The AFC North blog will not be in Indianapolis this year for the NFL combine. But I will be keeping an eye on the festivities these next several days.
Here is a preview of what I'm looking for as it relates to the division:
I'm interested to learn more about this year's class of offensive linemen. Every team in the division has a need on the offensive line to some degree, and I think this is annually one of the hardest positions to grade based simply off game tape. But the combine gives scouts an opportunity to run these 300-plus pounders through drills to see how strong they are and how well they move in space, which translates to the NFL game. Interviews and Wonderlic scores also will test their mental acumen. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, in particular, are teams that could draft offensive linemen within the first two rounds.
Pass-rushers and cornerbacks are also at a premium in the AFC North. Baltimore, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals all need help finding edge rushers -- either at defensive end or outside linebacker. It wouldn't be a shock if all three teams added pass-rushing help in the first round this year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are most in the market for cornerback depth. So I'm also watching for prospects in the secondary who can potentially drop to the end of the first, second and third rounds.
For the Cleveland Browns, will they give any clues of whether they're looking for offense or defense with the No. 6 pick? It's clear Cleveland's two primary needs are wide receiver and defensive end. But it's debatable which need is bigger. Browns president Mike Holmgren and new head coach Pat Shurmur have offensive pedigrees. Perhaps that's a clue. Cleveland also went heavy on defense early in the draft last year with cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward. Perhaps that's another clue. But the Browns have pretty much been silent about their draft plans leading up to this week's meeting with the media in Indianapolis.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, I'm curious to hear from head coach Marvin Lewis to see if the team's stance on quarterback Carson Palmer has changed. Palmer recently demanded to be traded and threatened to retire. So far the Bengals haven't budged, and maybe things remain status quo. But with every NFL team represented at the combine, the Bengals have a chance to at least entertain trade conversations.
Also with the Bengals, will they make a strong effort to look into rookie quarterbacks? Cincinnati for years has put off drafting Palmer's successor, but never have things been so urgent. Although it would be somewhat of a surprise, the Bengals can take one of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft with the No. 4 overall pick. Cincinnati also can look at quarterbacks at the top of the second round, which seems more likely. Teams can request certain prospects to interview individually at the combine, and it will be interesting to see if any quarterbacks are on the Bengals' list.
Also keep an eye on free agency. We might get updates this week from pending free agents such as Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor, Cleveland fullback Lawrence Vickers and Cincinnati cornerback Johnathan Joseph and tailback Cedric Benson. There also could be updates on negotiations with AFC North players under the franchise tag: Baltimore defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson.