- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
Can the draft be an immediate difference-maker? For some teams, yes. These six appear to be a good draft away from taking the next step.
Surpassing the Ravens and Steelers in the AFC North will not be easy, but the Bengals, a playoff team in 2011, have a chance to be an improved club next season -- particularly if they excel in the upcoming draft. My worry here is if Andy Dalton is ready to lead the Bengals to contender status. Despite the poise and maturity he showed as a rookie, Dalton is just very young -- and young quarterbacks have growing pains, as Dalton did to finish the 2011 season.
The Bengals own the 17th and 21st picks in the first round and also have an extra fifth-round pick. With the depth they have created by bringing back many of their own in free agency, the Bengals appear to be a prime team to move up to acquire higher-quality prospects. Whether or not they take such an aggressive approach remains to be seen, but it should be a strategy they strongly consider.
Running back, wide receiver and guard should be the targets offensively. On defense, Cincinnati should be interested in improving on the back end as well as potentially adding another pass-rusher to the equation.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. identifies the teams that could become legit contenders with a successful draft.