AFC North: Lamar Miller

ESPN's Todd McShay revealed his fourth annual All-Satellite team, which focuses on the five players in this draft class who are the most dangerous in space. McShay has linked three of these players to AFC North teams. It's an Insider piece, but here's the ones with division ties:

Kendall Wright, Baylor wide receiver

McShay's analysis: What really jumps out about Wright, especially when comparing him to other receiver prospects is his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and when turning upfield after the catch. He goes from 0 to 60 faster than anyone in the class.

Hensley's comment: McShay writes that the Browns could take Wright early in the second round. I wouldn't rule him out of the first round. The Browns or the Bengals could show interest in him with their second first-round picks.

Lamar Miller, Miami running back

McShay's analysis: Miller doesn't have the wiggle or make-you-miss skills of the other guys on this list, but he gets it done with impressive acceleration and top-end speed. Miller's 4.4-second 40 was the best among running backs at the combine, and the thing you notice on tape is his ability to plant his foot, then explode out of cuts.

Hensley's comment: McShay sees Miller as a late second-round pick who could get selected by the Ravens. This definitely could happen because Baltimore needs a backup after Ricky Williams' retirement. Plus, the Ravens might need to start thinking of the future if they are unable to re-sign Rice.

Chris Rainey, Florida wide receiver/running back

McShay's analysis: Rainey's burst and change-of-direction skills are remarkable on tape, and he backed that up with a 3.93-second short shuttle at the NFL combine. His open-field running skills are undeniable with his ability to explode in any direction, then change direction in a heartbeat. Every time he gets the ball in his hands, it's a Code Red for the defense.

Hensley's comment: McShay has Rainey going on Day 3 (fourth round or later) and lists the Bengals among the teams interested in him. Rainey's lack of size means an offensive coordinator has to be creative in using him. He would be an intriguing weapon for Jay Gruden, who could use some more speed at running back and wide receiver.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Sources familiar with Browns general manager Tom Heckert told the Canton Repository that he is leaning toward trading out of the No. 4 pick without dropping too far.

The paper speculates that the Browns' pick could draw interest from the St. Louis Rams (No. 6 overall) and Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 7). Those teams need wide receivers and might want to beat the other to Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon.

Trading down to those spots could land the Browns additional picks in the second and third rounds, according to the paper.

Hensley's slant: The extra picks would be beneficial to the Browns' rebuilding project, but they would lose out on Alabama running back Trent Richardson in the process. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to take Richardson at No. 5 if the Browns pass on him. By falling back to either No. 6 or No. 7, the Browns would have to take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. He's the best defensive player in the draft, but he won't help the Browns' struggling offense.

BENGALS: Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth is excited about what the Bengals have accomplished in free agency and what the team is bringing back from last year's playoff team. "I think we can win the Super Bowl with Andy [Dalton] and all the other guys we've got in that locker room," Whitworth told the team's official website. "But you have to go year by year. Each year is different and has nothing to do with the year before. The way some of our young players played last year is the reason we are where we are. If they get better and stronger and more experienced, then we'll get better. But we're not going to know until we get on the field this year." Hensley's slant: The Bengals can make up their most ground on the Steelers and Ravens in the draft, where they have three of the first 53 picks. They still need to find a starting guard and a No. 2 wide receiver. And, before Bengals players can talk about the Super Bowl, they need to end the team's 22-year drought of not winning a playoff game.

RAVENS: The Ravens have now shifted their search for another pass-rusher away from free agency. “Probably more of our attention is toward developing our guys and toward the draft," coach John Harbaugh said at the owners meetings, via the team's official website. Baltimore brought in free-agent defensive end Mark Anderson for a visit, but he ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills. Hensley's slant: I'm intrigued by Clemson's Andre Branch, an athletic defensive end who can provide a pass rush but also move to outside linebacker in a base 3-4 defense. Branch is projected to go toward the bottom of the first round. Don't forget about the possibility of Baltimore using its first-round pick on Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, who is the younger brother of current Ravens defensive lineman Art Jones.

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette said it wouldn't be surprising to see the Steelers draft a running back early despite needs on the offensive and defensive lines. He said there are possibilities in the second round along with the likes of Miami's Lamar Miller in the third or Baylor's Terrance Ganaway later on. "That offensive line might look a whole lot better blocking for a good back," Bouchette wrote. "You can never have enough good running backs and while the Steelers do have enough running backs, no one knows if they’re any good or not." Hensley's slant: The Steelers know they can't count on Rashard Mendenhall (ACL surgery in January) to be fully back this season and they probably think of backup Isaac Redman as a stopgap player. If the Steelers go for a running back in the second round, they should select Virginia Tech's David Wilson, a speedy back with big-play ability.
ESPN's Todd McShay offered the fourth version of his 2012 mock draftInsider this week. Here's a look at the AFC North part of it:

4. Cleveland Browns

Version 1.0: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Version 2.0: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Version 3.0: Richardson

Version 4.0: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Hensley's comment: I agree with version 3.0 more than 4.0. Blackmon doesn't have the speed that the Browns really need at wide receiver. That's why the Browns should go with Richardson at this spot.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Version 1.0: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Version 2.0: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Version 3.0: Kirkpatrick

Version 4.0: DeCastro

Hensley's comment: It will be a tough decision for the Bengals if DeCastro and Kirkpatrick are still available at this spot. DeCastro would make more of an immediate impact for the Bengals, who have done a nice job of adding veteran cornerbacks this offseason.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Version 1.0: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Version 2.0: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Version 3.0: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Version 4.0: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Hensley's comment: If the Bengals want to take a cornerback here, the choice is between Gilmore or Janoris Jenkins. While Jenkins has better coverage skills, Gilmore doesn't have the same character issues as Jenkins. Don't rule out a wide receiver at this spot either.

22. Cleveland Browns

Version 1.0: Kevin Reddick, OLB, North Carolina

Version 2.0: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Version 3.0: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Version 4.0: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Hensley's comment: Version 4.0 is a better prediction than Brockers, because the Browns have a big need at right tackle. But there are concerns, because Adams lacks a mean streak, which is a must-have in the AFC North. The Browns might wait until the second round to take a right tackle.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Version 1.0: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Version 2.0: Adams

Version 3.0: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

Version 4.0: Hightower

Hensley's comment: This still seems like a no-brainer to me. Hightower would step into the void left by James Farrior. Pittsburgh could also take an offensive lineman or cornerback in the first round.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Version 1.0: Adams

Version 2.0: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State

Version 3.0: Peter Konz, C-G, Wisconsin

Version 4.0: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Hensley's comment: There is a definite need at safety. Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are entering the final years of their contact, and longtime backups Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura signed elsewhere this offseason. Smith, who had been pegged as a second-round pick, has been rising up boards recently. I'm just not completely sold on his playmaking ability.
One of the big question marks surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers is at running back.


Who do you think should be the starting running back for the Steelers in the season opener?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,802)

With Rashard Mendenhall expected to start the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), the Steelers have to find someone to replace their leading rusher for the past three seasons.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said this week that the Steelers aren't going to stay put with their current group of running backs. "I am sure we are going to get another running back, whether it’s in free agency or in the draft," he said. "We will address it."

Earlier in the week, general manager Kevin Colbert supported backups such as Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to replace Mendenhall. "With the young guys we have [at running back], we feel confident someone will emerge who can fill that [starting] role," he said.

Who do you think will end up being the Steelers' starting running back in Week 1?

Here are the top options:
  • Go with Redman. In his two-year career, he has one career start in the regular season and 162 carries. But he stepped up in a starting role in last season's playoff game in Denver, where he ran for 121 yards.
  • Take a chance with Dwyer. A sixth-round pick in 2010, Dwyer has shown flashes but he has limited experience (25 carries in eight career games). He turned heads in Week 5 last season, when he totaled 107 yards rushing against the Titans, including 76-yard run.
  • Start a rookie. The Steelers aren't expected to take a running back in the first round, but they could be tempted to do so in the second. Boise State's Doug Martin and Miami's Lamar Miller have good value at the Steelers' No. 56 spot.
  • Sign a veteran free agent. This wasn't a deep running back class to begin with, much less two weeks into free agency. The top choices left are: Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai and Ronnie Brown.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. offered his third 2012 mock draft, updated over the weekend. You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire draft, but here's a look at the AFC North part of it:

4. Cleveland Browns

Kiper's first mock draft: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Kiper's second mock: Robert Griffin III

Current mock: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Hensley's comment: I would take Alabama's Trent Richardson
over Blackmon, even though I don't typically endorse taking a running back this high. Blackmon isn't better than Julio Jones, the wide receiver that the Browns passed on last year. So taking Blackmon, who doesn't have the elite speed that the Browns need, would be a bad move.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Kiper's first mock draft: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Kiper's second mock: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Current mock: Dre Kirkpatrick

Hensley's comment: Deciding between Kirkpatrick and Stanford guard David DeCastro would be tough. DeCastro provides a more immediate impact. Kirkpatrick would be groomed to eventually replace veteran Nate Clements.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Kiper's first mock draft: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (Fla.)

