AFC North: Justin Hunter

Last July, I thought it was the right move when the Cleveland Browns selected wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of the supplemental draft. A year later, the Browns look even smarter with the decision, even though chief executive officer Joe Banner refuses to admit it.

Gordon
Gordon
After a slow first quarter of the season, Gordon kept improving throughout the season, catching 43 passes and scoring five touchdowns in his final 12 games. He showed flashes of being the team's long-term answer at the No. 1 receiver spot.

The decision to take Gordon started with the Browns choosing running back Trent Richardson over wide receiver Justin Blackmon in the top five of last year's draft. Blackmon was suspended Tuesday for the first four games of the 2013 season for his second violation of the substance abuse policy in less than a year.

Gordon was also considered a risk after he failed multiple drug tests during his college career. Still, there's a difference between investing a first-round pick and a second-round one on a player with red flags.

I believe the Browns made the right move with Gordon because I'm not sure he lasts until the Browns' second-round pick this year. The Browns gave up the 39th pick overall in this year's draft by taking Gordon last year.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. told me that he would have projected Gordon to be a late first or early second-round pick.

"I don’t see him getting past 41 where Buffalo took Southern Cal wide receiver Robert Woods, so I think he would have been a top-five wide receiver in last year’s class," Muench said. "It’s just tough to find that kind of size, speed and athletic ability."

Gordon might have gone as early at No. 27 in the first round, according to Muench. That's where the Houston Texans selected Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the second receiver to get drafted. "Hopkins is a good value and fit there, but the same can be said about Gordon. So the Texans would have had a tough choice," Muench said.

Muench thinks the Minnesota Vikings would've still gone with Cordarrelle Patterson over Gordon at No. 29 because of his ability to make plays in space, but Gordon might have been selected over Justin Hunter by the Tennessee Titans at No. 34.

Based on Muench's analysis, it looks like the Browns got the right value in using a second-round pick on Gordon, and got an additional year out of him because it was a supplemental pick. Still, the Browns' new regime isn't ready to applaud the move made by former president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert.

Asked if he can say now whether or not Gordon was worth the second-round pick, Banner said last weekend: "My answer is the same as it was. I think Josh has a lot of potential, and we are excited about what he can do. We’re all going to see how he develops and what he can turn into. In the end, that question will answer itself, I think. We’re certainly rooting for him to prove that was a great decision.”
The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Wednesday, the blog is addressing wide receivers. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five receivers are: West Virginia's Tavon Austin, Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, California's Keenan Allen (before he was red-flagged for a drug test) and Southern California's Robert Woods.

Here's the rankings ...

1. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick and have yet to replace him. Torrey Smith is expected to take over Boldin's role as the No. 1 receiver, but Jacoby Jones is seen more as a returner than a receiver. That leaves a big hole in the starting lineup. Team officials said Tandon Doss, David Reed and Deonte Thompson all will have shots at stepping up. But none of them have shown any promise during their limited playing time. The Ravens have been linked to wide receivers in the first round from Allen to Woods to Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton. Based on need, the Ravens should take a receiver somewhere in the first three rounds.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: This would be a bigger need if the Steelers hadn't matched the New England Patriots' offer sheet to Emmanuel Sanders. Pittsburgh has one of the quickest receiver tandems in the league in Sanders and Antonio Brown. There's a big drop-off after them. Right now, the third receiver is either Jerricho Cotchery or Plaxico Burress. This is why some have linked the Steelers to Patterson in the first round. He's a playmaker with the ball in his hands but he tends to disappear for long stretches in games. The last wide receiver taken in the first round by the Steelers was Santonio Holmes in 2006.

3. Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon and Greg Little are far from established, but the Browns are hopeful both will develop. The expectations for Gordon have been heightened after making 50 catches and five touchdowns. Little has the potential to be the complementary No. 2 target if he can cut down on his drops. The third receiver could be either David Nelson, who is expected to be finished rehabbing his knee by training camp, or the undersized Travis Benjamin. Like last year, the Browns will probably take a wide receiver somewhere in the middle rounds.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: You could make the case that the Bengals should rank second on this list because they don't have a proven No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green. Some have projected the Bengals to take a wide receiver early in the draft, and you can't rule that out. The Bengals, though, have repeatedly talked about how much they like this receiving group of Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones and Brandon Tate. As far as offense, wide receiver ranks behind offensive tackle and running back in terms of need. The Bengals may still draft a wide receiver, but it seems like it will be in the later rounds.

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