AFC North: Darius Butler

Steelers draft prospectus

April, 9, 2009
4/09/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

As the NFL draft nears, AFC North teams are narrowing their lists of prospects to take with the first-round picks. This week we look at those players and how each would fit with their teams.

Thursday we look at potential prospects for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who own the No. 32 overall pick:

1. Alex Mack, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

Starting center Justin Hartwig is in the final season of his two-year deal, so Pittsburgh will eventually need a long-term solution to work with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Mack could develop into that type of leader for the Steelers. Every good team needs at least six or seven solid offensive linemen. The Steelers were fortunate to be able to replace starters Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons when they were injured last year. Both of those players are now gone, which means depth is needed.

2. Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut

This is a deep year for cornerbacks and receivers, which is good for the Steelers because they should have a pick of solid players at either position with the final pick of the first round. If all things are equal, Pittsburgh could choose corner over the other skill position after losing starter Bryant McFadden to Arizona. Butler could be a good fit.

3. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest

If Pittsburgh wants to go for bigger-school experience, Smith could be the pick. He was the other stud defensive player for Wake Forest last year, opposite linebacker Aaron Curry. Smith (5 feet, 9 inches tall) is undersized, but he makes it up with aggressiveness and great speed. The Steelers could also look to take the best available offensive tackle here if the right player slips down the draft board.

Updated AFC North mock draft

March, 27, 2009
3/27/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The draft board has been altered since we last looked at prospects before last month's NFL combine.

So with a month left before the NFL draft, let's check in once again with ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay to get their latest picks for AFC North teams.

Cleveland Browns

Pick: No. 5

Mel Kiper Jr.: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College

Todd McShay: Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas

Analysis: Both of these picks would bring toughness and a mean streak to the Browns. But in a 3-4 defense, the versatile Orakpo may be the more valuable of the two players. New Cleveland coach Eric Mangini likes defenders who can rush the passer from both the outside linebacker spot and in a three-point stance at defensive end. It doesn't mean Orakpo will be the better pro, but he gives the coaching staff more options, which could be the deciding factor if choosing between these two players.

Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: No. 6

Kiper: Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech

McShay: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia

Analysis: The Bengals would be elated if Monroe fell into their lap at No. 6. Cincinnati needs protection for quarterback Carson Palmer from the tackle position and Monroe looks NFL ready. The Crabtree pick by Kiper is surprising considering the signing of receiver Laveranues Coles to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Perhaps the Bengals will look to trade No. 1 receiver Chad Ocho Cinco in the next month, which Kiper may be anticipating with this pick.

Baltimore Ravens

Pick: No. 26

Kiper: Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC

McShay: Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois

Analysis: Kiper presents an interesting pick with Maualuga. If the USC linebacker falls to the end of the first round, he could be the best player on Baltimore's board, while also having the potential to fill a void left by linebacker Bart Scott's departure to the New York Jets in free agency. With the signings of Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr, cornerbacks such as Davis are no longer a pressing need. A big-play receiver could be a better option.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: No. 32

Kiper: Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut

McShay: Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest

Analysis: Both experts agree that cornerback is the way to go for Pittsburgh. Kiper likes the small-school prospect in Butler, while McShay feels Smith from Wake Forest and the ACC is the better pick. I tend to like Cal center Alex Mack in this spot. He could play guard or center for the Steelers and may project to be a leader of the team's weakest unit for years to come. But cornerback insurance wouldn't be a bad option either, considering the departure of starter Bryant McFadden to the Arizona Cardinals.

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