NFL draft preview: AFC and NFC North

The draft will be held Thursday (Round 1) , Friday (Rounds 2-3) and Saturday (Rounds 4-7) in New York. Times NFL writer Sam Farmer examines the needs for each team by division. Today, the North divisions:

AFC North

Cleveland picks fourth, and that could be the first pivot point in the draft. The Browns need a running back, so Alabama’s Trent Richardson works there, but they are also looking for a quarterback, so it could be Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill or Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden. If the Browns wait until their second pick (No. 22), the quarterbacks could be gone.

The two most pressing needs for the Bengals are a running back and cornerback. Their first pick is No. 17, where they could probably get a good tailback such as Virginia Tech’s David Wilson or Boise State’s Doug Martin. The two best cornerbacks, Louisiana State’s Morris Claiborne and South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, are probably going to be off the board.

Age has caught up to the Steelers, who are loaded with 30-somethings and need to get younger. Their offensive line has been a problem area for several years, so watch for them to pick up some blockers in this draft. Defense has historically defined this franchise, and one player who has caught the Steelers’ eye is massive Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

The Ravens are getting old in some key areas but are in position to make a Super Bowl run as is, so this draft is largely about building depth. Like the Steelers, the Ravens like Hightower, who fits their defensive scheme. Baltimore could also use some help on the interior of its offensive line, having lost left guard Ben Grubbs to free agency.

NFC North

For several weeks, the widespread belief is that the Vikings will use the third pick on USC left tackle Matt Kalil, and that’s still probably going to happen. As the draft nears, though, there is speculation the team might take Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, a complement to Percy Harvin. The Vikings could also use help along the defensive line and in the secondary.

Consider two of the opposing quarterbacks in the NFC North — Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford — and that underscores why the Bears want a bookend pass rusher to Julius Peppers. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli made a trip to USC to work out Nick Perry, and that defensive end could be a fit. Chicago probably will continue to look for offensive line help.

If anyone doubts the Lions need serious help in the secondary, consider that former Packers backup Matt Flynn burned them for 480 yards passing and six touchdowns on New Year’s Day. Detroit covets safety Mark Barron, but the Alabama standout probably isn’t going to be there when the Lions pick at No. 23. Watch for Lions to try to trade up.

The Packers pick 28th and could use that on a defensive lineman or pass-rushing outside linebacker. Boise State’s Shea McClellin could be a fit there, as could Perry or others. The team also will be looking for help on the offensive line. Green Bay should be able to build depth at cornerback and quarterback in later rounds.