AFC North: Mel Kiper

CINCINNATI -- When domestic violence charges against Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed Monday, the obvious question was this: Who is willing to gamble on the Pro Bowl pass rusher?

Hardy appears to be headed for free agency next month as the Panthers may wipe their hands clean of him and the drama that has surrounded them since an incident at his Charlotte condo in May.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyFootball-wise Greg Hardy makes sense, but because of two Cs: character and commissioner, the Bengals may want to avoid him.
As a result, many in Cincinnati are convincing themselves that the man who nicknames himself "Kraken" soon will find a home at One Paul Brown Stadium.

While there are off-field reasons for the Cincinnati Bengals to be concerned about signing Hardy, from a football-only standpoint, doing so makes too much sense. Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar was among those who agree, and it's why he suggested as part of his AFC North "Bold Moves" Insider piece for ESPN Insider on Wednesday the Bengals add the pass-rush specialist.

Hardy played in one game in 2014 before going on the exempt list in September. The year before, he had 15 sacks in 16 games. He had 11 sacks in 15 games in 2012. On a one-year contract signed in February 2014, Hardy had a cap value of $13.1 million. He likely will come at a significant discount because of the charges.

Cincinnati's entire defense had only 20 sacks in 2014 and featured a pass rush that was so ineffective Pro Football Focus regarded it the worst in the league. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther vowed the day after the season to make personnel changes to improve the rush.

In their latest mocks, ESPN draft insiders Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have the Bengals using their first-round selection on Clemson defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley.

But why wait until May to add an edge rusher? Why not bring Hardy into the fold when free agency begins March 10?

Because of two Cs: character and commissioner. Despite being cleared of the charges legally, Hardy still has to convince the court of public opinion that he isn't the ill-mannered, poor-of-character player the charges indicated he may be. He also has to wait for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to rule on whether the charges violate the league's personal conduct policy.

Given the recent emphasis the league has placed on domestic violence, Hardy could be facing a stiff punishment. Even if he legally wasn't found at fault of the crime, Goodell could punish him based on the league's review about Hardy's conduct the night in question. If Hardy gets suspended, that will affect his new team.

With the uncertainty around Hardy there is no reason for the Bengals to take the risk on the 26-year-old lineman.

It also makes little sense to take the gamble considering there still are concerns about his maturity. About a half hour before Hardy was due in court ahead of Monday's dismissed charges, he implored followers on Twitter to answer a series of questions about him to win his "original snitch cleats."

If the Bengals -- or any team -- are to commit to Hardy, they have to be convinced of off-field growth.

That's the sentiment Bengals coach Marvin Lewis expressed in July 2013 when he told Yahoo! Sports how he reinvented the image surrounding the types of player the Bengals had once added. At one point, Cincinnati had become a haven for "bad boy" types.

"I don't think Chris Henry, we would pick today," Lewis told Yahoo! Sports about the occasionally troubled receiver who died during the 2009 season. Police believed he fell from the back of a truck during a domestic dispute. "See, Chris had social issues [at the time of the draft but] he hadn't really gotten into legal issues. Chris would have had a harder time today just because we would be more sketchy on if he could handle the day to day of being a good teammate.

"There was always a feeling that boys will be boys. There are some boys that just can't get over being boys. And unfortunately, the organization had to learn that."

Something to keep in mind if the Bengals sign Hardy.

On ESPN's NFL Nation TV Spreecast on Tuesday, Panthers reporter David Newton said he believed Panthers coach Ron Rivera would have Hardy back if others in the organization weren't ready to move on. A hard worker when inside the stadium, Hardy had earned a favorable reputation among coaches. That effort translated to Sundays.

"It took the Panthers literally three players to replace everything that he did," Newton said, "and the combination of all three still weren't as good as Greg Hardy."

The question the Bengals and others must now ask, is this: which Hardy will emerge from this?
The fifth mock drafts are out for ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider, and their first-round picks for the Baltimore Ravens have a familiar ring.

Kiper has the Ravens taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the consensus best tight end in the draft. The Ravens would be thrilled to land a playmaker like Ebron at No. 17. Ebron was Kiper's pick for the Ravens in his first two mock drafts.

McShay stuck with the offensive theme as well, sending Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin to the Ravens. This is the second straight mock draft where McShay has linked the Ravens to Martin. The Ravens are looking to upgrade at right tackle, and Martin is considered the fourth-best tackle in this draft.

