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Saturday, April 23, 2011
Walker's weekend mailbag

By James Walker
ESPN.com

With the NFL draft coming next week, let's see what's in our AFC North inbox.

Davis from Missouri wants to know if Texas corner Aaron Williams and Miami's Brandon Harris aren't available, would the Pittsburgh Steelers try to get Virginia corner Ras-I Dowling in the second round.

James Walker: Davis, the Steelers do not pick until No. 63 in the second round, which is probably too late for Dowling. If Pittsburgh lands one of these three corners, it probably will be in the first round. The Steelers shouldn't take risks with this position. For years, they have taken developmental cornerbacks later in the draft and tried to mold them. But I think the Steelers need a cornerback this year who can contribute right away, not two or three years down the road.


Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, wants to know if Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward would be a good fit for Pittsburgh.

Walker: Heyward is definitely someone to watch and would be a good value pick at No. 31, Mike. He has an NFL pedigree and could fit in well as an aggressive defensive end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. But Heyward would be a backup in Pittsburgh next season. As I mentioned in the previous question, I think the team needs to try to draft a potential starter in the first round who can make an immediate impact, whether it's at cornerback or on the offensive line. Those are bigger needs.


Pete from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, wants to know if Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley is in consideration for the Cleveland Browns.

Walker: Yes, Pete. Fairley is in play for the Browns, who have the No. 6 overall pick. He plays a need position for Cleveland at defensive line and he's one of the top-10 players in this draft. Fairley and Ahtyba Rubin would make a nice, 1-2 punch in the middle of the Browns' 4-3 defense. That would make it a lot harder for teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh to run the ball down Cleveland's throat next season.


Mitchell from Los Angeles writes: If LSU corner Patrick Peterson gets picked up by the Browns, would that make Josh Cribbs open for a trade?

Walker: Not at all, Mitchell. The Browns have no intention of trading Cribbs, who was hurt last season but remains one of the team's leaders and most dynamic players. In my opinion, Peterson is the safest pick in the draft, and Cleveland has to consider him if he falls to No. 6. There's nothing wrong with having two good kick returners on the same roster.


Tim from Cincinnati writes: If Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton or both are available at No. 4 and the Bengals don't want a quarterback that high, why not trade down?

Walker: This would be a great scenario for Cincinnati, and one that I'm sure the team is prepared for. The Bengals would need one of these quarterbacks to fall in order to drum up interest to trade down. But I also get the sense Cincinnati likes these quarterbacks. If given the chance, I wouldn't put it past the Bengals to take Newton or Gabbert, considering their situation with Carson Palmer.


Will from Nashville, Tenn., wants to know if it's better for the Bengals to search for a quarterback in free agency or via trade instead of the draft?

Walker: Will, it depends on what caliber of veteran quarterback the Bengals are willing to chase. Is Cincinnati willing to put up a huge bounty for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, for example? If that's the case, maybe it's a better option than drafting a rookie. But the Bengals are known to search for retreads in free agency whom they can sign on the cheap. So drafting a top prospect next week is the safest option. Trades and free agency might not start until June or July at this rate. It would help the Bengals to have an idea whom their quarterback will be much sooner than that.


Stephen A. from Charm City writes: What do you think about the Baltimore Ravens trading down?

Walker: It's always a possibility, Stephen, but I think the chances are slimmer this year. The Ravens were in a unique position last year, when the Anquan Boldin trade left them with a limited amount of picks. That's not the case this year, so that same urge isn't there. I expect the Ravens to use the pick to try to get an impact player.


Briscoe from Glen Burnie, Md., writes: Will "Homer of the Week" make a return for the NFL draft?

Walker: Yes, Briscoe. We have another classic at the end of this post. Be sure to check it out.

