NFL draft: Who will head North?

The NFL draft will be held from Thursday to Saturday in New York. Times’ NFL writer Sam Farmer examines the needs for each team by division. Today, the North divisions:

AFC North

Cincinnati is looking for a premier pass rusher, and the Bengals can get a good one with the 21st pick. South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul is a possibility, although a lot of evaluators think he could go earlier. Michigan’s Brandon Graham is another interesting prospect. The Bengals also could use a tight end who can block and stretch the field. The best in this draft is Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham, the only tight end who’s likely to go in the first round.

A stout front for years has been a hallmark of Baltimore’s defense. The Ravens could use their 25th pick on a defensive tackle, maybe Penn State’s Jared Odrick or Alabama’s Terrence Cody, to begin pouring the foundation for an eventual Kelly Gregg replacement. The team could use a talented young cornerback too, especially playing in a division that includes Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.

All the drama in Pittsburgh the last couple of weeks has focused on the off-field problems of Roethlisberger and the ditching of Santonio Holmes (traded to the New York Jets). The Steelers will be happy to move on, at least for the moment, to football. They need to improve their offensive line, so Idaho guard Mike Iupati could be the pick. They also want to get more quality options at corner.

Cleveland has the seventh pick and top dawg Mike Holmgren could zero in on a quarterback for the Browns — a quarterback on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, that is. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen could still be there, as could Tennessee safety Eric Berry, a playmaker who could really help a defense that gave up 22 touchdowns through the air last season.

NFC North

It’s another off-season in limbo for Minnesota, as the Vikings wait for Brett Favre to decide whether he will come back. In the meantime, they can use their 30th pick in this draft to add a quality cornerback. They really like Rutgers’ Devin McCourty, among others. They also need help at guard and tackle on the offensive line and at linebacker.

Green Bay’s corners are very good when they’re healthy, but that’s been a problem lately. Al Harris is coming off knee surgery and might not be ready for the start of the season. The Packers might look to that position in the first round, and Florida State’s Patrick Robinson is a possibility, as are McCourty and others. The Packers might like to take an offensive tackle at 23, but the premier wave of them will have passed.

Chicago can snooze through the start of the draft. The Bears don’t pick until the third round (75), so it’s tougher to predict what they might do. They’re looking at both guard and tackle spots on the offensive line, even if they might not get a player who’s immediately able to step in and start. A playmaker in the secondary would be nice. The Bears had only one interception from their safeties last season.

Detroit provides the first question of the draft. Although the Rams are focused on taking Sam Bradford No. 1, the Lions might take a defensive or offensive tackle with the second pick. If they go defense — which most people expect them to do — it probably will be Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh; if it’s offense, it will be either Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung or Oklahoma’s Trent Williams (with Okung the more likely choice).

Tuesday: West divisions.