AFC North: David Veikune

All this week, the AFC North blog will take a look back at the 2009 draft for each team in the division. For Tuesday, we'll review the draft for the Cleveland Browns:

First round: Alex Mack, C

Second round: Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, WRs, and David Veikune, LB

Fourth round: Kaluka Maiava, LB

Sixth round: Don Carey and Coye Francies, CBs

Seventh round: James Davis, RB

Thumbs up: The Browns traded down twice and came away with a Pro Bowl center in Mack, although it's debatable whether the team would be better shape now with Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman (both quarterbacks were selected in the slots that the Browns traded out from). Maiava showed promise in starting six games last year, his best season with the Browns. Other than that, there's not much to smile about.

Thumbs down: You have to question the Browns' strategy when it comes to addressing the wide receiver position. Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt were available in the first round when the Browns selected Mack. Mike Wallace was sitting there in the third round. Instead, Cleveland went with Robiskie, who is no longer with the team, and Massaquoi, who is the No. 2 receiver by default. The other second-round pick, Veikune, is the defensive end for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Hensley's grade: D. All that's left from this draft is a quality center, a marginal starting receiver and an average backup linebacker. This draft, the first under the Eric Mangini regime, is among the reasons why the Browns are digging out of a talent hole.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Baltimore Ravens

Best choice: The Ravens were fortunate the Cleveland Browns were willing to do business with a division rival in 2006 when Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata became available. Cleveland considered Ngata but liked linebacker Kamerion Wimbley more and traded picks with Baltimore, allowing the Ravens to select Ngata with the 12th pick in the first round. Five years later, Ngata is arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL and one reason future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, 35, continues to play at a high level.

Worst choice: The Ravens haven't had a lot of big misses, but 2009 second-round pick Paul Kruger is a candidate with two uneventful years in Baltimore. Too often Kruger failed to make the active roster because he doesn't contribute much on special teams. Last year Kruger gained weight to focus solely on playing defensive end but was a backup in 11 games and recorded one tackle and a sack. In two years he has only 12 tackles, a sack and an interception. This is a big third season for Kruger to find a role in Baltimore's defense.

On the bubble: There was a lot of optimism in Baltimore when former Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle fell to the second round last year. The Ravens drafted Kindle in hopes that he could be the pass-rushing threat they were looking for opposite Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. But an unfortunate accident last summer resulted in a fractured skull and kept Kindle out of football last season. Baltimore is optimistic about his recovery but has to wait to see when Kindle will be cleared to play football again.

Cincinnati Bengals

Best choice: The Bengals took cornerbacks in the first round back-to-back years in 2006 and 2007, starting with Johnathan Joseph. He has developed into one of the better cover corners in the NFL and has nine interceptions the past two seasons. Joseph is now a free agent and appears ready to join a long list of solid Bengals draft picks who bolted in free agency. The market for corners is starting at $10 million per season and Cincinnati doesn't seem interested in going that high for Joseph.

Worst choice: Despite several red flags, the Bengals were enamored with Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith in the 2009 draft and took him No. 6 overall. There were questions about Smith's weight and worth ethic entering the draft, and many of those concerns still exist two years later. Smith also suffered two foot injuries that required surgery and has only five career starts. The Bengals have the option of extending Smith's contract from four to six years this offseason, but that seems unlikely after two disastrous seasons.

On the bubble: Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga had a good rookie year in 2009 but followed it up with an average campaign last season. Now, 2011 is considered a swing season for Maualuga, a second-round pick, to prove himself. Cincinnati's coaching staff is challenging Maualuga to become the physical, dominant force he was at USC. He showed flashes of it as a rookie. The Bengals could move Maualuga to his natural position of middle linebacker this season, which could help put Maualuga in his comfort zone.

Cleveland Browns

Best choice: The Browns went with the safest pick in 2007 by selecting left tackle Joe Thomas No. 3 overall, which was a slam dunk. Thomas is one of the NFL's best left tackles and has been to the Pro Bowl in all four seasons. Cleveland's biggest issue is finding a quality quarterback for Thomas to protect. Thomas also is entering a contract year in 2011, and it would be wise for Cleveland to provide an extension before he hits the open market in 2012.

Worst choice: The Browns have had a lot of misses the past five years, but former second-round pick David Veikune gets my vote. Veikune was a surprise pick by former coach Eric Mangini in 2009 and was a bust from the start. He quickly fell out of favor with Cleveland's coaching staff and didn't contribute on special teams. When president Mike Holmgren took over the following year, he cut Veikune. I'm sure a lot of Browns fans will make the case for former quarterback Brady Quinn, a first-rounder in 2007. But Quinn at least played a few decent games, and the Browns were able to trade him for tailback Peyton Hillis. So the Quinn experiment wasn't a total loss.

On the bubble: Mohamed Massaquoi, a second-round pick in 2009, has been an enigma in two seasons in Cleveland. Is he a No. 1 receiver? Probably not. But there's a chance he could be a decent No. 2 receiver. The problem is the Browns cannot find out until they're able to land a top-flight receiver to take the pressure off Massaquoi. In many ways, Massaquoi regressed last season. His yards and touchdowns were both down compared to his rookie year. Cleveland could help quarterback Colt McCoy and Massaquoi by finding a legit No. 1 receiver this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best choice: Considering the player and value of the pick, LaMarr Woodley was Pittsburgh's best draft choice of the past five years. Woodley was taken in the second round in 2007 and joined the starting lineup one year later. He became only the second Steeler to record double-digit sacks in three consecutive seasons and is money in the playoffs. Last year Woodley was one of the NFL's best bargains, recording 50 tackles and 10 sacks while making only $550,000. Pittsburgh gave Woodley the franchise tag this offseason and will try to work out an extension.

Worst choice: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger asked for bigger receivers, and the Steelers tried to accommodate him by drafting Limas Sweed in the second round in 2008. The pick didn't pan out as Sweed struggled to catch the football. Sweed's issues may be mental. He didn't have a reputation for drops in college and many in Pittsburgh were easy, wide-open opportunities. The Steelers grew tired of waiting for Sweed and drafted Mike Wallace in 2009 and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown in 2010. They have taken firm roles in the offense, leaving Sweed's future with Pittsburgh in doubt.

On the bubble: Second-round pick Jason Worilds was a surprise choice in 2010. Pittsburgh has a wealth of talented linebackers, but it's a position it likes to stockpile for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme. Like most defenders in Pittsburgh, Worilds has to wait his turn and played mostly special teams last season. Worilds recorded two sacks in limited playing time, but it doesn’t appear he will have a chance to crack the starting lineup for a while.

Seven-step drop: Underdog Steelers?

January, 24, 2011
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Here are seven notes and observations in the AFC North:

  • Early projections have the Green Bay Packers favored by approximately a field goal over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Expect this to be motivation over the next two weeks for Pittsburgh, which traditionally thrives in the underdog role. I'm a little surprised Pittsburgh will head to Arlington, Texas, as the underdog despite being No. 2 seed. The Packers are playing well as a No. 6 seed, but I think these are two evenly-matched teams. Pittsburgh (14-4) also has been more consistent than Green Bay (13-6) over the course of the season.
  • [+] EnlargePittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau
    Jason Bridge/US PresswirePittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't under contract next season, fueling retirement rumors.
  • On Sunday ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter reported Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's contract expires after the season. This may present a scenario where the Hall of Famer coaches his last game in the Super Bowl. LeBeau, 73, said three seasons ago after turning 70 that he's coaching on a year-to-year basis. There was speculation he could retire after Pittsburgh's previous Super Bowl win following the 2008 season. That likely will start up again next week in Arlington. Expect this call to be totally up to LeBeau, who has been the NFL's top defensive coordinator for a long time and may take some time in the offseason to make his decision. LeBeau loves coaching his current group, and Pittsburgh will re-sign him to an extension in a heartbeat if LeBeau wants to continue coaching. Also, don't believe the hype linking LeBeau to Arizona. That's a pipe dream, at best.
  • Here is an interesting note: The Dallas Morning News reports Cowboys legend Roger Staubach will present the Lombardi Trophy to the winning team following Super Bowl XLV. It's well-documented that the Hall of Fame quarterback had heated rivalries with Pittsburgh in the 1970s, including two Super Bowl losses in '76 and '79. It's already gut-wrenching enough that Pittsburgh, which owns one more Super Bowl title (six) than Dallas (five), can extend that lead on the Cowboys' home turf with a win over the Packers. But for Staubach to potentially hand over another championship to a team he loathed in his playing days would make for another awkward moment for the Cowboys organization.
  • In non-Super Bowl news, quarterback Carson Palmer made big headlines by requesting a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals. Team owner Mike Brown responded by saying he's not going to trade Palmer, which creates an interesting offseason standoff. But you also have to wonder how badly things really are behind the scenes in Cincinnati if Palmer wants out. Palmer is one of the nicest, most honest and optimistic players I've been around in seven seasons covering the NFL. Even when the Bengals have awful years, Palmer is the one player who remains positive that things will get better. But every player has a breaking point and it appears Palmer, 31, has reached his. Cincinnati has yet to make any significant changes that were thought to be in the works after a 4-12 season, and you wonder if Palmer sees where things are heading.
  • But ... let's say Bengals ownership caves in to Palmer's demands. Let's look ahead to what type of trade value Palmer would have on the open market. For starters, he’s not the same Pro Bowl quarterback he once was, but Palmer remains a better option than a lot of players. The contract could be an issue, as Palmer is slated to be one of the NFL's highest-paid players at $11.5 million next season. I also think it hurts Cincinnati's leverage that it’s now public that Palmer is unhappy and wants out. All things considered, I think the Bengals may be able land a second-round pick and perhaps another late-round pick for Palmer.
  • The Cleveland Browns are still suffering for their poor draft in 2009. That's one key reason the team remains in rebuilding mode. Last week I talked to an NFL scout about Cleveland's three second-round picks. The scout said they had a late-round grade on linebacker David Veikune, who was released by the Browns this season, and Brian Robiskie was described as a receiver who can't separate and has a low ceiling. The scout did believe Mohamed Massaquoi could be productive in the right situation and the right system. But Cleveland's lack of offensive identity isn't helping Massaquoi develop.
  • The Baltimore Ravens' quick work to get kicker Billy Cundiff signed to a five-year extension is a good sign. The Ravens have several big free agents, including defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and punter Sam Koch, and they aren't waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement to get started. Cundiff's contract as a kicker was easier than most. So don't expect a much larger deal like Ngata's to be completed any time soon. But the Ravens potentially could get some lesser free agents signed in the next few weeks.

How much is Eric Mangini to blame?

September, 22, 2010
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It's natural in the NFL that most (or all) of the criticism falls on the head coach -- and Eric Mangini is getting the brunt of it for the Cleveland Browns' 0-2 start.

But with a Browns team lacking so much talent, how much is Mangini really to blame?

Watching Cleveland closely in training camp, preseason and so far in the regular season, here is the AFC North blog's diagnosis of the situation:

Blame Mangini for...

  • [+] EnlargeEric Mangini
    Kim Klement/US PresswireWhat is coach Eric Mangini really to blame for in Cleveland?
    The inability to make second-half adjustments, maintain leads and getting out-coached late in games.
  • Hiring and sticking with an inexperienced offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, who hasn't done anything with the Browns' offense since arriving to Cleveland.
  • Gutting the roster, which included several talented players, and replacing them with players with average ability.
  • Drafting poorly in 2009, which includes whiffing on second-round bust David Veikune and reaching too high for another second-round pick in Brian Robiskie.
  • Creating a stiff culture in Cleveland that, at times, is not fun or comfortable for players.
Do not blame Mangini for...