Comment and complaint department

Here are recent comments and complaints from our AFC North community:

Joe from Ashland, Ohio, writes: Just wanted to comment on the poll on whether Browns fans should be worried about the Madden curse if Peyton Hillis is on the cover. I figure we have nothing to worry about since, mathematically speaking, multiplying two negatives equals a positive, right? So if Peyton Hillis gets the Madden "curse," we should actually have a good season! GO BROWNS!

Andy from Canada writes: Three road games is one thing for the Browns. But to face the Ravens and Steelers twice each in five weeks????

Walker: Joe, Hillis has to win the tournament first. But if that happens, we will find out if this theory is correct. Andy, I also noticed that late stretch when the schedule came out, and I don't think the Browns can survive it if they are in the postseason chase. Cleveland plays the Ravens and Steelers just four days apart in December. Ouch!


Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., writes: The CB ranking is a little ridiculous. It's tough to argue with the top six, but the bottom four is highly dubious. Tramon Williams is a nickel back that has stuck around in the league only because of his kick-returning ability. Then he had a nice stretch in the playoffs. Devin McCourty isn't as good as Joe Haden or Johnathan Joseph. Courtland Finnegan is good for running his mouth and channeling former defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil onto the field. DeAngelo Hall? This isn't 2006. The lack of respect for Haden's rookie campaign is pretty obnoxious.

Walker: You make a good case against the bottom four, Kovacs, and I like Haden. But let's not go overboard just yet. Haden was a second-stringer until Week 12. He struggled early and couldn't beat out Eric Wright in training camp, and Wright obviously is not a top-10 corner. Haden caught up to speed around midseason and finished really strong in the second half. But seven career starts does not make an elite corner. Let Haden earn it by shutting down opponents for at least one full season.


Lucas Yanetsko from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Will you please stop saying the Bengals are "years away from competing in the AFC North." Did they not have four wins the year before they won the division in 2009?

Walker: Lucas, my exact statement has been the Bengals are at least "two years away" from competing for an AFC North division title. I don't believe the Bengals can win the AFC North next season, especially with major questions at quarterback. That puts them at least two seasons away, in my opinion. Lucas, if you disagree and believe the Bengals will win the AFC North in 2011, make that prediction. We respect everyone's opinions in the AFC North blog.


Jeffrey from Washington D.C., writes: Mad respect for the Ravens but that WRs drafted list is gross. However, they seem hesitant to use high picks on WRs and instead stockpile amazing defensive players. Perhaps they've realized that receivers do not make or break a team. Wish my Bengals realized that last season.

Walker: Baltimore has struck out at receiver time after time. But if there is a position to traditionally screw up in the draft, that is it. It hasn't hurt the Ravens to the point where they're not perennial playoff contenders.


Bryce Kyburz from Austin, Texas, writes: I liked your Joe Flacco vs. Matt Ryan comparison, which got me thinking about a Big Ben vs. Flacco comparison (which is a no-brainer for Big Ben). I started to think about what if there was a trade between the Steelers and Ravens for the QBs. Both are very good QBs with their upsides and downsides. I would love to hear Raven fans respond to a hypothetical trade for Big Ben and Steeler fans respond to the same trade. A trade has benefits for both franchises. Both are proven winners.

Walker: Bryce, I don't think Steelers fans would trade Ben Roethlisberger for Flacco under any circumstances. Flacco, 25, is younger. But Roethlisberger, 29, is in his prime. Would Ravens fans take Roethlisberger? Although he's the better quarterback, I don't think that's acceptable in this rivalry.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Ryan from Akron, Ohio, writes: Being a strong Browns fan I can't even imagine going through the fall season without watching my Brownies on Sunday. Call me crazy, and it may just be my Cleveland optimism talking, but I think we could start 11-1 with only losing to the Colts in Indy.

Walker: I don't like to make too many predictions before the draft, free agency and training camp. But I feel very safe telling you, Ryan, that the Browns will not start 11-1 next season. In fact, Cleveland hasn't won 11 games the past two seasons combined. We appreciate your fandom as always, Ryan. But you are our AFC North "Homer of the Week" for making that prediction.