Kiper's Summer Audits: AFC North
Breaking down the offseason and needs of each team
- AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe Baltimore Ravens need Courtney Upshaw to provide some of the pass rush without Terrell Suggs.
Every summer, with the NFL draft and free agency in the rearview mirror, I take a look at each team. What did it accomplish in terms of added personnel? How did its draft fill holes? What voids remain? Let's jump around the league, addressing three things for each team:
• Help added: What the team has done this offseason to improve its prospects. Given my greatest area of expertise, I put a particular emphasis on the draft.
• Questions that remain: A look at what voids must be filled.
• Next year's help now: With an eye toward next year's draft class, which player from 2013 could seemingly help the team in 2012? This is meant to be hypothetical, a quick look at prospects to keep an eye on.
Here is the version for the AFC North:
Help added: The bulk of the additions the Ravens made this offseason came via the draft. Courtney Upshaw fell into the second round and was a steal at No. 35. He is limited as a pass-rusher, but that's not really his main role. He should start immediately. Bernard Pierce can help early behind Ray Rice, and it wouldn't surprise me if Kelechi Osemele is starting at guard before long. He played tackle in college, but I've always said he'd be better inside; I think the Ravens feel the same way.
A quiet addition who shouldn't be overlooked is Vonta Leach at fullback. Baltimore's running success starts up front, but Leach is a seek-and-destroy fullback when it comes to targeting linebackers. With Leach's help, Rice should be able to break off some bigger runs this season.
Questions that remain: There has been something of a misconception regarding the Baltimore pass rush. People talk glowingly about the Ravens and their ability to get to the quarterback, as if the big names and the system make it an inevitability, but it's actually been a weakness in recent years. In 2006, the Ravens got to opposing quarterbacks for a sack, not merely a hit, an incredible 10.2 percent of the time -- an absurdly high rate. But the Ravens hadn't even cracked the top 10 in sack percentage until last season. That rate came because of the brilliant work of Terrell Suggs. With Suggs trying to work his way back from an Achilles injury, the pass rush is back in focus. Dean Pees has taken over for Chuck Pagano at defensive coordinator and he has work on his hands. Can Upshaw show pass-rush skills early in his career? Hard to say. He is really a replacement for Jarret Johnson -- an edge-sealer in the 3-4. Can Paul Kruger continue to improve as a pass-rusher? Can Sergio Kindle finally emerge and become the player the Ravens believed they were drafting in 2010?
For the full AFC North breakdown from Mel Kiper, including picks for next year's draft, you must be an ESPN Insider.
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