Kiper's second mock: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Current mock: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia

Hensley's comment: Getting DeCastro here would be preferred, but I like taking the next-best guard in Glenn over a running back like Miller. Glenn would be an immediate starter at Cincinnati's weakest position last season.

22. Cleveland Browns

Kiper's first mock draft: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Kiper's second mock: Kendall Wright

Current mock: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

Hensley's comment: Since I don't like the Browns taking Blackmon with the No. 4 pick, I would have them selecting a speedy wide receiver like Baylor's Wright. But drafting the athletic David would solidify an outside linebacker spot as well as boost a struggling run defense.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Kiper's first mock draft: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

Kiper's second mock: Dontari Poe

Current mock: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama

Hensley's comment: Remember when Poe was supposed to be available here? Now, he's risen to the top 10 in Kiper's latest mock. Grabbing a talent like Hightower would fill the void left by the release of James Farrior.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Kiper's first mock draft: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

Kiper's second mock: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Current mock: Peter Konz

Hensley's comment: The Ravens don't start rookies at center, and they won't throw Konz in there at center immediately. Konz is also considered one of the top guards in the draft and could learn for a season beside veteran center Matt Birk, who is expected to be re-signed, before taking over that spot.

AFC North combine primer

February, 23, 2012
As the NFL combine kicks into gear today, here are the hot draft topics involving the AFC North teams:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireRobert Griffin III is one player the Browns will be interested in meeting with at the combine.
Will Robert Griffin III fit into the Browns' system? The Browns say they're still evaluating the Heisman Trophy winner, and they'll ultimately have to determine whether he's worth trading up from the No. 4 overall pick. RG3 plans to run the 40-yard dash (he's targeting sub-4.4 seconds) but he probably won't throw until his pro day on March 21. The biggest question that the Browns have to answer is whether RG3 can convert from the spread offense that he ran at Baylor. That will come during the interview process when Cleveland officials will go through their offense and pick his brain. ESPN's Todd McShay said he would "be surprised if he doesn't floor teams with his intelligence and understanding of the game."

Sticking to standard line: The Steelers have used their first-round pick on strengthening the offensive or defensive line for the past three years. The trend has a strong chance of continuing this year, and it's not out of habit. The Steelers need to find a potential replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is coming off ACL surgery and has a high cap number. The best fit is Memphis' Dontari Poe, a 350-pound powerhouse. There's a chance he could challenge the combine record of 49 reps in the bench press. The Steelers might have to consider moving up from No. 24 if Poe has a strong showing.

Tracking the running backs: The Browns and Bengals each have two first-round picks, and they both could use one on a running back. The Bengals aren't expected to re-sign Cedric Benson, and the Browns could do the same with Peyton Hillis. There won't be any on-field evaluation of Alabama's Trent Richardson, the No. 1 running back in the draft who won't participate in drills after having minor knee surgery. This shouldn't hurt his draft status because Richardson's size, speed and power make him a legitimate top-10 pick. Miami's Lamar Miller, who has been linked to the Bengals' second first-round pick, is looking to solidify his standing as the second-best back in the draft by showcasing his speed. He could record the fastest time of any player in the 40-yard dash.

Center of attention: Not many centers get selected in the first round, and the Ravens have never taken one that high. That could change this year because starter Matt Birk isn't expected to return (even if he decides not to retire) and backup Andre Gurode is an unrestricted free agent. Wisconsin's Peter Konz is trying to remain the top center in this draft. His biggest hurdle is the medical check. Konz was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs in 2009 and then missed three games in 2011 with a dislocated left ankle (he did return to start the Rose Bowl). Baltimore has taken players off their board in the past (like tight end Rob Gronkowski last year) because of medical concerns.

