Selections move AFC North in positive direction on offense

Division's lack of firepower is addressed by early picks

Analysis

April 26, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Cleveland Browns traded up for a tight end. The Cincinnati Bengals traded down for a running back. And while the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed a quarterback early, the Ravens waited until the third round to snag a wide receiver.

Those shaky AFC North offenses got some relief in the NFL draft, a concession made with early picks.

Three of the division's four teams ranked in the bottom third of the league in offense. The fourth - Cincinnati - ranked near the bottom in defense.

At least on the surface, the Ravens, defending division champions, held serve through the draft. Their most pressing need was at receiver, and they answered it on both days.

They got a possession-type receiver in Devard Darling of Washington State in the third round, two projects in the sixth and seventh rounds and a playmaking veteran, Kevin Johnson, in a second-day trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Although the fourth-place Browns wound up with just six picks, they secured the player who could make the biggest impact in the division when they traded up one spot in the first round to get tight end Kellen Winslow II of Miami.

Winslow joins the Ravens' Todd Heap in the new wave of dynamic young tight ends. Winslow almost certainly will become a favorite target - and primary red-zone threat - for new Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia on a team that ranked 25th in pass offense last year.

The Browns couldn't trade up to get the player they needed most - left tackle Robert Gallery of Iowa, who went to Oakland - but did fill other holes. They got Georgia strong safety Sean Jones for their secondary and Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown for the future.

Jones has marginal cover skills but is strong in run support. McCown is the brother of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown.

Pittsburgh's vaunted running game slumped to 31st in the league in 2003, and the Steelers invested a third-round pick in offensive tackle Max Starks of Florida and a sixth-round choice on Arkansas tackle Bo Lacey.

The Steelers addressed a critical issue at quarterback when they took Ben Roethlisberger of Miami of Ohio, with the 11th pick overall. At 6 feet 5, Roethlisberger has great size and a strong arm, but he will need time to develop.

He will get that time because incumbent Tommy Maddox is in the final year of his contract after failing to get an extension.

The Steelers also got a raw talent for their secondary when they took cornerback Ricardo Colclough of Division II Tusculum in the second round, the 38th overall pick. Colclough is a gifted athlete who likely will return kicks his first season.

Pittsburgh got another project for its defense in the fifth round with Nathaniel Adibi of Virginia Tech. Adibi, a speed rusher, should be an outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense.

Then there were the Bengals, who achieved an 8-8 turnaround in Marvin Lewis' first year as coach. They traded down twice in the first round before taking Michigan running back Chris Perry.

Perry fits the mold of the AFC North back. He has size (6-0, 224 pounds) to pound between the tackles and block, but he also catches the ball well. Together, he and Rudi Johnson will attempt to make up for the departure of Corey Dillon, traded to New England.

The Bengals piled up a slew of picks in Lewis' second draft, and most of them went for defense. Their greatest need was cornerback after cutting starters Artrell Hawkins and Jeff Burris. With the 49th pick, they took Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, a 5-10 ballhawk who doesn't have great speed. Ratliff was a third-round projection.

Cincinnati tapped Maryland's Madieu Williams in the second round as well, and he'll likely fill one of the safety positions. The Bengals drafted two linebackers (a need) and two defensive linemen (a bigger need) with their surplus of picks in the third and fourth rounds.

Lewis needs some of those players to come through for the Bengals to improve their No. 28 defensive ranking.

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