  • Hinging the 2010 season on questionable quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. The Browns paid Delhomme, who is coming off the worst season of his career, $7 million this year to convince him to come to Cleveland.
  • The front office not doing anything to upgrade the receiver position when it was clear this was the weakest area of the team.
  • Making Delhomme and linebacker Scott Fujita their biggest free-agent signings on offense and defense, respectively, when the Browns needed a much bigger splash in the open market to narrow the talent gap with their rivals.

If Cleveland's ship continues to sink, Mangini likely will be the one to take the fall. But the Dawgpound should at least be fair to point out what the coach's shortcomings were and what factors were beyond his control.

AFC North update: Browns cut Veikune

September, 7, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

  • Let's start with the important stuff: ESPN.com's NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I are running a gridiron challenge this year for anyone who wants to join and challenge us in fantasy football.
  • New Ravens receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was introduced to the Baltimore media.
  • The Cleveland Browns waived former second-round pick David Veikune Tuesday.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wouldn't promise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the starting job when he returns.
  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco will have their own television show.

AFC North roster bubbles

August, 31, 2010
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Jones, Williams & VeikunAP PhotosMatt Jones, Demetrius Williams and David Veikune are among the AFC North players in danger of not making their teams' final 53-man rosters.
With teams required to cut down to 53 players by Saturday, it's time to focus on the final rosters in the AFC North.

Expect plenty of chatter internally this week among general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the division on who should make the team. This is always one of the most intriguing weeks of the NFL season.

With that said, here are several noteworthy players on the bubble in the AFC North:

1. Matt Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: The Jones experiment probably will end this week. The Bengals took a chance on Jones, who was out of football in 2009 for off-field issues, to see if he had anything left. Except for a few flashes, such as the Hall of Fame Game, the former first-round pick has been injured and not nearly the same explosive player he was several years ago. Jones also signed a team-friendly, one-year contract, which makes him easy to release. The Bengals have a lot of depth at receiver, and Jones doesn't appear to be in their plans.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

2. David Veikune, LB, Cleveland Browns

Analysis: Despite entering only his second season, this was a very important training camp for Veikune. The former second-round pick was a major disappointment in his rookie season. Veikune hasn't stepped up so far and is having another nondescript preseason. His best chance to make the Browns is his high draft status. But first-year president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert added their own linebackers and have no personal investment in Veikune.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

3. Demetrius Williams, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Analysis: Placing Williams on the roster bubble has become an annual tradition in Baltimore -- and every year he survives. This year could be the same for Williams, who has a lot of ability but has yet to live up to his potential. Williams received a lucky "break," both literally and figuratively, when veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth suffered a broken foot in the third preseason game. Stallworth will be out approximately two months, increasing Williams' chances of making Baltimore's 53-man roster.

Cut-O-Meter: 35 percent

4. Justin Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

Analysis: Hartwig struggled at center last year and lost his job this preseason to first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers believe Pouncey is a star-in-the-making, which leaves Hartwig's future in limbo. Despite the benching, there is no question Hartwig is one of Pittsburgh's best 53 players. That should be enough. But Hartwig also is scheduled to make a little more than $2 million this season. He's being paid as a starting center and that's no longer his role. There's a chance Hartwig could compete at right guard or simply be the first center/guard off the bench in the event of injury. Hartwig's experience and versatility help his case.

Cut-O-Meter: 30 percent

5. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Simpson is another second-round pick who is running out of chances. Despite coming from small-school Coastal Carolina, the Bengals were enamored with his physical abilities and reached for Simpson in the second round of the 2008 draft. But the Bengals tired of waiting for Simpson to develop and made several offseason additions at receiver, which included signing Terrell Owens and drafting Jordan Shipley in the third round. But Antonio Bryant's surprising release helps Simpson's chances.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

6. James Davis, RB, Browns

Analysis: It's funny how quickly things can change in the NFL. Last summer, Davis was the talk of Cleveland after he led the Browns in rushing during the preseason as a rookie. This year, Davis is on the bubble after a lot of offseason additions at running back. The top three tailbacks for Cleveland are locks: Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty. The question now is how many running backs Cleveland will keep. If the answer is four, Davis and Chris Jennings are battling for the final spot. I give Davis the edge.