Sorting through the secondary: The Bengals are in need of a young cornerback and could take one in the first round. Leon Hall's status is unknown after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. Nate Clements is entering his 12th season. Plus, top backups Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings are unrestricted free agents. Cincinnati has no shot at the top cornerback in the draft, LSU's Morris Claiborne, who should go in the top five. The Bengals have to figure out who is the second-best corner: Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick or North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins.

Disappointing double move: One potential target for the Browns' fourth overall pick is Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Cleveland is in desperate need of a playmaker for an offense that ranked 30th in scoring. Blackmon is considered the top wide receiver in the draft because of his hands and body control. But, if the Browns are going to invest this high of a pick, they have to gauge whether he has the speed to get open. It looks like the Browns will have to wait until Blackmon's March 9 pro day before they can time him. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports "it doesn't look like" Blackmon will run with the rest of the receivers on Sunday.
It's Super Bowl week, but there's always time to talk about the draft.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay offered his second version of his 2012 mock draft, with a draft order that projected the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 and 22 (from Atlanta), the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 17 (from Oakland) and 21, the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24 and the Baltimore Ravens at No. 29.

You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire draft, but here's a look at the AFC North part of it:

4. Cleveland Browns

Version 1.0: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Version 2.0: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Hensley's comment: There's momentum building between the Browns and RG3. Some might question whether Griffin will still be on the board at this spot.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Version 1.0: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Version 2.0: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Hensley's comment: It's no secret that coach Marvin Lewis puts a premium on young cornerbacks. The Bengals will need someone to eventually replace Nate Clements.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Version 1.0: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Version 2.0: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Hensley's comment: Miller gives the Bengals what Cedric Benson couldn't -- big-play ability. The reason why Miller would be available this late in the first round is postseason shoulder surgery.

22. Cleveland Browns
Version 1.0: Kevin Reddick, OLB, North Carolina

2.0: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Hensley's comment: The Browns definitely need a playmaker at wide receiver, and Floyd can run after the catch. But Cleveland needs speed, and Floyd isn't a burner. Still, it would very tempting if Floyd is available here.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Version 1.0: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Version 2.0: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Hensley's comment: The Steelers need to address either the offensive or defensive line in the first round. The one red flag on Adams is he reportedly lacks a nasty demeanor, which really won't work in the AFC North.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Version 1.0: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Version 2.0: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State

Hensley's comment: This appears to be the year where the Ravens need to find their heir apparent to Ray Lewis. As McShay points out, Burfict is a top-20 talent, but there are questions about his discipline on and off the field.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. offered his first 2012 mock draft Wednesday, with a draft order that has the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 and 22 (from Atlanta), the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 17 (from Oakland) and 21, the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24 and the Baltimore Ravens at No. 30.

You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire draft, but here's a look at the AFC North part of it:

4. Cleveland Browns

Kiper's pick: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Hensley's comment: This has become the popular pick for the Browns at this spot. Still not sure if the Browns are sold on him or whether they would use him to get more picks and trade down.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Kiper's pick: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Hensley's comment: The Bengals would love to see Alabama running back Trent Richardson fall, but Kiper doesn't have him making it out of the top 5. The best value here would be cornerback. Cincinnati needs to groom someone to eventually replace veteran Nate Clements.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Kiper's pick: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (Fla.)

Hensley's comment: It's assumed that the Bengals won't re-sign Cedric Benson, so running back will be a priority in this draft. Miller is more of a breakaway threat than Benson. Could Cincinnati have its own version of triplets?

22. Cleveland Browns

Kiper's pick: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Hensley's comment: The Browns desperately need a playmaker to jumpstart their plodding offense. Wright definitely has the speed to stretch the field. Not sold on his lack of height (5-foot-10), though.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Kiper's pick: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

Hensley's comment: The Steelers put a premium on defensive linemen, taking Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward in the first round over the past three years. With the uncertainty surrounding nose tackle Casey Hampton, Poe is the type of space-eater who would round out an impressive young front.

30. Baltimore Ravens

Kiper's pick: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona St.

Hensley's comment: It seems like for the past five drafts, this question comes up: Is this the year that the Ravens find the heir to Ray Lewis? Burfict has a Lewis-type attitude and would benefit from learning under the 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker.