron Dugans has been mentioned as a candidate to fill out the Jags' three-man set and could be the choice at No. 29. West Virginia's Jerry Porter, if he lingers, could give Jacksonville something to think about. Having lost super backup James Stewart to the Lions, the Jaguars might pick up another runner in the mid rounds of this running back-rich draft. A bigger hole is at right guard, where Rich Tylski was lost in free agency. The position could get the first-round nod if highly regarded prospects like Travis Claridge or Cosey Coleman drop that far.

The hunch: The Jaguars can afford to tinker without really changing much about the team that went 14-2 and earned post-season homefield advantage in 1999. Giving quarterback Mark Brunell another receiving option is a need that fits with the strength of this year's draft.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Total picks: 9

Priority positions: WR, QB, DL, OT

The state of things: The central question concerning the Steelers draft is whether Kordell Stewart can be salvaged as a starting quarterback. If you believe he can, then Pittsburgh would be wise to take a big-play receiver like Plaxico Burress or Travis Taylor. If you think Stewart is a lost cause, then that No. 8 pick would sure look good on Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington. The Steelers don't go for the first-round quarterback much and have a ton of money invested in Stewart. But if in another year everyone is convinced that Stewart is through, will Pittsburgh be in the same position to draft their quarterback of the future? A second-round priority will be defensive line, where underrated end Orpheus Roye was lost to free agency and the rest of the group is getting old. At offensive tackle, the search for a capable replacement for Leon Searcy enters its fourth mediocre year.

The hunch: The Steelers look like they're headed for a steady three-to-five year down cycle barring some unforseen development. Having the courage to draft Pennington -- with Stewart getting just one more make-or-break season at quarterback -- could prove to be just that development. Here's guessing that Bill Cowher will take the plunge.


Tennessee Titans

Total picks: 9

Priority positions: WR, S, CB, LB

The state of things: Like their primary division rival, Jacksonville, the Titans could use a speed receiver capable of spreading the defense and giving quarterback Steve McNair more of a longball threat. Make that, any kind of longball threat at all. Tennessee needs somebody to get vertical, which would open up more running room for Eddie George and allow Yancey Thigpen to work the inside routes. Jackson State receiver Sylvester Morris and Southern Mississippi's Todd Pinkston are two possibilities who should still be available come the Titans' lower-than-ever-expected No. 30 selection. The other hole that needs filling is at safety, where Anthony Dorsett left for Oakland during free agency before he could replace Marcus Robertson at free. Safety Deon Grant of Tennesseee, the university not the NFL team, has his backers within the organization.

The hunch: They won't be reeling in another Jevon Kearse this year, but that's the price the Titans were all too willing to pay in order to make their first Super Bowl trip last season. Tennessee will be shopping mostly for spare parts this draft, with a speed receiver the most likely addition.

Related information
Stories's NFC East Draft Preview Draft Preview: AFC East
SI's Don Banks: NFC Central Draft Preview
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