Cut-O-Meter: 40 percent

7. David Reed, WR, Ravens

Analysis: Reed, a fifth-round pick, burst on the scene in Baltimore with a stellar spring. But since then he's been inconsistent and is back on the bubble. Like Williams, Reed also benefits from Stallworth's injury and the extra roster spot available at receiver. That increases Reed's chances to make it. Otherwise, the Ravens would love to develop him on the practice squad.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJonathan Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing against the Broncos, but will it be enough to earn him a roster spot?
8. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers

Analysis: Dwyer made a strong push late for a roster spot in Pittsburgh. After a disappointing training camp, Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing with 89 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's preseason loss to the Denver Broncos. Running back Isaac Redman has been stellar and secured the third running back job that was intended for Dwyer. Thursday's preseason finale will be vital for the sixth-round pick.

Cut-O-Meter: 55 percent

9. Brett Ratliff, QB, Browns

Analysis: Do not believe the hype in Cleveland involving third-round pick Colt McCoy being on the bubble. From everything we're told, there is no truth to the speculation. This means Ratliff, barring injury, is probably spending his final week with the Browns. Ratliff will play a half Thursday in Cleveland's final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. That could be a nice showcase for Ratliff to try to latch on with another team. Browns coach Eric Mangini traded for Ratliff as part of the draft-day deal with the Jets to be a developmental project last year. But Holmgren is calling the shots now and drafted his own developmental project: McCoy.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

10. Maurice Purify, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Purify is one of Cincinnati's top special-teams players. But the Bengals' immense depth at receiver and Purify's one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy make it very unlikely he makes the cut. There is no reason for Cincinnati to take a roster spot away from a player who will be available for the start of the regular season to keep Purify.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

Here are five additional names to watch:

Second-year studs or duds?

May, 18, 2010
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Smith/Robiskie/KrugerGetty Images/US PresswireSecond-year players Andre Smith, Brian Robiskie and Paul Kruger need to step it up this season or risk getting passed over.
Before free agency and the "win-now" mentality that dominates today's NFL, there was a time when teams could groom players for several years before they finally hit the field.

Those days are a distant memory. With coaches and general managers being hired and fired regularly, the learning curve for young players is shorter than ever in the NFL.

Many get one "redshirt" season to struggle in their rookie year before it's time to produce. If not, teams usually move on to the next player who can help.

With that said, here are seven second-year players in the AFC North who need to become studs for their respective teams this season.

Smith
Smith
1. Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals

2009 draft status: First round

Analysis: Cincinnati recently made various upgrades to its skill positions on offense. But one of the biggest additions this year could be a healthy and productive Andre Smith. The Bengals swept the AFC North in 2009 with little impact from their No. 6 overall pick. A broken foot sidelined Smith for 10 games until he was healthy enough to contribute mostly as a backup later in the year. Additional foot surgery has kept Smith from doing team drills this offseason, but he is optimistic that his foot problems will soon be a thing of the past. With the Bengals expected to air it out more this year, quarterback Carson Palmer could use the additional pass protection.

Stud/dud importance rating (scale of 1 to 10): 9.5

Robiskie
Robiskie
2. Brian Robiskie, WR, Cleveland Browns

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: The Browns desperately need someone (anyone?) to step up at wide receiver this year. Last year's leading receiver was Mohamed Massaquoi, who caught only 34 passes. This presents a golden opportunity for Robiskie, who had only seven receptions for 106 yards in his rookie year. Robiskie entered the NFL with a reputation of being one of the draft's most NFL-ready players, but he struggled to fit in with Cleveland's offensive scheme. Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme will need someone to throw to next season. This is Robiskie's time to step up.

