Commentary

Kiper's summer audits: AFC North

Mel breaks down the offseasons and needs of each AFC North team

Originally Published: June 15, 2011
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
SmithAaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesJimmy Smith should be able to contribute for the Ravens immediately this coming season.

Let's pretend for a moment that the NFL hasn't ground to a halt like a train rusted to the tracks. Let's pretend as well that the season will start on time, that free agency will at some point get underway and that all these roster voids can at some point be addressed. Got it? Well, with those rose-colored glasses on, let's audit all the divisions in the NFL. Like last year, I'll hit on three things:

Help added: What has the team done so far this offseason to improve its prospects? (Obviously, minus free agency, this is mainly limited to the draft.)
Questions that remain: Consider it a guide to free agency (when it happens). What must still be addressed?
Next year's help, now: With an eye toward next year's draft class, what player from 2012 could seemingly help the team in 2011? Meant to be extremely hypothetical.

Here is the version for the AFC North:


AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Help added: With their two starters at cornerback from last season -- Chris Carr and Josh Wilson -- set to become free agents and Domonique Foxworth returning from a knee injury, the Ravens needed to come away from the 2011 draft with a top-flight cover corner. If not for character concerns, Colorado's Jimmy Smith would have never been available at pick No. 27. He has both the physical tools and cover skills necessary to become a very good starter in the league, and given the current leadership structure on that side of the ball in Baltimore, you'd have to believe the Ravens aren't too worried about Smith maintaining his concentration.

In the second round, they added some much-needed explosiveness at wide receiver. Maryland's Torrey Smith needs to become a better route runner, but he is an impressive talent with excellent kick return ability. Had he gone back to school for another year, you could have been looking at a high first-round pick. They also liked Central Florida tackle Jah Reid enough to deal a pick to get him in the third round. Both starters at tackle from last season -- Marshal Yanda and Chris Chester -- are currently unsigned; Yanda is the higher of the two priorities. What I could see taking place is Yanda being re-signed and switched back to guard (his best position) with Reid becoming the new right tackle. The Ravens did a good job of hitting some key needs in the draft.

Questions that remain: I'm pretty surprised the Ravens didn't go for a pass-rusher at some point, and you have to believe that'll be a priority in free agency. For as much as we hear about this defense, the personalities and some of the individual talent may outweigh actual production in recent years. For instance, even with a pass rush that held opposing backs to just 3.8 yards per carry in 2010, the Ravens' pass rush managed to rank only 27th in sacks. The Ravens are extremely solid up the middle, but they could use some help on the edges. Terrell Suggs isn't getting any younger, as he approaches his ninth season in the league, and when he wasn't getting to the quarterback in 2010, nobody else was, either. In the 3-4, you can't have enough help at linebacker, or at defensive end. The Ravens should be looking for both.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst