- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Ravens reporter
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The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Wednesday, the blog is addressing cornerbacks. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five cornerbacks are: Alabama's Dee Milliner, Washington's Desmond Trufant, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Boise State's Jamar Taylor and Houston's D.J. Hayden.
Here are the rankings (the greater the need, the higher the ranking):
1. Cleveland Browns: The Browns have one of the division's top cornerbacks in Joe Haden on one side. They have a big question mark on the other. After not replacing Sheldon Brown in free agency, there is a big void at the other starting cornerback spot. The top cornerbacks after Haden on the roster is not an impressive group: Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, Kevin Barnes, Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi. For this reason, the Bengals have been heavily linked to Milliner in the first round. If the Browns wait until the third round, they could pick up someone like LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, Southeast Louisiana's Robert Alford, Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, North Carolina State's David Amerson, Utah State's Will Davis and William & Mary's B.W. Webb.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers lost promising corner Keenan Lewis to the New Orleans Saints in free agency. The hope is Cortez Allen, a 2011 fourth-round pick, will step up just like Lewis did last season. At nickel back, the Steelers will go with either William Gay or Curtis Brown, who struggled mightily at times last season. So, there's depth concerns at this position. But don't expect the Steelers to use a first-round pick on a corner. That hasn't been the team's style lately. The Steelers have taken a cornerback in the third round in two of the past four drafts.
3. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens lost Cary Williams to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, but they expect Lardarius Webb to be back this season after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year. Corey Graham, primarily a special-teams standout for most of his NFL career, is back after starting in the Super Bowl. Jimmy Smith, a first-round pick in 2011, should compete with Graham for a starting job. The fourth corner is Chykie Brown, who showed flashes last season. The Ravens have taken three cornerbacks in the past two drafts after not selecting one for four straight years.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are the only team in the division to return both starting cornerbacks from last season. While Leon Hall is expected to keep his starting job, Terence Newman could be pressed by Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round pick from a year ago. Cincinnati has depth after re-signing Adam Jones. But there is still a chance that the Bengals could add to this group. Head coach Marvin Lewis has put a priority on cornerbacks during his time in Cincinnati. The Bengals are apparently high on Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. So, the Bengals don't have a need at cornerback but they could certainly draft another one.
The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Wednesday, the blog is addressing cornerbacks.