AFC North: Draft Watch 2010

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC decision-makers: 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 week 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: decision-makers.

Cleveland Browns

There is no question who calls the shots in Cleveland this year. New team president Mike Holmgren joined the Browns with the unofficial title of "football czar." In other words, "The Big Show" has final say on everything inside their building. To Holmgren's credit, he's delegated some of his vast power to general manager Tom Heckert in the front office and Eric Mangini on the coaching side while overseeing the entire operation. But rest assured, next week's draft will have Holmgren's fingerprints all over it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are very traditional when it comes to personnel decisions. The coaches coach during the season and the front office picks the players afterward. That firm line makes for very little confusion on the South Side. Pittsburgh's Kevin Colbert is one of the league's best general managers and probably doesn't get enough credit. For the most part Colbert avoids the spotlight and sparingly does interviews, although he spent some time with the AFC North blog recently. Instead Colbert prefers to stay behind the scenes most of the year until it's time to make moves on draft day.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals don't put nearly as many resources into scouting as their rivals, and it's a major reason they haven't had back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years. Without a normal front-office setup, the final calls are made at the ownership level led by Mike Brown. It's somewhat of a mystery exactly how Cincinnati scouts its players with such a scant front office, but the coaching staff plays a large and active role with scouting in the offseason.

Baltimore Ravens

"In Ozzie we trust" is a saying you hear often in Baltimore this time of year. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best in the business at replenishing Baltimore's roster with young talent via the draft. In the past couple of years alone, Newsome has hit home runs with Ray Rice, Joe Flacco and Michael Oher. Director of player personnel Eric DeCosta is Newsome's right-hand man in Baltimore, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better pairing of talent executives in the league.

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
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NFC Approach: 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 week 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: Draft approach.

Cleveland Browns

This year Cleveland's draft approach is a mystery. There's an entirely new front office led by team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. The pair share many of the same philosophies but have never worked together -- particularly in the same draft room selecting players. Therefore, it's unknown whether the team will take a conservative or aggressive approach in two weeks. So far, the power pairing has made a lot of sense with its offseason moves. The Browns quickly got rid of two struggling quarterbacks and acquired veterans such as Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Jake Delhomme, Benjamin Watson, Chris Gocong and Peyton Hillis to fill important roles. With 10 draft picks, it will be interesting to see what Holmgren and Heckert have in store for Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are very underrated for their wheeling and dealing on draft day. Because of their conservative approach to free agency, the Steelers probably don't get enough credit for frequently moving up and down the draft board to get players they covet. Last year they traded out of the second round to get more mid-round picks. The Steelers traded up to get receiver Santonio Holmes (2006) and safety Troy Polamalu (2003). This year Pittsburgh has 10 picks with a veteran-laden team that's just one year removed from a Super Bowl title. So it's debatable whether 10 rookies can make Pittsburgh's 53-man roster out of training camp. In other words, keep a close eye on the Steelers and director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals, led by owner Mike Brown, are pretty conservative when it comes to the draft, particularly when they have picks later in each round. The Bengals typically will not trade to move up. The team traditionally doesn't enjoy giving out huge contracts and is widely regarded as one of the toughest teams to negotiate big-money deals with. Last year's contract dispute with No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith was a perfect example. Smith missed all of training camp because both sides were unable to reach an agreement. Therefore, expect the Bengals to stay put with the No. 21 overall pick. They should be able to land a good prospect because this is a very deep draft.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is similar to Pittsburgh in its approach. The Ravens are prone to do anything -- which can include moving up, trading down or staying put. In the past two years alone, Baltimore has been a big mover and shaker. In 2008, the Ravens traded back and then up in the first round to land quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 18. Then Baltimore traded up three spots to select right tackle Michael Oher at No. 23 last April. Therefore, you can never put it past general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens to be very aggressive. A major difference this year is the team doesn't have as many draft picks (five) to barter following the offseason trade with the Arizona Cardinals to land receiver Anquan Boldin.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
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NFC History: 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 week 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: History in that spot.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns hold the highest slot in the AFC North, the No. 7 overall pick. With the type of money that's involved, this pick has to be a franchise player or it could set back an offense or defense. For example, the Minnesota Vikings selected running back Adrian Peterson at No. 7 in 2007 and he put the entire franchise on his back. But recent busts such as receiver Troy Williamson (2005) and safety Michael Huff (2006) haven't done enough to warrant the high pick. Either way, Cleveland has to be prepared to dole out a large contract. Last year's No. 7 pick -- Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- received a five-year deal worth a maximum of $38.25 million. So expect the Browns to be paying this year's No. 7 pick upwards of $40 million this summer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has the No. 18 slot this year. The Steelers could take advantage of getting a very good player in what's considered a deep draft. In the past five years, this pick has been hit or miss. Quality players such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall (2007) were added to the AFC North from this spot. But there were also a pair of recent misses with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter (2006) and defensive end Erasmus James of Minnesota (2005). Last year the Denver Broncos selected Robert Ayers, who had a fairly uneventful rookie year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati has the No. 21 pick, where the last two years offensive linemen have done pretty well. The Browns took center Alex Mack in 2009 and the Atlanta Falcons selected offensive tackle Sam Baker in 2008. Both players fit right in with their respective teams. But the previous three years were all misses for first-rounders. The Jacksonville Jaguars missed twice with this pick with safety Reggie Nelson (2007) and receiver Matt Jones (2005), who was out of football last season and signed with Cincinnati in February. New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, who was taken in 2006, has been decent but not great.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens hold the No. 25 overall pick, where there has been plenty of recent success. The group includes a Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes), a starting quarterback (Jason Campbell), a one-time Pro Bowl linebacker (Jon Beason) and two good young cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins and Vontae Davis). If the Ravens have this type of success with the No. 25 pick this year, it will be a good draft day for Baltimore. The Ravens have thrived picking players late in the first round in the past. Great players such as Ed Reed (No. 24), Ray Lewis (No. 26), and most recently Michael Oher (No. 23) have all come toward the end of the opening round.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
1:00
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NFC Under-The-Radar: 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 week 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: Under-the-radar needs.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens posted a tremendous No. 3 ranking in total defense in 2009. But often lost in that ranking was the fact Baltimore had just 32 sacks in 16 games, which was 18th in the NFL. The Ravens need to generate a better pass rush, either by acquiring help via the draft or getting more production from their current players. For example, three-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs suffered through injuries and had a career-low 4.5 sacks. He needs to have a bounce-back season. The lack of pass rush also hurt Baltimore's pass coverage.

Cincinnati Bengals

Can someone who didn't kick in 2009 and who has bounced around with eight teams -- including a brief stint in Cincinnati -- really be the answer? Maybe Dave Rayner comes in this upcoming season and kicks lights out for the Bengals. But he wasn't the answer in Washington, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Kansas City, Green Bay or Indianapolis. So it's fair to wonder if Rayner can solidify the kicking position during his second stay with the Bengals. Cincinnati hasn't re-signed veteran free agent Shayne Graham, which means a kicker could be a target in the NFL draft. The Bengals have nine picks next month and, at the very least, Rayner should have someone to push him and compete with in training camp.

Cleveland Browns

Coming off a 5-11 season, the Browns have a lot of needs and it's debatable whether any are "under the radar." But while most of the conversation focuses on quarterback, receiver and the secondary, not many in Cleveland talk about the running backs. Last year Jerome Harrison led the Browns with 862 yards thanks to a great stretch toward the end of the season. But can the smallish Harrison handle 30 carries a week over the course of a 16-game season? Cleveland's new regime has its doubts. The Browns need another quality running back to complement Harrison. There is very little tailback depth on the roster after the team released veteran Jamal Lewis. James Davis is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and the team acquired Peyton Hillis in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Hillis can play both fullback and tailback positions.

Pittsburgh Steelers

With everyone healthy, the Steelers do not have a lot of holes beyond the obvious like offensive line and cornerback. So let's dig deep with a covert need: Pittsburgh could use a good fullback next season. The Steelers struggled in short yardage and in the red zone, in part, because they lacked a devastating lead blocker to bust open holes in the defense. Carey Davis couldn't cut it. Converted tight end David Johnson was average but played out of position. Frank "The Tank" Summers was too green as a rookie last season. Adding to the quandary is offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' reluctance to utilize the position. Pittsburgh often uses three-receiver and single-back sets at the expense of fullbacks, and perhaps the Steelers' lack of talent at the position contributes to that. But if Pittsburgh finds a punishing run-blocker at fullback, third-and-short won't be such a daunting task next season.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
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NFC Needs Revisited: 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: Biggest needs revisited.

Baltimore Ravens

Going into the offseason, Baltimore's biggest need was clearly at wide receiver. But following the recent acquisitions of Anquan Boldin, Donte' Stallworth and re-signing Derrick Mason, that is no longer the case. The Ravens could still use a blazer, but no one could blame them at this point if they decide to address another need such as cornerback. Baltimore has health issues with Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington. Both players are rehabbing knee injuries and may not be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Look for the Ravens to address this position at some point in the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati had the same issue as Baltimore, which was a need at receiver. Signing Antonio Bryant to a four-year contract filled a huge void to get help for Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco. Now the Bengals' biggest focus should be getting a pass-catching tight end. It's been a long time since the Bengals had a quality player at the position who can stretch the field. A case can be made that quarterback Carson Palmer has never had that luxury during his career. Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Florida's Aaron Hernandez are two good tight end prospects who could fill that void in the draft.

