AFC North Notes: Who's doing what in Round 1

ITEM: Lewis indicates the Bengals are leaning toward defense
During a news conference on April 24, Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis suggested he is inclined to focus more attention to defensive players with the team's pair of No. 1 draft picks, the 17th and 21st overall.

"We took some guys up high offensively the past two years. I think other than Carlos (Dunlap) we have neglected the defense," Lewis said. "There are going to be good players on both sides of the ball, as there are every year. If you're sitting there looking for certain players offensively you would feel like it is strong there. We like where we are."

The Bengals drafted linebacker Keith Rivers on the first round in 2008 with the ninth overall pick, but since then the team has picked offense in the first round each time. With those picks they added tackle Andre Smith, tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver A.J. Green. There was a run of four straight years (2005-08) where the Bengals picked a defensive player on the first round, but the only one of those who is still on the roster is cornerback Leon Hall.

According to a report by Joe Reedy, one area of focus on defense has been cornerback, with Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore being the most frequently mentioned names at No. 17. During the scouting combine, Lewis noted that the top cornerbacks in the league are the ones picked in the first round. Defensive line could also be an area of focus, because the team lost Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker as unrestricted free agents.

When asked if the Bengals had narrowed their focus to a couple of positions, Lewis said they had not.

"You can't narrow it down. You have to keep options open. We feel like the options are very open," he said. "You have to look a year or two down the road. I think that's important. What we want to do is fill some immediate opportunity with the veteran guys we brought in, which still kept the future open. I think that's good."

ITEM: Will the Ravens pick Ray Lewis' successor on Round 1?
In his mock draft for Sports Illustrated, Peter King had the Baltimore Ravens trading up in the first round to select Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Trading up is not something General Manager Ozzie Newsome has done on a regular basis, but doing it this time to get Hightower could make a lot of sense.

"Hightower is a great player, there is no doubt about it," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta told the Carroll County Times. "He is an explosive guy. We've seen him play live many times, obviously with the Alabama connections. We are going to draft the best player that is available. If that's an inside linebacker, and we think that guy can be a really good player for us, we're going to take him."

Hightower's availability to the Ravens could depend on what their hated rival – the Steelers – end up doing with the 24th pick of the first round. The Ravens will start the draft owning the No. 26 pick in the first round.

To land Hightower, King had the Ravens jumping over the Steelers through a trade with the Detroit Lions at No. 23 overall. Moving up six spots from the 29th overall pick would likely cost the Ravens a third-round draft pick in addition to their current first-round selection.

Hightower reportedly grew up idolizing Lewis, who will be 37 on May 15.

"That'd be great," Hightower said of potentially joining the Ravens. "Whoever will have me I'm looking forward to it. Guys you watched growing up and you want to be like this guy, and actually being on the field with those guys would be a dream come true."

If Alabama Coach Nick Saban is to be believed, whatever team picks Hightower will have its dream come true.

"I think that he's really done it all here," Saban told reporters at the Crimson Tide Pro Day. "He's got a lot of diversity as a player because he's played a lot of different positions. I think he's going to offer the same thing at the next level: inside backer, nickel backer, defensive end, odd rusher. There's not very many other things that you can do, and I think he does all those things very well. He's very smart and has leadership qualities. I think people are starting to recognize that the more they're around him."

ITEM: Will it be Richardson or Blackmon at No. 4?
The Cleveland Browns own the fourth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, and while they say they know what they will do with that choice, there may be outside influences impacting their plan.

Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said in a press conference on April 24 that trade talks are heating up for the No. 3 pick, and that he's open to trading down.

"I'm sure it will continue to heat up as we head for Thursday night," Spielman said.

NFL Network's Mike Lombardi has speculated that the Vikings might be trying to bait the Rams into trading up for Trent Richardson. The Rams have the ability to trade up because they acquired an extra second-round pick this year, the 39th overall, in the previous deal with the Washington Redskins for the No. 2 overall pick.

Some draft analysts have identified Richardson as the safest pick in this draft, and while he would immediately bolster a backfield that lost Peyton Hillis during free agency and had little else behind him, there is a faction believing the best course for the team would be to go with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon as a weapon for quarterback Colt McCoy.

Last year the Browns could have selected Julio Jones but made a big trade with the Atlanta Falcons instead.

"Last year had nothing to do with the player," Browns General Manager Tom Heckert told Mary Kay Cabot at the NFL meetings in March. "It had everything to do with the deal we were able to make. We loved Julio Jones."

But is Blackmon as good as Jones, who caught 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie for the Falcons in 2011?

"I'm going to be somebody who's going to be out there fighting," said Blackmon at the combine. "I'm going to be working when no one is watching. I'm always going to be dependable and someone that you can count on."

ITEM: Cap situation could prevent extension for Flacco
According to a report by Aaron Wilson, the Baltimore Ravens are not on the verge of a deal with quarterback Joe Flacco despite ongoing discussions with his agent that have included meetings at team headquarters.

Wilson also wrote that there's a distinct possibility that a new long-term contract may not get done this year due in part to the Ravens' tight salary-cap situation.

The Ravens are currently $1.653 million under the NFL salary cap limit with Flacco accounting for an $8 million salary-cap figure in the final year of his contract. That includes a $6.76 million base salary after triggering an escalator clause.

The Ravens haven't approached players like Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs ($11.52 million cap figure) about restructuring their deals and aren't inclined to cut players to create more cap room.

Also, no deal is imminent for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who currently carries the franchise tag. The Ravens have until July 16 to sign Rice to a long-term deal, or he will play the season for the $7.742 million franchise tender.

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