Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Draft Watch: AFC North
By James Walker
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
This year Cleveland's draft approach is a mystery. There's an entirely new front office led by team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. The pair share many of the same philosophies but have never worked together -- particularly in the same draft room selecting players. Therefore, it's unknown whether the team will take a conservative or aggressive approach in two weeks. So far, the power pairing has made a lot of sense with its offseason moves. The Browns quickly got rid of two struggling quarterbacks and acquired veterans such as Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Jake Delhomme, Benjamin Watson, Chris Gocong and Peyton Hillis to fill important roles. With 10 draft picks, it will be interesting to see what Holmgren and Heckert have in store for Cleveland.
The Steelers are very underrated for their wheeling and dealing on draft day. Because of their conservative approach to free agency, the Steelers probably don't get enough credit for frequently moving up and down the draft board to get players they covet. Last year they traded out of the second round to get more mid-round picks. The Steelers traded up to get receiver Santonio Holmes (2006) and safety Troy Polamalu (2003). This year Pittsburgh has 10 picks with a veteran-laden team that's just one year removed from a Super Bowl title. So it's debatable whether 10 rookies can make Pittsburgh's 53-man roster out of training camp. In other words, keep a close eye on the Steelers and director of football operations Kevin Colbert.
The Bengals, led by owner Mike Brown, are pretty conservative when it comes to the draft, particularly when they have picks later in each round. The Bengals typically will not trade to move up. The team traditionally doesn't enjoy giving out huge contracts and is widely regarded as one of the toughest teams to negotiate big-money deals with. Last year's contract dispute with No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith was a perfect example. Smith missed all of training camp because both sides were unable to reach an agreement. Therefore, expect the Bengals to stay put with the No. 21 overall pick. They should be able to land a good prospect because this is a very deep draft.
Baltimore is similar to Pittsburgh in its approach. The Ravens are prone to do anything -- which can include moving up, trading down or staying put. In the past two years alone, Baltimore has been a big mover and shaker. In 2008, the Ravens traded back and then up in the first round to land quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 18. Then Baltimore traded up three spots to select right tackle Michael Oher at No. 23 last April. Therefore, you can never put it past general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens to be very aggressive. A major difference this year is the team doesn't have as many draft picks (five) to barter following the offseason trade with the Arizona Cardinals to land receiver Anquan Boldin.