Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Fearless AFC North predictions
By James Walker
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
With all four training camps officially underway in the AFC North, there is no better time to look into the crystal ball.
But these predictions are a little different because they don't state the obvious. Many are going out on a limb, which could draw responses such as, "Are you crazy?"
With that in mind, here are four fearless predictions from training camp representing each AFC North team:
1. Cleveland Browns: Rookie LB Alex Hall will make the 53-man roster.
- This is the most talented team the Browns have had since returning to the NFL in 1999. Still, seventh-round pick Hall from tiny St. Augustine will make the initial 53-man roster. Keep in mind, just one seventh-rounder has made the Browns out of training camp in the Romeo Crennel-Phil Savage era. But Hall, although he's very raw, has just what the Browns need at outside linebacker with athleticism and the ability to rush the passer. Even if that's all Hall can do, it will make it tough for Cleveland to cut him. If Hall proves to be solid on special teams, he could be a lock.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Maxwell will win the No. 3 receiver job.
- I know what you're thinking. Who is Maxwell? My point exactly. Maxwell has been quietly on the lips of the Bengals' coaching staff all offseason for his playmaking and work ethic in practice. The question is can Maxwell translate that into actual games? Maxwell is big at 6-foot-3. He has nice quickness and great hands. It may be enough to replace Chris Henry in 2008. Check here for a profile on Maxwell from Bengals camp later today.
3. Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco will start in week one.
- This will not be a shock to regular readers of this blog. I've held this prediction for months since I watched all three quarterbacks throw in minicamp. There are many unknowns with Flacco. First, he's a rookie. Second, he has yet to take a hit. Third, we don't know how well he can read defenses. But Flacco physically is superior to his two competitors, Troy Smith and Kyle Boller. Flacco is taller, throws the best ball and has the strongest arm. That gives him enough of a chance to win the job in week one.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: LeCharles Bentley eventually will sign with Pittsburgh.
- The Steelers and Bengals were two teams within the AFC North that showed preliminary interest in Bentley this summer. Bentley, if healthy, has a chance to make an impact at guard for Pittsburgh. He is a natural center but Justin Hartwig is expected to start there. Although Bentley is a Cleveland native, he was not a happy camper when he left the Browns because of the way his knee injury was handled. So what better way to get back at the Browns by playing for their biggest rival?