AFC North: Dawan Landry

Here are the latest happenings Monday evening in the AFC North:
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the safeties of each AFC North team. Today: Baltimore Ravens.

In my opinion, Ed Reed is the second-best safety in the league. Reed is a sure Hall of Famer, and his overall playmaking ability is off the charts. After spending the first six games of last season on the PUP list, Reed stormed back to lead the league with eight interceptions. There isn't a more dangerous defender in the league with the ball in his hands. He is a student of the game who baits quarterbacks and breaks on the ball extremely well. Reed’s body might not hold up the way it once did, and he isn’t quite as inclined to throw himself into the action as he once was, but he is still a fantastic player.

Dawan Landry is the starter at strong safety, but he could hit the open market in free agency. More teams are in the market for free safeties, but Landry is improving in coverage and had a heck of a season for the Ravens. He should command a large contract.

Tom Zbikowski might be ready to step in if Landry departs. Zbikowski is a smart and physical player who can hold up against the run and in coverage, and he continues to improve. If Landry does move on, though, the Ravens would be wise to add a free agent to the mix, preferably a younger player just coming off his first contract.

Haruki Nakamura is a core special teams player for Baltimore, but on defense he is a liability in coverage and takes more penalties than he should. Still, for a fourth safety, you could do a lot worse.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still has legal issues resulting from a civil suit filed two years ago in Nevada.
Morning take: It's been more than a year since Roethlisberger had off-the-field issues, which almost makes you forget the first sexual assault allegation from 2009. Roethlisberger would like this to be resolved as quickly as possible, but that hasn't been the case.
  • Baltimore Ravens safety and pending free agent Dawan Landry could be targeted by the Dallas Cowboys.
Morning take: It doesn't appear Landry is returning to the Ravens. Baltimore looks comfortable with safety Tom Zbikowski, who stepped up and played well when inserted into the starting lineup, making Landry expandable.
  • Here is more on whether franchise quarterback Carson Palmer should return to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Morning take: I agree with Cedric Benson and the article that it's time for both parties to move on. Palmer doesn't want to be there, there should be good trade value available, and the Bengals drafted rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Why not cut ties?
Morning take: These unofficial minicamps should only help the second-year quarterback. McCoy will need to know Cleveland's new West Coast offense better than anyone on the team, which is why it's vital for him to hit the ground running.

Top Ravens drafts since 2000

March, 9, 2011
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The AFC North blog continues its series on the top draft classes of the past decade in the division. Wednesday we take a look at the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 3: Class of 2003

Suggs
Suggs
Best picks: DE/LB Terrell Suggs (first round), LB Jarret Johnson (fourth), DL Aubrayo Franklin (fifth round), FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth round), OT Tony Pashos (fifth round)

Analysis: The Ravens hit big early in 2003 and also did well in the middle rounds. Suggs is the jewel of this class in the first round. Suggs had top-five talent, but his lack of straight-line speed helped him fall to the Ravens, who had no problem taking him at No. 10. He was part of a two-player first round for Baltimore that also included a bust in quarterback Kyle Boller (No. 19). Baltimore also found long-time starting linebacker Johnson in the fourth round. Johnson has been one of the most consistent and durable players for the Ravens. Other contributors such as Franklin, Mughelli and Pashos have contributed in Baltimore, but eventually moved on to get more playing time with other teams.

No. 2: Class of 2006

Best picks: DL Haloti Ngata (first round), OL Chris Chester (second round), S Dawan Landry (fifth round), P Sam Koch (sixth round)

Ngata
Analysis: I remember sitting in the Cleveland Browns' media room while covering the team in 2006 when the No. 12 pick came up. Ngata was still on the board, and so was linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. I liked Ngata for Cleveland, but I also knew the Browns liked both players. So Cleveland traded the pick to a division rival, allowed the Ravens get Ngata, and I immediately knew it was a mistake. I even wrote in the opening graph of my story that Cleveland "walked into dangerous territory" with that trade, which you can see here. The Ravens have a player who, five years later, is arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Baltimore also hit on Landry, a starting safety, in the fifth round, and Koch in the sixth round. Koch is one of AFC's top punters.

No. 1: Class of 2008

Best picks: QB Joe Flacco (first round), RB Ray Rice (second round), S Tom Zbikowski (third round), Haruki Nakamura (sixth round)

Flacco
Flacco
Analysis: It's still early, but the 2008 draft is filled with talent, depth and young players who will only improve. Anytime you land a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft, that weighs extra. Flacco has led Baltimore to the playoffs all three years in the league, and set career highs in yards (3,622), touchdowns (25), and passer rating (93.6) this past season. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the league's best talent evaluators, but he's struggled finding quarterbacks in the draft until selecting Flacco. Rice has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,200 rushing yards and has been to one Pro Bowl. The Ravens also added depth and part-time starters in the later rounds with offensive tackle Oniel Cousins and young safeties Zbikowski and Nakamura. All three draft classes are pretty close, because the Ravens are consistent. But if Flacco and Rice continue to get better and eventually lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl, that will separate the 2008 class.

On Thursday, we will take a look at the best draft classes of the Cleveland Browns. Then, on Friday, we will rank the top classes of the past 10 years in the division.

AFC North free-agent primer

March, 2, 2011
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This is the final week that several big names will be under contract with their respective AFC North teams.

The new league year starts on Friday, March 4, with a lot of labor uncertainty. Free agency cannot begin until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. But at least we will know who the key players are this offseason by the end of the week.

Here is how things are shaping up in the AFC North:

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Le'Ron McClain
Mitch Stringer/US PRESSWIREThe Ravens will allow fullback Le'Ron McClain to test the free-agent market.
Baltimore Ravens: Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata received the franchise tag, and signing him long term is Baltimore's biggest priority this offseason. The Ravens also have several interesting free agents. Offensive lineman Marshal Yanda is one of the most underrated free agents in this division. He has the versatility to play guard and tackle, and the Ravens want him back to help patch up the right side of their offensive line. The secondary also could be taking a hit as safety Dawan Landry and cornerbacks Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington are all set to hit the open market. Of the three, I think Wilson was the most consistent for Baltimore this season. The Ravens will allow fullback Le'Ron McClain to test free agency. He wants the opportunity to carry the football more and won’t get that in Baltimore. With the team expected to release Willis McGahee, the Ravens could be thin at running back behind starter Ray Rice if both McClain and McGahee do not return in 2011.

Cincinnati Bengals: We have addressed the situation numerous times with Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph. He has quietly been one of the top defenders in the AFC North and will likely get a huge payday, considering the going rate for cornerbacks. Unless Cincinnati is willing to pay at least $10 million per year to keep Joseph, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t hit the open market this week. Starting tailback Cedric Benson is another interesting free agent. He’s led Cincinnati in rushing two years in a row after posting a pair of 1,000-yard seasons. But Benson was unhappy with the Bengals last year and his production also tailed. Will he work out a deal to stay in Cincinnati? Stay tuned. The Bengals also have aging free agents like receiver Terrell Owens and linebacker Dhani Jones who are not expected to return because the team is rebuilding and going younger. Cincinnati also has to figure out what to do at quarterback now that starter Carson Palmer wants to be traded and threatened to retire.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns were lacking talent to begin with. So they don't have many big-name free agents. But some players who were productive in 2010 are hitting the open market, including fullback Lawrence Vickers, linebacker Matt Roth and safety Abe Elam. Both Roth and Elam were unhappy about not getting long-term extensions in Cleveland and probably will look elsewhere, while it's unknown how well Vickers, a power fullback, fits in a West Coast offense. With a new coaching staff led by head coach Pat Shurmur, expect a lot of turnover on the roster as the Browns get players who fit their offensive and defensive schemes. The Browns recently used the franchise tag on veteran kicker Phil Dawson to keep him off the market.

Pittsburgh Steelers: No. 1 cornerback Ike Taylor has been in preliminary discussions with Pittsburgh but is likely running into the same challenges as Joseph. Similar to Cincinnati, would the Steelers be willing to commit at least $10 million per year to a cornerback? That appears to be the going rate for solid, free-agent corners. The Steelers will probably let Taylor test the market and compete with other teams before they pay that amount. If Taylor can get that elsewhere, he probably will take it. If not, Taylor can return to a Super Bowl contender in Pittsburgh at a reduced rate. Other than Taylor, the team doesn't have many key players hitting the open market next week. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was given the franchise tag. Role players like tailback Mewelde Moore, backup center Doug Legursky and kicker Shaun Suisham are among other notable free agents for Pittsburgh.

What's next for the Ravens?

January, 17, 2011
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The Baltimore Ravens finished another solid season at 13-5. But last week's 31-24 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers left an empty feeling for a Ravens team with Super Bowl aspirations.

Now it's time to look ahead to the offseason and where the Ravens can improve in 2011. Here is an early offseason preview for Baltimore from the AFC North blog:

What are the needs?

The Ravens have one of the best rosters in the NFL. But there are several areas that were exposed this season.

Look for Baltimore to be in the market for an offensive tackle. The Ravens' pass protection was very inconsistent, and quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times in Saturday's defeat to the Steelers.

With the season-ending back injury to Jared Gaither, Baltimore rotated players such as Tony Moll, Oniel Cousins and Marshal Yanda at right tackle. None of them was very stout. Former first-round pick Michael Oher also struggled at times playing his first season at left tackle. He excelled as a rookie right tackle. So if Baltimore can find a blue-chip left tackle, it may want to consider putting Oher back to the right side and upgrade both positions.

Another big need is help rushing the passer. The Ravens need someone to complement Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs. Rookie Sergio Kindle was drafted to be that player. But his playing status is up in the air after fracturing his skull last summer and it's unknown if he can be counted on.

Baltimore's pass defense was improved this year, but the team could still use a legit shutdown corner via the draft or free agency. Injured cornerback Domonique Foxworth will return from a knee injury next season, which will help. A speedy deep threat at receiver could also help the development of Flacco, who throws a beautiful deep ball but didn't get many opportunities to show it.

Who are the pending free agents?

[+] EnlargeHaloti Ngata
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliPending free agent Haloti Ngata was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and 2010.
Baltimore was built to win this year. So there are a lot of pending free agents on this team.

The biggest name by far is Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who is a franchise building block. Ngata, who was drafted in 2006, finished his five-year rookie contract this season and is scheduled to become one of the highest-paid players at his position. The Ravens have made it clear keeping Ngata, who will turn 27 this week, is the utmost priority.

Other interesting names on this list includes fullback Le'Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry, Gaither, Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff, punter Sam Koch and receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth. Out of these players, I think McClain is the one to keep an eye on. He has been frustrated with his lack of carries the past two years and likely will explore opportunities where he run the ball more in a different system. Gaither also is not expected to return.

Cundiff and Koch were vital on special teams and will be important for Baltimore to retain.

What about the coaching staff?

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will likely get a contract extension. He deserves one after leading Baltimore to three straight playoff appearances and one trip to the AFC title game.

There has been a lot of talk surrounding offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after the Ravens were No. 22 in total offense this year. But Cameron is well-respected by the Ravens and around the NFL and will stay on board in 2011.

Quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn may also be a name to consider for coordinator interviews in the coming weeks and months. Zorn has a lot of experience as an assistant coach and head coach.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger suffered a sprained foot against the Buffalo Bills. The injury also was reported this week as a broken bone in his foot, but the team has disputed it.

Roethlisberger, who missed the first game against Baltimore because of suspension, said he fully expects to play against the Ravens. Other players who are listed as questionable include Baltimore left tackle Michael Oher (knee), safety Dawan Landry (concussion) and fullback Le'Ron McClain (ankle). Both Oher and Landry expect to play, but McClain's status is more uncertain.

AFC North evening links: Odom to IR

December, 2, 2010
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Here are the latest happenings Thursday evening in the AFC North:
  • The Cincinnati Bengals put defensive end Antwan Odom (wrist) on injured reserve. Odom played in just four games this season.
  • Here is an in-depth profile of Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who is having a breakout season.
  • Baltimore Ravens safety Dawan Landry expects to play Sunday against Pittsburgh despite suffering a concussion Sunday.
  • Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs and Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden both received monthly awards from the NFL for their solid play in November.

Seven-step drop: Carson Palmer's future

November, 29, 2010
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 12 in the AFC North:
    [+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounCincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer's production has continued to fall this season.
  • Expect plenty of behind-the-scenes conversations at Cincinnati Bengals headquarters regarding quarterback Carson Palmer's future. The face of the franchise is no longer playing like it, and the Bengals have to decide if it's worth continuing to make Palmer the team's highest-paid player. Palmer, who has five multi-interception games this season, is due a base salary of $11.5 million in 2011. That puts him near the top of the entire NFL, despite a stark decline in production. In our opinion, still paying Palmer like an elite quarterback wouldn't make much sense for the Bengals. Cincinnati also could ask Palmer to take a pay cut, but there's no guarantee Palmer would accept, especially for a rebuilding team. That would back Cincinnati into a corner to either pay the high salary or release Palmer and allow him to become a free agent for the first time in his career. This will be one of the biggest offseason decisions in the entire division.
  • Cincinnati's call on Palmer also will weigh heavily on the team's draft plans. If the Bengals keep Palmer, don't expect them to draft a quarterback in the top five, which is where Cincinnati is expected to land. Palmer already has a $118.75 million contract with the team, and a top-five pick next year could command anywhere between $50-$75 million. That's too much money tied into one position, which is why the Bengals have to decide one way or the other between Palmer or starting over next year with a rookie quarterback.
  • Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens continues to show growth in his third season. In Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Flacco threw for 289 yards, two touchdowns and had a 103.2 passer rating. It was the sixth time this season that Flacco has eclipsed a 100-plus passer rating. Baltimore is 5-1 in those games, with the only loss coming in overtime to the New England Patriots.
  • If you're looking for a major difference between last year and this year with the Ravens, the team has been fortunate to avoid major injuries. The Ravens are one of the healthier NFL teams heading into December. They dodged a few scares, including Sunday when left tackle Michael Oher (knee) and safety Dawan Landry (concussion) were knocked out of the game. Both players were in the locker room Sunday evening and said they will be fine for Sunday's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • At some point, the Steelers have to take better ownership in cleaning up their penalties. The past two weeks have been atrocious, as the Steelers recorded 24 penalties for 270 yards. Yes, there have been questionable calls in that span -- Steelers linebacker James Harrison earned another debatable personal foul Sunday against Buffalo -- but many of those two-dozen flags are legit. Giving up this many free yards likely will get Pittsburgh beat next week.
  • Is Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis Pro Bowl worthy? The AFC North blog thinks it's time to strongly consider his candidacy. Hillis added another 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a win over the Carolina Panthers. He has 905 rushing yards, leads the Browns in receptions (46) and became only the third running back in team history to record 11 or more rushing touchdowns in a season. But there is stiff competition at running back in the AFC. Hills has no chance of winning the fan voting because he isn't a household name and plays for a losing team. So his nod would have to come from opposing players and coaches, who select the reserves.
  • Finally, we want to give a special "Seven-step drop" congratulations to AFC North alums Jerome Bettis, Art Modell, Dermontti Dawson and Kevin Greene. They were all selected as semifinalists for the Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Finalists will be chosen at a later date and the selection process will continue through Super Bowl week in February, when the 2011 class is announced.

Ravens: 'All boils down to this'

November, 28, 2010
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Joe FlaccoSam Sharpe/US PresswireQuarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens will go for a season sweep against the Steelers next week.
BALTIMORE -- Ravens Pro Bowl tailback Ray Rice could barely contain himself.

Following Baltimore's 17-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the always-energetic Rice was already looking forward to next Sunday's AFC North showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It all boils down to this," Rice said. "When you have the Steelers coming in here, it's all set up to be a big game. The records are what they are, we're both 8-3, and it's no excuses."

The Ravens, who are playing great football, beat the Steelers at Heinz Field last month while Ben Roethlisberger served his four-game suspension. If the Ravens are truly the best team in the division, they must prove it by pulling off a rare season sweep over Pittsburgh. Since 2000, the Ravens have swept the Steelers only once, in 2006.

For the Steelers (8-3), it's fair to say they weren't at full strength in their first meeting with Baltimore. But if Pittsburgh is really the dominant team in the AFC North, it must do what no opponent has done at M&T Bank Stadium this season: win. The Ravens are 5-0 at home.

May the smartest and most physical team win.

"We just don't like them, but we respect them," Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs said of Pittsburgh. "It's going to be championship football."

The Steelers are winning, but they didn't look impressive in their overtime victory over the lowly Buffalo Bills (2-9) on Sunday. Pittsburgh survived 10 penalties, a fumble and a dropped touchdown pass by Buffalo's Steve Johnson in the extra period.

