The NFL draft is getting closer, and this week ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. provided his third installment in a popular series of mock drafts.
Let's examine how Kiper views the AFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals (No. 4)
Kiper's pick: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Analysis: Newton is the most polarizing player in the NFL draft, and Kiper believes the Bengals will take him at No. 4. Cincinnati's quarterback position is in turmoil with starter Carson Palmer demanding a trade and threatening to retire. But is Newton the right replacement? He has tremendous athleticism but also comes with boom or bust potential. Because of his athleticism and one year of starting experience, some have compared Newton to Akili Smith. Right or wrong, those comparisons will only increase if he goes to Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns (No. 6)
Kiper's pick: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Analysis: The best receiver in the draft goes to Cleveland, according to Kiper. The Browns' receivers desperately need help, and Green would give them a legitimate No. 1 option in their new West Coast offense. I'm not against this pick, but there is a lot of debate in Cleveland about whether this team should address its defensive line in the first round. I think the Browns are leaning more in that direction. Cleveland is going to a 4-3 scheme in 2011 and need help at both defensive end and defensive tackle. There should be some good prospects there at No. 6.
Baltimore Ravens (No. 26)
Kiper's pick: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Analysis: Kiper remains steadfast in believing the Ravens will take a cornerback in the first round. In his second mock draft, the pick was corner Aaron Williams of Texas. In this mock draft, it's Smith. The Ravens do have the propensity to take the best available player, but I think they will address a need in the first round. Baltimore definitely could use help at offensive tackle and also with its pass rush. According to Kiper's mock, Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder would be available at No. 26, and that would be a great value pick for Baltimore. With starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth returning, I would be surprised if Baltimore takes a corner early.
Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 31)
Kiper's pick: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
Analysis: With Florida guard Mike Pouncey long gone in this mock, Kiper says Watkins is the pick. The Steelers need depth and youth on their offensive line. But I believe Pittsburgh is the most likely AFC North team to trade up in this draft. The Steelers are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and were very close to winning a championship. They only need a few pieces, and if the right cornerback or offensive lineman is available, the Steelers shouldn't be afraid to part ways with some of their picks.