Targets: Browns, Steelers and Bengals

While a major part of the draft is seeing college football stars get the chance to further their careers in the NFL, the other major part is seeing NFL teams try to improve themselves by filling holes on their rosters.

Three NFL teams close to Kent – the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals- all have needs they will likely address in the draft, and three Stater reporters identified those needs.

With the draft a day away, here’s a look at what the Browns, Steelers and Bengals need to do to improve themselves from 2008:

Cleveland Browns (4-12)

No. 5 overall pick

A top pick is always nice to get in the NFL Draft, but not when it means your favorite team is playing horribly year after year to get it.ÿOnce again, that’s the case for the Cleveland Browns, who are picking fifth overall.

The Browns need help, but not just from any single position.ÿHere’s what the Browns should be looking for:ÿ

1.ÿThe Browns need someone to ignite this team and help improve their four-win performance from last year, soÿthey should select the best player available. Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry is an ideal candidate, but he will probably be drafted before the No. 5 pick.

2. The best-case scenario for the Browns, if Curry doesn’t fall, would be if Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree was still on the board when their 10-minute clock starts ticking.ÿAfter the Kellen Winslow trade, the Donte’ Stallworth legal issues and the possibility of a Braylon Edwards trade, the Browns are in need of a wide receiver.

3. The odds of Crabtree falling to the fifth pick are slim, which is why the most likely scenario is that the Browns select Texas linebacker/defensive end Brian Orakpo.ÿ

Whatever route the Browns take, they are in need of a lot more than just one star player.ÿThis is why that type of scenario will not happen.ÿHere’s how the Browns will likely draft:

1.ÿThey trade the fifth pick overall for one later in the first round while accumulating more picks later in the draft. It’s not flashy, but they can receive more players that are needed.

2.ÿIf the Browns don’t trade down, then there is a possibility of them trading up.ÿThis would give them the chance to get Curry.

3. Unfortunately for Browns fans, the team will probably trade Edwards near draft day and pick someone other than Crabtree. That would leave Quinn and Anderson without a primary wide receiver and Cleveland fans with another year of disappointment.ÿ

– Cody Erbacher

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

No. 32 overall pick

There’s one bad thing about winning the Super Bowl: picking last in the NFL Draft.

Of course, following the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL victory, the team traded up to draft wide receiver Santonio Holmes out of Ohio State. This turned out to be a brilliant decision, and I predict the Steelers will do something very similar this year.

The Black and Gold need an offensive lineman to continue their dominance of the AFC North (and the NFL). All season long, the O-line was the main concern for the team. The Steelers gave up 49 sacks in 2008, the most ever given up for an eventual Super Bowl champion squad.

By trading up to around the middle part of the draft (picks 18-24), Pittsburgh would be able to select a high-end offensive lineman. Giving up a third rounder in order to switch picks with, say, New England at 23, wouldn’t be that far-fetched.

Losing wide receiver Nate Washington to the Tennessee Titans hurts the team a lot more than people think. It leaves the Steelers with just two wide receivers with experience, one being a 33-year-old (Hines Ward) who is nearing the end of his career, and the other an emerging stud (Holmes).

This leaves second-year wideout Limas Sweed to pick up the slack, which I am expecting. With Washington gone, Sweed has got to pick it up. Still, a No. 4 wideout for the future is in need.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are numerous ways to improve the league’s best defense. Both defensive ends (Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel) are over 30, and the secondary suffered a loss when Bryant McFadden went to the Arizona Cardinals.

However, the most intriguing position in the 2009 draft for the defending champions is an area in which they already are flourishing: linebacker.

This year’s draft is loaded with talented, bruising linebackers that the Steel City is famous for. Any of the USC trio would fit perfectly (Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Mathews), but given the spot where the Steelers are picking, their man would have to be Ohio State phenom James Laurinaitis.

That’s right – there’s my bold prediction. As far-fetched as it seems, let me explain .

James Farrior is the current left inside linebacker, and he’s getting a tad old – 34 years old, to be exact. The Steelers love to groom linebackers. Who better to learn from than a 13-year veteran like Farrior? Plus, third-year right inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is a tad under schedule: He’s still behind Larry Foote on the depth chart.

At 29, Foote isn’t very young either. If Farrior retires after this year, or the next, the Steelers’ linebacking corps would look a little something like this in 2011: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and James Laurinaitis.

People say defense wins championships – so why not continue with what’s working?

– Michael Moses

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)

No. 6 overall pick

The Cincinnati Bengals are notoriously a triple-threat draft team: unlucky, unaggressive and unpredictable. They’re like the guy in high school who asks out the first girl he sees. Sometimes he’ll score the head cheerleader (or Carson Palmer), but usually he’ll end up with her less talented, injury prone friend (aka, Akili Smith).

So with all that in mind, here’s what the Bengals should be looking for:

1. Anywhere on the offensive line, but specifically center and tackle. Lucky for the Bengals, there are plenty of options to choose from. If Cincinnati wants to rebuild an almost nonexistent offensive line, look for it to take tackle Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe. A center like Eric Wood would make an intelligent second-rounder … but again, this is the Bengals we’re talking about here.

2. Anywhere on the defensive line. The Bengals’ pass rush was a joke last season. Only the Lions had fewer sacks than them. Signing Tank Johnson in the offseason helps, but Cincinnati could use a defensive end like Brian Orakpo of Texas.

3. New leadership. It’s a shame teams can’t draft new owners and coaches. Fans in the Queen City last season bought billboards that read: “Dear Bengals, hire a general manager. Love, your fans.”

It’s no secret Mike Brown ran this franchise into the ground. He’s the reason Cincinnati never gets anywhere in the draft. The Bengals have made just one draft-day trade in the last five years. That trade, you ask? The 24th pick for St. Louis’s 26th and a first rounder. The Rams got Steven Jackson. The Bengals got Chris Perry.

And then there’s the coaching. Marvin Lewis did a lot to turn the team around, but let’s face it – kindergarten soccer coaches have more control over their teams than he does.

But, as we’ve seen in the past, the above selections probably won’t happen. So here’s what the Bengals will draft:

1. A flashy skills player, a la wide receiver Michael Crabtree (assuming he’s still around) or running back Beanie Wells (yeah, he’ll still be around). This would actually buck the trend of drafting defense first, but by drafting Crabtree, Mike Brown could make a strong statement to Chad Ocho Cinco: “If you don’t play, Crabtree will.” On the other hand, considering the Bengals’ No. 2 receiver is Laveranues Coles, maybe drafting a receiver high wouldn’t be a bad idea.

2. A linebacker in the early rounds. Cincinnati’s defense improved immensely last season, and Marvin Lewis will want to see that continue. Drafting LB Rey Maualuga would be tempting, especially with last year’s USC product Keith Rivers performing well in his rookie season – until Hines Ward almost decapitated him, at least.

3. A player who will get injured in training camp or within the first weeks of the season. Here’s the unlucky part of the Bengals’ draft history: Their higher draft picks break faster than a toy on Christmas: RB Kenny Irons, DE David Pollack, QB Akili Smith and RB Ki-Jana Carter – just to name a few.

– Josh Johnston