History of Kiper's picks for Ravens

Mock 1.0: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Mock 2.0: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Mock 3.0: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Mock 4.0: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

History of McShay's picks for Ravens

Mock 1.0: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Mock 2.0: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Mock 3.0: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Mock 4.0: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

Mock 5.0: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

Analyzing Kiper Mock 4.0: Bengals 

April, 17, 2014
The NFL draft is exactly three weeks away. When the Cincinnati Bengals make their first pick, they'll do so late in the first round at No. 24 overall.

They have needs at cornerback, quarterback, outside linebacker, safety, defensive end and on the offensive line. They also could add a running back or receiver at some point during the draft. Just whom will they wind up selecting with their picks in the first two rounds? ESPN's Mel Kiper has made his predictions. His second-round pick is a player who once had a first-round projection.

I'm heading back to AFC North headquarters this morning after a productive day-long NFL summit at ESPN on Wednesday. From the discussions and feedback, I came away encouraged about the continuing evolution of the blogs. We'll talk more about that as we get closer to the season. For now, it's time for your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Early last month, ESPN's Todd McShay had Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o falling to the Ravens at the bottom of the first round. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't see that happening. In a conference call, Kiper said there's "no way" Te'o will last until the last pick of the first round. Kiper doesn't see Te'o getting past the Giants, Bears or Vikings. He thinks LSU linebacker Kevin Minter would be a "nice pick" for the Ravens.

BENGALS: Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and North Carolina running back back Giovani Bernard have pre-draft visits with the Bengals this week, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Both players have been linked to the Bengals, who have three picks in the first two rounds of the draft. Cincinnati is looking for a starting strong safety and a speedy change-of-pace running back. Bernard reportedly drew the attention of head coach Marvin Lewis at his pro day and had dinner with team officials in Cincinnati on Wednesday night.

STEELERS: Running back-returner LaRod Stephens-Howling was among three unrestricted free agents to visit the cap-strapped Steelers on Wednesday, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Before the start of free agency, I linked Stephens-Howling to the Steelers because he can fill the role of Chris Rainey. A free agent out of Arizona, Stephens-Howling is an elusive back who can provide a big-play spark, whether it's as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. Two backups, 49ers linebacker Tavares Gooden and Texans center-guard Antoine Caldwell, also met with the Steelers.

BROWNS: Brigham Young defensive end-linebacker Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, who has been linked to the Browns with the No. 6 pick, is scheduled to go to Cleveland for a pre-draft visit. He is also visiting the Eagles and Cardinals. Ansah is a raw pass-rushing prospect who played football for only three years. Last season, he had 62 tackles, including 13 for loss and 4.5 sacks. “Ziggy Ansah is going to be a top-five guy,” Kiper said, via The Akron Beacon Journal. “At the worst, top-10.”

Polian: Ravens will win Super Bowl

September, 4, 2012
While I'm still taking heat for picking the Ravens to finish third in the AFC North in my predictions, I wanted to pass along a differing opinion. Former NFL general manager Bill Polian, who is now an ESPN analyst, is picking the Ravens to win the Super Bowl by defeating the Falcons.

This Super Bowl matchup would create an intriguing storyline at quarterback with Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, who were both drafted in the first round in 2008. Ryan has thrown for more yards and touchdowns, but Flacco has won more games in the playoffs. A Super Bowl would settle the debate on whether Flacco or Ryan is the better quarterback.

Here's what Polian had to say about his prediction:
The injury to Terrell Suggs may have deprived the Ravens of the label of AFC favorites, but they can withstand the loss. In their defense, they can scheme rush as long as they have cover corners -- which they do -- and their young linebackers will grow over the course of the season. In a one-game situation, it's a flip of the coin between these two teams. But if this game is serving as Ray Lewis' farewell party, I think Baltimore gets the emotional edge.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski also had the Ravens in the Super Bowl but he has Baltimore losing to Green Bay. Jaworski believes the Ravens will reach the Super Bowl on the strength of Flacco and running back Ray Rice and not their defense.

In terms of the AFC North champion, Polian and Mel Kiper Jr. picked the Ravens while Herm Edwards went with the Bengals. Kiper did select the Bengals as one of his dark horses, saying it wouldn't surprise him if Cincinnati won 11 games.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. took a look at the early impact players in the second and third round of the draft. The AFC North was represented on the offense and the defense.