Cleveland Browns

As we pointed out Tuesday, the Browns patched some holes in free agency but still have work to do to climb out of the basement of the AFC North. It's hard to pinpoint one need on this team. But with the shift at quarterback to established veteran Jake Delhomme, let's go with secondary help just edging the receiver position. The Browns need a big-time corner and/or a play-making safety. They may be able to get a difference-maker like safety Eric Berry or Earl Thomas in the draft. Both players are highly coveted on a lot of teams' draft boards. There also are good cornerbacks available after the first round.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh's primary need still hasn't changed since the beginning of free agency. It's no secret by now that I believe the cornerback position is the biggest void on Pittsburgh's roster. But there might not be a prospect worth taking at No. 18. So if a stud offensive tackle or guard (Mike Iupati?) is available to Pittsburgh, that wouldn't be a bad choice either. The Steelers could use a mauler in the running game to get the tough yards when needed.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: 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: recent history.

Baltimore Ravens

With a consistently great defense in place, the Ravens have put a lot of effort recently into improving their offense. Offensive tackle Michael Oher (2009), quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and guard Ben Grubbs (2007) -- all starters -- were Baltimore’s past three first-round picks. The Ravens also had major success with former second-round pick Ray Rice and former fourth-round pick Le'Ron McClain. Both running backs made the Pro Bowl this past season. Expect Baltimore to continue to search for more offense high in the draft this year, as the team attempts to take its passing game to the next level.

Cincinnati Bengals

The reigning AFC North champs helped build their defense through the draft the past three years and will now focus on improving the offense. Recent draftees such as cornerback Leon Hall (2007) and linebackers Keith Rivers (2008) and Rey Maualuga (2009) are starters for Cincinnati's defense. If the team has similar success on offense this year, the Bengals will be in good shape. Cincinnati currently needs help at tight end, receiver and guard. The Bengals may patch some of those holes in free agency. For example, receiver Terrell Owens is visiting Cincinnati Wednesday. But it will be important to fill any remaining offensive holes in this year's draft.

Cleveland Browns

This is the third regime drafting for Cleveland in three years. Former general manager Phil Savage was fired after the 2008 season. Former general manager George Kokinis followed but was fired in 2009, paving the way for new president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert. A major reason the Browns are in the basement in the AFC North is their inability to draft impact players. Only five players selected in the past three drafts are steady starters, and only one (Joe Thomas) has made the Pro Bowl. With the No. 7 overall pick and 11 total picks, Holmgren needs to find impact players who can help erase the talent gap and turn around the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are a veteran-laden team, so most of their picks the past three years have provided a delayed impact. Recent high picks such as Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and Rashard Mendenhall all had to wait at least one year before getting their turn to be productive. Receiver Mike Wallace, last year's third-round pick, was a rare exception. Pittsburgh president Art Rooney II recently said it's vital for the team to develop its younger players more quickly. After missing the playoffs, the Steelers have a relatively high pick at No. 18. That player could turn out to be a rookie starter, particularly if the pick addresses the cornerback position or the offensive line.

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
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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.

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: biggest team needs.

Baltimore Ravens

For years, adding an elite No. 1 receiver has been a major topic of discussion in Baltimore. This should be the year the Ravens finally make it happen. Baltimore will likely see what's available in free agency or the trade market at receiver. But look for Baltimore also to acquire fresh legs at receiver or tight end in the draft. This offseason should be mostly about helping budding quarterback Joe Flacco reach his full potential. The recent signing of Jim Zorn as quarterbacks coach also is a good step in that direction.

Although the defense is still one of the NFL's best, cornerback depth is needed.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were a good team in 2009. But their inconsistent passing game prevented the reigning AFC North champs from being a great team, as Cincinnati was one-and-done in the playoffs. Outside of Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals had no reliable receivers or tight ends. So look for the Bengals to address both needs in the draft. The recent addition of free-agent receiver Matt Jones might fill a need if he stays out of trouble. There are also rumors of Terrell Owens being interested in Cincinnati, which would be a solid upgrade over Laveranues Coles. Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham also has been linked to the Bengals as a possible first-round option with the No. 21 overall pick.

Cleveland Browns

When your offense was ranked dead last and the defense finished 31st in the NFL last season, there are a lot of holes. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have a big project ahead of them. But 11 draft picks give the team a lot of flexibility to fill those needs.

The biggest question for Cleveland is at quarterback. Can the Browns find their long-term solution at the position or is Brady Quinn the answer? With a thin crop of quality rookie quarterbacks, Cleveland likely will explore trades or free agency. Other key positions like linebacker, safety and cornerback are also huge needs. Reportedly, the team is intrigued by University of Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Tennessee safety Eric Berry is another potential option in the secondary.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Just one year removed from winning a Super Bowl, the Steelers do not have a lot of major needs. But a 9-7 season exposed some weaknesses with Pittsburgh, and cornerback is probably the biggest. William Gay was not ready to make the jump to a full-time starter in 2009. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, there are not a lot of corners with first-round grades thus far, although that may change after the combine and individual workouts.

The status of Pro Bowl nose tackle and pending free agent Casey Hampton is another issue. The Steelers could use the franchise tag to keep Hampton for at least another year while they try to find a replacement. Defensive tackle Dan Williams from the University of Tennessee would be an enticing draft option in the first round. Depth on the offensive line is also needed.

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