AFC North: Draft Watch 33110

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2010
» 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 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.