Stud/dud importance rating: 8

Kruger
Kruger
3. Paul Kruger, DE/OLB, Baltimore Ravens

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: Kruger didn't contribute much until late last season. His inability to play on special teams only highlighted the fact that he wasn't on the field for most of the year. The drafting of pass-rush specialist Sergio Kindle puts Kruger in an odd spot this season. The Ravens were not expecting Kindle to be on the board in the second round, but they took a dynamic prospect who could potentially fill the role Baltimore's coaching staff once had in mind for Kruger. The Ravens are trying to figure out how Kruger can best assist the team in his second season and there has been some discussion of him adding weight to help more as a defensive end.

Stud/dud importance rating: 7.5

Hood
Hood
4. Ziggy Hood, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers

2009 draft status: First round

Analysis: Hood had a typical rookie year for the Steelers. On a veteran-laden team, he was able to get his feet wet in the defensive-line rotation without the pressure of being a starter. Hood played in all 16 games as a reserve and recorded eight tackles, one sack and two passes defensed. Barring injury, Hood will remain a backup this year but still needs to increase his production. Ideally, Hood will be able to earn more snaps and be able to keep starting defensive ends Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith fresh in the trenches.

Stud/dud importance rating: 7

Veikune
Veikune
5. David Veikune, LB, Browns

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: Ten games, zero tackles. That is not a good stat line for any rookie, let alone a second-round pick who arrived in Cleveland with decent expectations. Veikune had a forgettable rookie year that included struggling to learn the NFL game and eventually being passed over for playing time by fellow rookie (and Cleveland's fourth-round pick) Kaluka Maiava. The Browns added veterans Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong this offseason to fill key roles at linebacker. That means it's even more important for Veikune to be ready to show Cleveland's coaching staff what he can do when his number is called.

Stud/dud importance rating: 5

Webb
Webb
6. Lardarius Webb, CB, Ravens

2009 draft status: Third round

Analysis: Webb had a solid rookie year for the Ravens. He contributed on special teams and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup before a knee injury ended his season. That same knee injury is a cause for concern this season. Webb was hurt so late in the year that it's questionable whether he will be ready for the start of training camp or even Week 1 of the regular season. Webb recently began running, which is good progress. If healthy, Webb could be a starter in a Baltimore secondary that has struggled in recent years. A healthy and productive second season for Webb would put a lot of those concerns to rest.

Stud/dud importance rating: 8.5

Coffman
Coffman
7. Chase Coffman, TE, Bengals

2009 draft status: Third round

Analysis: Despite Cincinnati recently drafting tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round, the team could still benefit from a healthy Coffman. Gresham and Coffman, who didn't play a game in the regular season last year, could be two additional weapons in the passing game that Cincinnati didn't have last season. Most project Gresham to beat out Coffman for a starting job. The Bengals also re-signed veteran tight end Reggie Kelly, who is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. That probably leaves a limited amount of playing time for Coffman, who has to make the most of his opportunities.

Stud/dud importance rating: 5

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 24, 2010
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday 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: Busts and late-round gems.

Baltimore Ravens

Busts: The Ravens have one of the most consistent front offices in the NFL, so you have to look all the way back to 2005 to really find an underperforming first-round pick in Mark Clayton. The receiver has shown flashes with several big games in Baltimore. But Clayton never developed the consistency to become a No. 1 receiver. In the second round, linebacker Dan Cody was another miss in 2005. His career never got off the ground, because he couldn't shake the injury bug. Also, it's too early to determine the status of 2009 second-round pick Paul Kruger. But the linebacker/defensive end was mostly a non-factor in his rookie season. Gems: Baltimore has several contributing players that were found in the late and middle rounds. Most recently, 2009 third-round cornerback Lardarius Webb looks like a potential starter and has the ability to return kicks. Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain was another great, under-the-radar pick in the fourth round in 2007. Starting left tackle Jared Gaither was found in the supplemental draft in 2007 and started 26 games the past two seasons. Other key contributors include starting safety Dawan Landry and punter Sam Koch, who were fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2006, respectively.

