Cincinnati Bengals 12--4
This is an article from the Feb. 15, 2016 issue
TOP PRIORITY: DEFENSIVE BACK
Starting safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson are both likely to be re-signed. Veteran cornerbacks Leon Hall and Adam Jones can still play, but will there be money left? Probably not enough for both, which is why Cincy drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round in 2014. The Bengals prefer to let young players learn from the sideline for a year or two, so if Dennard moves up in the rotation they need to bring in one new corner now. In making draft decisions, they can ignore polish and pick purely on talent.
ALSO: LINEBACKER. Top backup Vincent Rey may get free-agent offers elsewhere, and Vontaze Burfict is volatile (suspended for the first three games) and injury-prone.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 3--13
TOP PRIORITY: QUARTERBACK
Johnny Manziel has verified what most already knew: Owners should leave drafting to the football people. The Browns wasted the No. 22 pick and two years on a physically limited, immature train wreck. It's imperative that Jimmy Haslam and the number crunchers who now run the front office give new coach Hue Jackson a strong say in the No. 2 pick. Jackson has proved that, with his smart game-planning and play-calling, he can win with a second-tier QB—provided that he has considerable talent at the other skill positions. Cleveland doesn't.
ALSO: RIGHT TACKLE. Mitchell Schwartz had a superb season and will sign for big money elsewhere.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 10--6
TOP PRIORITY: SECONDARY
Pittsburgh's so-so group of defensive backs got better as the season progressed, but now many of them are free agents. This includes corners William Gay, Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin, plus strong safety Will Allen and his backup, Robert Golden. It wouldn't be a surprise if most were retained; the Steelers value experience and continuity on the back end of their complex matchup-zone scheme. Ironically, the one starter in the secondary who remains under contract is the one who's the most replaceable: free safety Mike Mitchell. A hitter first and foremost, he is not a particularly cerebral centerfielder.
ALSO: NOSETACKLE. If Steve McLendon is not re-signed, a run-stopper is needed either to rotate with Daniel McCullers or to start ahead of him.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 5--11
TOP PRIORITY: EDGE DEFENDER
Baltimore believes Terrell Suggs, 33, can rebound from last year's left Achilles injury; he has overcome steep odds before. Still, he's no guarantee, plus an heir must be groomed to play opposite 32-year-old Elvis Dumervil. Courtney Upshaw, a free agent, is not a quality pass rusher. (His value is in setting the edge against the run and playing shallow zone coverage.) The Ravens' D up front is young and stout inside; it needs to get that way outside, too.
ALSO: WIDE RECEIVER. Steve Smith is back, but he's 36 and coming off a torn right Achilles. Depth and insurance are needed across from 2015 first-rounder Breshad Perriman, who was out with a right knee injury all last year.