Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: history in that spot.
The Bengals' top pick is No. 4 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2010: OT Trent Williams, (Redskins)
2009: LB Aaron Curry (Seahawks)
2008: RB Darren McFadden (Raiders)
2007: DE Gaines Adams (Buccaneers)
2006: OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson (Jets)
2005: RB Cedric Benson (Bears)
2004: QB Philip Rivers (Chargers)
Analysis: Draft history shows the Bengals are in a good spot at No. 4. Most players on this list have turned out to be productive pros or are getting playing time right away while trying to make a name for themselves. The last franchise quarterback taken in this spot was Rivers, who was drafted by the Giants and traded to the Chargers on draft day in 2004. That was a great pick in a strong quarterback class that included the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Giants' Eli Manning. Is that caliber of quarterback available this year for the Bengals, whose starter, Carson Palmer, has threatened to retire? Prospects such as Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert would be much riskier picks.
The Browns' top pick is No. 6 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2010: OT Russell Okung (Seahawks)
2009: OT Andre Smith (Bengals)
2008: LB Vernon Gholston (Jets)
2007: S LaRon Landry (Redskins)
2006: TE Vernon Davis (49ers)
2005: CB Adam Jones (Titans)
2004: TE Kellen Winslow Jr. (Browns)
Analysis: Recent history shows the No. 6 overall pick can be hit or miss. Smith, Gholston and Jones are all certified busts as big-money draft picks. It's too early to tell with Okung, while Landry, Davis and Winslow have all had multiple productive seasons in the NFL. The Browns went 5-11 for the second consecutive year after having a similar pick in 2010. In the first year under president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, Cleveland took cornerback Joe Haden at No. 7 overall, and he turned out to be a solid selection. The Browns need to add another impact player from the top of this draft to close the gap with the Ravens and Steelers.
The Ravens' top pick is No. 26 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2010: DT Dan Williams (Cardinals)
2009: LB Clay Matthews Jr. (Packers)
2008: OT Duane Brown (Texans)
2007: LB Anthony Spencer (Cowboys)
2006: DT John McCargo (Bills)
2005: C Chris Spencer (Seahawks)
2004: RB Chris Perry (Bengals)
Analysis: Picking late in the first round is one of the toughest things to do for any franchise, but the Ravens thrive on it. General manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best at finding late-round gems. Current Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ben Grubbs, Ed Reed, Todd Heap and Ray Lewis were all taken with picks No. 23 and later. Matthews is the most recent gem at No. 26. He was selected by the Green Bay Packers two years ago and quickly became one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL. But Baltimore also has to be careful. Most of this recent group has failed to live up to expectations.
The Steelers' top pick is No. 31 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2010: DE Jerry Hughes (Colts)
2009: RB Beanie Wells (Cardinals)
2008: S Kenny Phillips (Giants)
2007: TE Greg Olsen (Bears)
2006: CB Kelly Jennings (Seahawks)
2005: DT Mike Patterson (Eagles)
2004: WR Rashaun Woods (49ers)
Analysis: The Steelers, who have six championships, are in the unfamiliar position of being Super Bowl losers. They will try to use the No. 31 overall pick to fill one of the team's needs. These players are not expected to be superstars. But they are first-round picks and the goal is to become productive starters. Pittsburgh is similar to Baltimore with its ability to find great players late in rounds. Since 2005, Pittsburgh has drafted Rashard Mendenhall, Heath Miller, Ziggy Hood and Santonio Holmes with picks No. 23 and later. The Steelers will aim to continue their late-round success in this draft.