Cincinnati Bengals

Busts: It's well-documented that Cincinnati doesn't put nearly the same resources into scouting as most teams, and it shows in its list of draft busts. Eight players the Bengals selected in the first three rounds since 2004 are no longer with the team. Several -- such as first-rounders Chris Perry and David Pollack and second-rounders Odell Thurman and Kenny Irons -- are out of the NFL. Most recently, the career of 2009 No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith got off to a poor start. But he has time to turn things around. Receiver Jerome Simpson, who was a second-round pick in 2008, is running out of chances and may not make the 53-man roster next fall. It's difficult to maintain a steady level of success when you're missing this often in the first and second rounds. Gems: Seventh-round pick Chinedum Ndukwe was not highly touted out of Notre Dame but continued to make plays for the Bengals until coaches had no choice but to play him. Defensive tackle Domata Peko was a fourth-round pick in 2006 who developed into one of Cincinnati's most important players. Last year's sixth-round pick, tailback Bernard Scott, showed flashes as a rookie.

Cleveland Browns

Busts: The Browns are on their third regime in three years. With that kind of turnover, you can expect a lot of misses in the draft as the team continues to switch philosophies. The Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era began in 2005 with receiver Braylon Edwards and safety Brodney Pool. Edwards didn't live up to expectations and was traded to the New York Jets last season. Pool likely will be let go to free agency. It has been three years, and we still don't know exactly what to make of 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn. The new regime led by Mike Holmgren doesn't seem too impressed, as the team continues to explore its options at quarterback. Receiver Brian Robiskie and linebacker David Veikune, both second-round picks in 2009, also need to step up for Cleveland in 2010. Gems: Starting fullback Lawrence Vickers, a sixth-round pick in 2006, was another great find. He paved the way for Jamal Lewis to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008. Vickers also helped tailback Jerome Harrison (862 rushing yards), another late gem, put up career highs last season. Most recently, 2009 fourth-round pick Kaluka Maiava may turn out to be a decent linebacker from the middle rounds.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Busts: Similar to the Ravens, the Steelers do not make a lot of mistakes at the top of the draft. Six of Pittsburgh's past seven first-round picks are starters. That includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, receiver Santonio Holmes and tailback Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh has had some issues in the second round. In 2008, the Steelers were hoping Limas Sweed could be the big receiver they were looking for, but that hasn't panned out. In 2004, second-round cornerback Ricardo Colclough had zero starts in four years before being released. Gems: Last year's third-round pick Mike Wallace already is a significant addition to Pittsburgh's offense. His deep speed was needed, and he had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. Pittsburgh also has been fortunate to find starting offensive linemen late in the draft. Offensive tackle Willie Colon and guard Chris Kemoeatu were taken in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Dennis Dixon, who was taken in the fifth round in 2008, also could develop into a solid backup quarterback.

D'Qwell Jackson out for the season

October, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Jackson

All was quiet on the trade front for the Cleveland Browns Tuesday, but the team lost one of its top defenders for the 2009 season.

The Browns put linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on injured reserve. Jackson hurt his shoulder in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jackson was a defensive and locker room leader in Cleveland. He recorded 59 tackles and one forced fumble in six games.

One of Cleveland’s rookie linebackers will have to step up in Jackson’s absence. Fourth-round pick Kaluka Maiava played in the second half when Jackson was injured. Second-rounder David Veikune has been slow to develop but may get more opportunities to show what he can do down the road.

Browns coach Eric Mangini had this to say:

“It’s disappointing any time you lose a player for the season, and this is especially true with someone like D’Qwell, who has proven to be an outstanding leader for us both on and off the field.”

Morning take: Bennett retires

July, 27, 2009
7/27/09
7:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North:

  • Just two days after signing with the Baltimore Ravens, veteran receiver Drew Bennett retires, citing a past knee injury.

Morning take: This is the second piece of shocking receiver news for the Ravens this month. You also have to wonder how this will impact Derrick Mason's decision.

Morning take: This year's team is more prepared to make a run at back-to-back titles than the 2006 team. But can the Steelers stay healthy and handle distractions?

Morning take: The Bengals should have one of the league's most interesting training camps this summer. That will be the first stop this summer for the AFC North blog on Friday.

Morning take: With rookies already in camp, Cleveland has two more draft picks left to sign ASAP in receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi.

Browns sign Alex Mack

July, 25, 2009
7/25/09
3:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Earlier we mentioned that the Cleveland Browns spent their first day of rookie training camp Friday without their top four draft picks. Now that number has been reduced to three.

The Browns have agreed to terms with first-round pick Alex Mack, the team announced Saturday. He was the No. 21 overall selection in April's NFL draft and is expected to compete for the starting job at center against veteran Hank Fraley.

Cleveland also released linebacker David Holloway to make room for the move.

As Cleveland gets into its second day working with rookies, the Browns still have three second-round picks not under contract. Those players are linebacker David Veikune and receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi.

The Browns will begin training camp with their full squad on Aug. 1.

Browns rookies report Friday

July, 23, 2009
7/23/09
11:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The rookie class of the Cleveland Browns will be among the first groups to report to training camp Friday for the 2009 season.

So far, as of Thursday morning, several unsigned draft picks remain. First-round pick Alex Mack, and second-rounders Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massoquoi and David Veikune are all working on deals before Friday's rookie report date.

The Browns have reached deals with all of their second-day picks, who will be present and on time Friday for the first training camp in Cleveland under new head coach Eric Mangini.

The veterans will join the Browns in Berea, Ohio on Aug. 1.

Will Browns rookies miss camp?

July, 20, 2009
7/20/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The clock is ticking this week for the rookie class of the Cleveland Browns.

Let's Make A Deal
Here is the current contract status of Cleveland's 2009 draft picks:
Rd. Player Pos. Status
1 Alex Mack C Unsigned
2 Brian Robiskie WR Unsigned
2 Mohamed Massaquoi WR Unsigned
2 David Veikune LB Unsigned
4 Kaluka Maiava LB Signed, 4 years
6 Don Carey DB Signed, 4 years
6 Coye Francies DB Signed, 4 years
6 James Davis RB Signed, 4 years
*Rookies report to training camp on Friday.

New head coach Eric Mangini wants to work with his first-year players as soon as possible. So Cleveland's rookies will be among the first groups called to report to training camp this Friday.

The problem is, as of Monday, the Browns still have four first-day picks who remain unsigned. This includes first-round center Alex Mack, second-round linebacker David Veikune and receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi.

Will they all have deals in place by the end of the week?

Whether reporting to camp by July 24 counts as a rookie holdout is debatable. The full team is mandated to report on Aug. 1, which is often viewed as a firmer deadline.

But what is not debatable is Mangini, a stern disciplinarian, is ready to get to work and certainly doesn't want the business side getting in the way.

Is Mack ready for the AFC North?

April, 29, 2009
4/29/09
12:30
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  Dave Stephenson/Icon/SMI
  Cleveland spent its first-round draft pick on California center Alex Mack.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- There are two primary reasons center Alex Mack became the first pick of the Eric Mangini era with the Cleveland Browns.

Casey Hampton is one reason; Haloti Ngata is the other.

As the Browns try to play catch-up in the AFC North, they must first close the gap in the trenches with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and AFC rival Baltimore. Cleveland was 0-4 against those two teams last season, losing by a combined score of 106-43, primarily because they were physically manhandled on offense.

Realizing this, the new regime in Cleveland had no reservations making a center its signature pick of the 2009 NFL draft. Mack was widely regarded as the best interior lineman available. The Browns coveted him so much that they opted to trade out of the No. 5 overall pick, then trade two more times before taking the University of California product at No. 21 -- a little higher than most projected.

If Mack begins his pro career by pushing around huge 3-4 nose tackles such as Ngata and Hampton next season and instantly brings smashmouth football back to Cleveland, no one will care how early he was picked.

"I pride myself at being an aggressive run blocker," said Mack, who is listed as 6 feet 4, 311 pounds. "I think that's a fun thing to do when you get to run the ball and really get to impose your will on a defense."

(Read full post)

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