Meanwhile, the Ravens believe they have momentum. "We wanted to take care of business to get to this game," said Rice, who rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries against Tampa Bay. "The season was set up the way it was supposed to be. I'm just glad we took care of business against everybody else for it to be set up like this."

Here are other observations from Baltimore's win over the Bucs:

Ravens' D peaking at the right time: Baltimore's defense is playing its best football of the season. The Ravens rattled Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed 17 of 37 passes for just 162 yards. He padded his stats with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter as the Bucs tried to rally. Baltimore also held Tampa Bay tailback LeGarrette Blount to 55 yards rushing. Since giving up a late touchdown in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 11, the Ravens have played inspired on defense. They've allowed only 23 points in their past two games.

Derrick Mason gets it going: There was a lot of discussion in Baltimore last week about Mason's heated sideline altercation with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Both players said they quickly moved past their differences and proved it against the Bucs. Flacco made a concerted effort to get Mason involved. The veteran receiver led Baltimore with eight receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 13 times and was effective.

"We've got so many guys that are able to catch the ball that defenses just have to try to pick and choose what they're going to stop," Mason said. "They were playing me one-on-one or off-coverage a lot, so Joe looked my way today."

Injury concerns: Two key players to watch for the Ravens this week will be Ravens starting left tackle Michael Oher (knee sprain) and safety Dawan Landry (concussion). Both players were hurt in the second half and didn't return, but each believes he'll be ready to play against the Steelers.

Offense has tale of two halves: Baltimore's offense was explosive in the first half and stalled in the second half. The Ravens scored 17 points in the second quarter points to give them a lead they would never relinquish. Flacco put up good numbers, throwing for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He had a passer rating of 103.2. But with the defense performing well, Baltimore appeared content to playing it safe in the second half and didn't do too much on offense. The Ravens' offense will need four strong quarters against Pittsburgh. "The second quarter was huge for us," Flacco said. "Without that, we weren't able to accomplish too much."
BALTIMORE -- Here are early thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 17-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

What it means: The Ravens (8-3) remained in first place in the AFC North by earning another big win. Next week Baltimore will host the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in overtime. Baltimore will be going for the season sweep after beating Pittsburgh at Heinz Field earlier this season.

What I liked: Baltimore went for big plays early. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco connected with tight end Todd Heap for a 65-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was the longest play from scrimmage this season for Baltimore and the longest catch of Heap's career. The Ravens also benefited from a controversial pass interference call to set up a Derrick Mason touchdown catch and a 17-3 halftime lead. Flacco and Mason also put last week's sideline altercation behind them, combining for eight receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore's defense mostly rattled and confused young Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw for just 162 yards and got most of his production late in the fourth quarter.

What I didn't like: The Ravens' offense could have done more in the second half to take some of the pressure off the defense. But it appeared they were content with taking the air out of the ball after getting a two-touchdown lead. The Ravens also have two injury concerns: starting left tackle Michael Oher (sprained knee) and safety Dawan Landry (concussion). Neither player returned after leaving.

What's next: The Ravens have their biggest game of the season coming up against the Steelers in what should be another great installment in this rivalry. The winner has the inside track to win the division. The loser will be fighting for a wild card.

How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

November, 24, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The Cincinnati Bengals' defense: I'm still shaking my head at how Cincinnati gave up 35 unanswered points in a loss at home to the lowly Buffalo Bills (2-8). This is a new low for the Bengals (2-8). Cincinnati suffered multiple injuries on defense, but that's no excuse to allow journeyman career backup Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw four touchdowns. With virtually no pass rush and an ailing secondary, it could be a long six games for this group.

2. Brian Daboll, Browns offensive coordinator: Cleveland's coaching staff has had problems making in-game adjustments all season, and it's a primary reason this team is 3-7. In a 24-20 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the running game clearly wasn't working but Daboll continued to kill drives and scoring opportunities by running up the middle for very little gain. Cleveland's defense forced six turnovers, but the Browns were only able to score one offensive touchdown. With offensive guru Mike Holmgren serving as team president, Daboll is certainly on the hot seat down the stretch.

3. Browns offensive line: The Browns also sputtered because their offensive line had its worst game of the season against Jacksonville. Both the run and pass blocking were subpar, as Cleveland allowed six quarterback sacks and couldn't get tailback Peyton Hillis (21 carries, 48 yards) jump-started. Defenses are now gearing up to stuff Hillis on the ground and bringing pressure to rookie quarterback Colt McCoy in the passing game. Cleveland has to be more prepared for this.

RISING

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison and Jason Campbell
AP Photo/Tom E. PuskarJames Harrison made several impact plays against the Raiders.
1. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker: Harrison was all over the field in last week's 35-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders. He recorded five tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble on Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell. Harrison continues to play hard as he tries to tailor his game to fit what the league wants out of defensive players. Harrison also was this week's High Energy Player for posting his best all-around game of the season.

2. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens linebacker: After a shaky performance two weeks ago against the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore's defense got its swagger back against the Carolina Panthers with a big assist from Lewis. The defensive leader had a team-high 10 tackles and a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter. Baltimore is at its best when the defense is active and creating havoc. Both Lewis and safety Dawan Landry scored touchdowns against the Panthers.

3. Abram Elam, Browns safety: Elam had, by far, his best game as a member of the Browns. He tied for the team lead with six tackles and also had an interception and a fumble return for a touchdown. Elam's score was a heads-up play, where he stripped Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the pile and took it to the house for a touchdown. It was the second defensive touchdown of Elam's career. The Browns could use more big games like this from their veteran safety.

AFC North: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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Baltimore Ravens

Potential unrestricted free agents: DL Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Corey Ivy, WR Derrick Mason, TE L.J. Smith, WR David Tyree, CB Frank Walker, WR Kelley Washington

Potential restricted free agents: OT Jared Gaither, K Billy Cundiff, S Dawan Landry, CB Fabian Washington, P Sam Koch, OG Chris Chester, QB John Beck, QB Troy Smith, OT Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Prescott Burgess, WR Mark Clayton, WR Demetrius Williams

Franchise tag: None

What to expect: The Ravens have a ton of quality free agents. It will be interesting because Baltimore is the only division team which has to abide by the "Final Eight Plan" for making the divisional playoffs. This will restrict Baltimore from making a lot of moves. Therefore, expect the team to keep most of its key restricted free agents while trying to explore the trade market. On the unrestricted side, the Ravens are negotiating with receiver Derrick Mason and are expected to keep him. But two players who could get some interest in the open market are defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. Baltimore likes both players but could lose at least one.

Cincinnati Bengals

Potential unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams, TE J.P. Foschi

Potential restricted free agents: LB Brandon Johnson, LB Rashad Jeanty, OL Evan Mathis, C Kyle Cook, DE Frostee Rucker, CB David Jones, LB Abdul Hodge, QB Jordan Palmer, TE Daniel Coats, DT Shaun Smith

Franchise tag: None

What to expect: The Bengals have yet to announce their tenders, so this list could change by Thursday evening. But traditionally they are not big spenders in free agency and will stay true to that even with an uncapped year. Cincinnati could make one or two decent outside signings that may help the team. Finding a receiver would be the most likely target. The most interesting in-house name is offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who likely will test the market. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also would like to keep veteran Roy Williams and Tank Johnson. But the team hasn't made a major push for either player before they're let loose Friday.

Cleveland Browns

Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates

Potential restricted free agents: RB Jerome Harrison, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers, S Brodney Pool, S Abram Elam, DE Matt Roth

Franchise tag: None

What to expect: Cleveland has the money to spend and the biggest talent deficit. So look for the Browns to attempt to make up ground in free agency. Major names like defensive end Julius Peppers and tailback Thomas Jones have been mentioned as possibilities for Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Internally, the Browns should be interested in keeping Harrison and Vickers in their backfield. Jackson also has value. None of their unrestricted players are priorities for the team and will be allowed to hit free agency.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, CB Deshea Townsend , FB Carey Davis, OG Darnell Stapleton

Potential restricted free agents: OT Willie Colon, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth

Franchise tag: K Jeff Reed

What to expect: The Steelers are pretty predictable. Pittsburgh intends to keep all of its restricted free agents, get a long-term deal complete with Reed, who has the franchise tag, and let nearly all of their unrestricted free agents test the market. The exception is Clark, who the Steelers targeted as a priority but has yet to reach a long-term extension before Friday's deadline. Negotiations have been ongoing and should go to the final hour to decide whether both sides can come to an agreement or allow Clark to test the market.

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.

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