You'll need a subscription to view the entire Insider blog, Insider but here's a portion of what Kiper had to say about two players in the division:


Team, position: Bengals wide receiver

Round: Third

Kiper's comment: While Sanu isn't much of a home run threat because he lacks top-end speed, he's crafty and will work zones and the middle of the field to get open. You never know, but I can see him and Andy Dalton developing chemistry.

Hensley's comment: Sanu will have the opportunity to make an impact because the Bengals' No. 2 receiver job is open. But I also like wide receiver Marvin Jones, who was picked in the fifth round.


Team, position: Ravens outside linebacker

Round: Second

Kiper's comment: He won't go into camp as a starter, but look for Upshaw to gain trust early. He's experienced and has the size and discipline to seal the edge in the run game in this system.

Hensley's comment: I would agree that Upshaw probably won't begin camp as the starter, but I would be surprised if he didn't begin the regular season as one. He should beat Paul Kruger out as the starting outside linebacker.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. produced his final mock for the 2012 draft. You'll need a subscription to view the entire Insider piece Insider, but here's the AFC North part of it:

4. Cleveland Browns

Pick: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

Hensley's comment: This should be a no-brainer for the Browns. Cleveland can instantly improve its offense by giving the ball 20 to 25 times to Richardson. There are options that would address need at quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and wide receiver (Justin Blackmon). But Richardson fills a need and is the best player available.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: G-T Cordy Glenn, Georgia

Hensley's comment: The Bengals want Stanford guard David DeCastro to fall to them, but it's looking like that won't happen. Glenn is a very solid fallback pick who will start immediately at guard and provide a punch in the running game. He is a physically dominating lineman.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech

Hensley's comment: The pairing of Hill to the Bengals is becoming very popular now. Hill has tremendous potential, but I'm not sure how much the Bengals will get out of him right away. He is an unpolished route runner. Still, the Bengals need a No. 2 wide receiver after losing Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell this offseason.

22. Cleveland Browns

Pick: QB Brandon Weeden

Hensley's comment: Weeden is one of the few quarterbacks in this draft class who can start right away. But taking Weeden here is a reach. The Browns would be better served by using this first-round pick on an offensive tackle like Stanford's Jonathan Martin or wide receiver like Rueben Randle.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: NT Dontari Poe, Memphis

Hensley's comment: The buzz has apparently died down on Poe, who could slide down to the Steelers. In Kiper's mock, Alabama linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are still available at this spot. Under this scenario, I agree with Kiper the Steelers take Poe.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Pick: ILB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

Hensley's comment: There are more pressing needs at guard and outside linebacker, but the Ravens couldn't pass on Hightower. Baltimore has to think about the future and the eventual replacement for Ray Lewis. The Ravens would be thrilled to land the two-time captain at Alabama.
In the latest mock draft by Mel Kiper Jr., the ESPN draft analyst goes three rounds. It's an Insider piece, Insider but I can give you a glimpse of the AFC North part of it along with my commentary:


Rd 1 (17) CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
Rd 1 (21) G David DeCastro, Stanford
Rd 2 (53) CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
Rd 3 (83) G Tony Bergstrom, Utah

Hensley's comment: Not sure if the Bengals will pass on DeCastro with the 17th pick because there's no guarantee he'll be there at No. 21. DeCastro is one of the best guard prospects in a long time, and Cincinnati has more of a need at that position than cornerback. I agree the Bengals will address cornerback in the first three rounds, but I'm not sold on them taking two with their first three picks. I can see the Bengals taking a wide receiver like Baylor's Kendall Wright early, too.


Rd 1 (4) RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
Rd 1 (22) T/G Cordy Glenn, Georgia
Rd 2 (37) QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma St.
Rd 3 (67) CB Dwight Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette

Hensley's comment: The Browns should be ecstatic if they can get Richardson and Glenn. Richardson is the top running back in the draft, and Glenn is the most versatile offensive lineman. The selection of Weeden in the second round has become a popular one for the Browns, although I think it's a mistake to take a 28-year-old rookie. Wait, where's the wide receiver? If the Browns can't upgrade at wide receiver with four picks in the first three rounds, that would be a major disappointment.


Rd 1 (29) C Peter Konz, Wisconsin (or trade down)
Rd 2 (60) OLB Terrell Manning, N.C. State
Rd 3 (91) WR Joe Adams, Arkansas

Hensley's slant: I could be way off on this, but I haven't gotten the impression that the Ravens are enamored by Konz. Picking him makes sense, though. He could start at guard and eventually replace Matt Birk at center. Manning can immediately help as a pass rusher and on special teams. But he projects more as a 4-3 outside linebacker. Adams would make an immediate impact as a returner.


Rd 1 (24) ILB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Rd 2 (56) G/T Jeff Allen, Illinois
Rd 3 (86) DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson

Hensley's slant: Everyone expects the Steelers to take Hightower, so you know Pittsburgh is going to surprise and go elsewhere. I can see the Steelers taking a guard or outside linebacker in the first round. Allen would be a smart pick in the second round because he can play guard or tackle. Thompson would be a steal because he's a top-50 prospect.

ESPN draft analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. both agree that Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill will get drafted in the top 10.

Whether he deserves to be taken that high in the draft is another matter.

"To me, he's being overdrafted," Kiper Jr. said. "We saw it last year with Christian Ponder. He should've been a second-round pick. Overdrafting is taking place at quarterback, and it's going to happen again with Ryan Tannehill."


Should the Browns take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the fourth overall pick?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,627)

McShay disagrees with Kiper Jr.'s assessment of Tannehill.

"He's not RG3 [Robert Griffin III] or Andrew Luck, I'll give you that," McShay said. "But he's a notch below, and he's certainly better than all of those other quarterbacks. He belongs in the top 10."

Kiper Jr. doesn't rule out the Browns (No. 4) or the Dolphins taking Tannehill in the top 10, and he agrees that Tannehill has talent.

"It's obvious that he's got ability," Kiper said. "You can watch him throw the ball on the move. He's a cerebral, smart kid. But how he's handled in the NFL will go a long way in determining what kind of career he has."

I don't think the Browns will take Tannehill at No. 4. They tipped their hand Thursday, when coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert went to Trent Richardson's pro day and not the one for Tannehill. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress attended Tannehill's pro day. This says to me that the Browns are leaning toward Richardson over Tannehill.

In McShay's breakdown of Tannehill's pro day, McShay brought up a scenario for the Browns that I hadn't previously heard. He speculated that the Browns could pass on Tannehill with the No. 4 pick and then use the No. 22 pick (which they received from Atlanta in the Julio Jones trade last season) to make a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars to move to No. 7. That would allow the Browns to jump ahead of the Dolphins and get Tannehill there.

According to McShay, a move like that would probably mean Cleveland offering up something in the ballpark of the No. 22 pick this year paired with next year's first-rounder, or No. 22 and a combination of second-rounders from this year and next. I don't see the Browns making such a move, but you can't discount anything in the NFL when it comes to quarterbacks and the draft.
Cam IllustrationWith Carson Palmer wanting out of Cincinnati, Mel Kiper projects the Bengals to take Cam Newton.
The NFL draft is getting closer, and this week ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. provided his third installment Insider in a popular series of mock drafts.

Let's examine how Kiper views the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals (No. 4)

Kiper's pick: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

Analysis: Newton is the most polarizing player in the NFL draft, and Kiper believes the Bengals will take him at No. 4. Cincinnati's quarterback position is in turmoil with starter Carson Palmer demanding a trade and threatening to retire. But is Newton the right replacement? He has tremendous athleticism but also comes with boom or bust potential. Because of his athleticism and one year of starting experience, some have compared Newton to Akili Smith. Right or wrong, those comparisons will only increase if he goes to Cincinnati.

Cleveland Browns (No. 6)

Kiper's pick: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

Analysis: The best receiver in the draft goes to Cleveland, according to Kiper. The Browns' receivers desperately need help, and Green would give them a legitimate No. 1 option in their new West Coast offense. I'm not against this pick, but there is a lot of debate in Cleveland about whether this team should address its defensive line in the first round. I think the Browns are leaning more in that direction. Cleveland is going to a 4-3 scheme in 2011 and need help at both defensive end and defensive tackle. There should be some good prospects there at No. 6.

Baltimore Ravens (No. 26)

Kiper's pick: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Analysis: Kiper remains steadfast in believing the Ravens will take a cornerback in the first round. In his second mock draft, the pick was corner Aaron Williams of Texas. In this mock draft, it's Smith. The Ravens do have the propensity to take the best available player, but I think they will address a need in the first round. Baltimore definitely could use help at offensive tackle and also with its pass rush. According to Kiper's mock, Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder would be available at No. 26, and that would be a great value pick for Baltimore. With starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth returning, I would be surprised if Baltimore takes a corner early.

Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 31)

Kiper's pick: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor

Analysis: With Florida guard Mike Pouncey long gone in this mock, Kiper says Watkins is the pick. The Steelers need depth and youth on their offensive line. But I believe Pittsburgh is the most likely AFC North team to trade up in this draft. The Steelers are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and were very close to winning a championship. They only need a few pieces, and if the right cornerback or offensive lineman is available, the Steelers shouldn't be afraid to part ways with some of their picks.

AFC North update: Arians to return

February, 25, 2011
Here are the latest news and notes from around the AFC North:

  • Jason La Canfora from the NFL Network reports Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will sign a one-year extension to return next season.
  • ESPN's Mel Kiper says Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would bring the most value Insider in a trade this offseason.
  • Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says Browns head coach Pat Shurmur is committed to quarterback Colt McCoy.
  • Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun writes that Ravens coach John Harbaugh has his fingers crossed with keeping veteran tailback Willis McGahee.

Reviewing the mock drafts

April, 8, 2010
NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay posted their latest mock drafts Insider on With the 2010 draft exactly two weeks away, let's examine what they have in store for the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns (No. 7 overall)

Kiper's pick: Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State

McShay's pick: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

Analysis: Both Kiper and McShay whiffed on these two picks, in my opinion. Williams would be a significant reach for the Browns at No. 7, and Bryant is a player reportedly falling on most team’s draft boards because of inconsistent workout and character concerns. Teams that draft receivers with a top-10 pick often regret it. The Browns recently did that in 2005 with Braylon Edwards at No. 3, and I don't see new team president Mike Holmgren taking the same risk. Perhaps McShay was overreacting to Shaun Rogers' recent arrest at a Cleveland airport and figured the Browns need to take a big plugger immediately at No. 7 overall. But unless that defensive tackle's last name is "Suh" or "McCoy," I don't see that happening, either. Here are my options for the Browns at No. 7.

Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 18)

Kiper's pick: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida

McShay's pick: Pouncey

Analysis: I'm having a hard time finding fault with most of the potential targets with Pittsburgh. If the Steelers get help on the interior offensive line by drafting Pouncey -- the top-rated center -- it makes sense. If they get an offensive tackle to help with the team's shaky pass protection and possibly move Willie Colon inside to guard, it makes sense. If Pittsburgh drafts a cornerback in the first round or a nose tackle to be the eventual successor to Casey Hampton, that makes sense, too. In general, I think the Steelers are very fortunate to hold a mid-round pick this year in an extremely deep draft. Ideally, I believe Florida cornerback Joe Haden would be the perfect fit for the Steelers. But he may not be available unless they move up a few spots.

Cincinnati Bengals (No. 21)

Kiper's pick: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

McShay's pick: Bryant

Analysis: Both Kiper and McShay are precise with these two picks. The Bengals need help in the passing game, and Gresham and Bryant are the two top-rated players at their respective positions. With Cincinnati thin at tight end, Gresham has the potential and ability to start for the Bengals in Week 1. Blocking is his biggest concern. After signing Antonio Bryant in free agency to a $28 million contract, receiver is no longer a desperate need for Cincinnati. But if Bryant falls into the Bengals' lap at No. 21, he would be a great value pick in this spot and perhaps too hard for Cincinnati to pass up.

Baltimore Ravens (No. 25)

Kiper's pick: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech

McShay's pick: Thomas

Analysis: After the blockbuster deal to land three-time Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin, signing Donte' Stallworth and re-signing Derrick Mason, I just about scratched receiver off my list for Baltimore in the first round. There are several more immediate needs for the Ravens, such as cornerback, an extra pass rusher and tight end. But with that said, Thomas is a decent pick. He's a physical specimen whose stock fell a little because of a recent foot injury. Going to Baltimore would give him time to learn the NFL game and eventually grow with quarterback Joe Flacco.

Walker's weekend mailbag

January, 23, 2010
Let's see what's in our AFC North inbox this week.

Ken from Elizabethtown, Ky., wants to know if Ed Reed retires, would he stick around on the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff?

James Walker: That's a tough question, Ken, because Reed would make for a great coach and he does have some interest in the field. But I think staying with the Ravens would be a little too close to his heart--at least right away. Let's say his safeties blow an assignment. How could a great player like Reed, who is only 31, not get the itch the following week to sign a one-year deal with Baltimore and show his players how it's done? I don't think Reed wants to create that type of situation for himself or the team. If Reed decides to go into coaching at some point, my guess is it would start at the collegiate level.

Todd from Westerville, Ohio, writes: I was just wondering with the issues the Cleveland Browns have at QB, do you think there would be any interest in trying to land Ravens quarterback Troy Smith?

Walker: Todd, Smith would love to come home to Cleveland, but I don't see that happening. The Browns have 11 draft picks, and I get the sense new president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert covet them very much. Plus, I don't see Smith's skills fitting into the type of precision offense Cleveland wants to run.

John from Cincinnati wants to know why the word "czar" is the new catchphrase in the NFL.

Walker: The term "czar" by definition means a person of absolute power. In the cases of Mike Holmgren in Cleveland and Bill Parcells with the Miami Dolphins, it fits the description because they have final say in everything.

Eddie Kilroy from Kent, Ohio, writes: I've been reading several mock drafts, and it seems everybody is set on the Browns taking a quarterback with the No. 7 pick in the draft (usually Sam Bradford). Wouldn't it make more sense to try to upgrade the trenches or find help in the secondary?

Walker: Not everyone, Eddie. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has the Browns taking Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Mock drafts are fun to talk about, but I wouldn't get too worked up about it in January. A lot will change in the next three months. Of any team in the AFC North, I think the Browns are in the best situation to take the best available player, regardless of position.

Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, writes: Bryan Bulaga=Robert Gallery?

Walker: That's pretty funny, Mike. But it's way too early to start making those comparisons. Yes, similar to Gallery, Bulaga is a highly rated offensive tackle from the University of Iowa. But that doesn't automatically mean Bulaga is going to be a bust in the NFL.

Ron Coffey from Cincinnati wants an update on Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom.

Walker: Odom is still working to get back from an Achilles injury, Ron. Geoff Hobson of recently caught up with Odom. He was on pace to have a monster season. So if Odom comes back healthy, he will be a good addition to an already solid defense.

Gallas from West Jefferson, Ohio, writes: Just for Nostradamus purposes, I think it's Cincinnati and Cleveland No. 1 and No. 2 next year, quote me.

Walker: You've been quoted. But I'm warning you, Gallas, we hold everyone accountable in the AFC North blog.

Gabby from Baltimore writes: Hey James, please answer! Could the Ravens sign any free agents this year: Restricted and unrestricted?

Walker: Yes, Gabby, the Ravens will be able to sign both types of free agents. But there are complicated restrictions with Baltimore, because it was one of the final eight teams to advance to the divisional round before an uncapped year. Earlier this week, we provided a full explanation from the NFL on the Ravens' outlook in free agency.

Kiper's AFC North mock draft

January, 22, 2010
ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper has his first mock draft Insider of the offseason.

Here is how Kiper sees the 2010 draft so far for the AFC North:

Cleveland Browns

Pick: No. 7

Kiper's selection: Joe Haden, CB, Florida

Analysis: Cleveland's draft direction is very unpredictable at this point with new president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert stepping into new roles. However, Haden is the highest-rated cornerback in the draft. The Browns have a lot of needs and a shutdown defensive back is one of them. Haden would allow Eric Wright to become Cleveland's second cornerback and move Brandon McDonald to the nickel, where McDonald played well earlier in his career.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: No. 18

Kiper's selection: Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa

Analysis: If no worthy cornerbacks are available, the Steelers could take a hard look at their offensive line. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger takes a ton of sacks, and some (not all) of the blame can be put on the players up front. The Steelers have passed up taking offensive lineman high in the draft recently. Kiper believes they are due in 2010.

Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: No. 21

Kiper's selection: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

Analysis: A big-play receiver would help Cincinnati's offense more. But unfortunately for the Bengals, this is not a deep year for receivers. So they may have to settle for another position, and tight end also is an area of need. Hernandez is arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the draft. I'm also told there's a good chance Hernandez will wow some teams at the NFL combine with his athleticism. So while his stock may be late-first round now, it could rise out of Cincinnati's reach in the next several months.

Baltimore Ravens

Pick: No. 25

Kiper's selection: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

Analysis: I'm surprised Kiper sees two AFC North teams taking tight ends in the first round. Similar to the Bengals, I think receiver is Baltimore's biggest need on offense. Ravens starting tight end Todd Heap had a solid season in 2009. So Gresham would likely start next year as a backup if he joined the team. I think Baltimore's first-round pick could be better used at another position if the Ravens want an instant impact.