AFC North: NFL draft 09

Expected first-round contracts

May, 1, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

Now that all 32 teams selected its rookies for the 2009 season, it's time to begin shifting more focus to the business side.

First-round contracts can be expensive but relatively easy to predict, because most deals are slotted by draft position with an incremental, annual raise.

With that in mind, here is approximately what AFC North first-rounders are scheduled to make, based on the 2008 class:

What's Your Rookie Worth?
Team Pick Player 2008 Pick Contract
Cincinnati No. 6 OT Andre Smith LB Vernon Gholston 5 years, $50M
Cleveland No. 21 C Alex Mack OT Sam Baker 5 years, $13M
Baltimore No. 23 OT Michael Oher RB Rashard Mendenhall 5 years, $12.55M
Pittsburgh No. 32 DL Evander Hood *S Kenny Phillips 5 years, $7.34M
*Phillips was the final pick, No. 31, in the first round because the New England Patriots were penalized a first-rounder for "Spygate" in 2008.

Is Mack ready for the AFC North?

April, 29, 2009
  Dave Stephenson/Icon/SMI
  Cleveland spent its first-round draft pick on California center Alex Mack.

Posted by's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- There are two primary reasons center Alex Mack became the first pick of the Eric Mangini era with the Cleveland Browns.

Casey Hampton is one reason; Haloti Ngata is the other.

As the Browns try to play catch-up in the AFC North, they must first close the gap in the trenches with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and AFC rival Baltimore. Cleveland was 0-4 against those two teams last season, losing by a combined score of 106-43, primarily because they were physically manhandled on offense.

Realizing this, the new regime in Cleveland had no reservations making a center its signature pick of the 2009 NFL draft. Mack was widely regarded as the best interior lineman available. The Browns coveted him so much that they opted to trade out of the No. 5 overall pick, then trade two more times before taking the University of California product at No. 21 -- a little higher than most projected.

If Mack begins his pro career by pushing around huge 3-4 nose tackles such as Ngata and Hampton next season and instantly brings smashmouth football back to Cleveland, no one will care how early he was picked.

"I pride myself at being an aggressive run blocker," said Mack, who is listed as 6 feet 4, 311 pounds. "I think that's a fun thing to do when you get to run the ball and really get to impose your will on a defense."

(Read full post)

Meet the latest 'Cleveland Jets'

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- In the midst of writing about the dozens of college rookies joining the AFC North this weekend, we didn't expound much on the three new players the Cleveland Browns gained from the New York Jets during their blockbuster trade.

Cleveland traded its No. 5 overall pick to New York for the trio of players and its first- and second-round picks. The Jets ended up taking USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with Cleveland's fifth pick. In all, the Browns now have seven former Jets on their team from last season.


Here's a breakdown of the newest crop of arrivals:

Kenyon Coleman, DE, eight years experience

How he fits: Coleman is a solid 3-4 defensive end who will not give you a lot in terms of pass rush, but he is good in run support and filling his gap assignments. He made 136 tackles the past two years as the starting defensive end for the Jets. The eight-year veteran is the most proven player of the three Jets and likely will start at defensive end for Browns in 2009.

Abram Elam, S, four years experience

How he fits: Elam was a player Browns coach Eric Mangini coveted in free agency. Mangini signed the once restricted free-agent safety to an offer sheet in March that the Jets matched. Now Cleveland acquired Elam in a trade. Elam is versatile. He had 69 tackles, two sacks and one interception last season. Elam has a very good chance of starting at safety opposite Brodney Pool.


Brett Ratliff, QB, two years experience

How he fits: There isn't much known about Ratliff, who hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL. But the 23-year-old quarterback caught the eye of Mangini in New York with his work ethic, which is a quality Cleveland's coach really likes in his players. The Browns had an opening for a third quarterback behind Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, and those two are set to compete for a starting spot. Ratliff is mostly considered a project.

In addition, Cleveland added first-round pick Alex Mack, a center from the University of California, and defensive end/linebacker David Veikune with New York's second-round selection (No. 52 overall).

Sanchez has the potential to be a star in the NFL. But the Browns chose strength in numbers in hopes that Cleveland's five new players can be solid next season.

Video: AFC North draft recap

April, 27, 2009

Todd McShay breaks down how teams in the AFC North fared in the NFL draft.

Inside the AFC North: NFL draft

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

  Rex Brown/Getty Images
  How will Braylon Edwards respond to returning to Cleveland?

Here are some post-draft notes and observations from within the division:

  • The Cleveland Browns potentially have a situation on their hands with a returning Braylon Edwards. The former Pro Bowl receiver was reportedly included in heavy trade talks with the New York Giants. Eventually, talks broke down and nothing occurred this weekend. Now the Browns have to tread carefully to make sure Edwards feels wanted again. For the record it is unknown if Edwards is upset about the talks, and it's doubtful this would be a Jay Cutler-type situation. But it could require a little ego stroking for everyone to move on for the 2009 season.
  • One of the most compelling competitions I'm looking forward to this summer will be in Baltimore. A rookie first-round pick (Michael Oher) will battle a grizzled veteran (Willie Anderson) for the Ravens' right-tackle spot. Baltimore got solid value in Oher at No. 23 and he should man the position for a long time. But Anderson had a decent season there as well and wants to hold the spot for at least one more year, setting up an intriguing position battle in training camp.
  • Speaking of competition, there is officially a logjam at punter for the Cincinnati Bengals. The team drafted rookie punter Kevin Huber in the sixth round to go with free-agent signee Ryan Plackemeier and last year's punter Kyle Larson. This either means there will be a three-way competition for the job this summer or one of these players will soon be released. Stay tuned.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Max Starks is one of the most important players on Pittsburgh's roster right now, but it's not for reasons you'd expect. Cornerback Ike Taylor and receiver Hines Ward recently re-worked their contracts to free up cap space before the NFL draft. But Starks' $8.451 million salary for 2009, courtesy of the franchise tag, also is taking up significant space at the moment. It was expected that Pittsburgh would work out an extension with Starks, but to date that hasn't happened. With Pittsburgh bringing in nine draft picks over the weekend, the team will need to begin cutting players or reach a long-term extension with Starks to get everyone under contract. An educated guess is the Steelers would prefer the latter.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:

Morning take: Wow, this rookie gets it. Now let's see if he can block linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley coming off the edge.

  • According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns had a "smart" draft.

Morning take: That seems to be a major emphasis of new head coach Eric Mangini. The Browns have a history of making mental errors so, if anything, expect that part to improve next season.

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer gives the Bengals' draft a B-plus grade.

Morning take: This draft has tremendous potential and tremendous bust factor all at the same time. It will be up to the coaching staff to get the former out of this group.

  • Since the Steelers couldn't get a center on Day 1, they settled for Penn State's A.Q. Shipley in the seventh round, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Morning take: I had a feeling Shipley was a fallback option for the Steelers. As a seventh-round pick, his first goal should be to make the team out of training camp.

AFC North draft analysis

April, 26, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

AFC North Draft Picks
• Baltimore Ravens
• Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
• Pittsburgh Steelers
With a significant gap between the four division teams in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns attempted to play catch up, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens looked to extend their dominance.

Plenty of fresh faces were added to AFC North rosters during the 2009 NFL draft.

The names are well-known: Rey Maualuga, Andre Smith, Michael Oher, Alex Mack, Evander Hood, Brian Robiskie. As with every year, some of these players will blossom and others will flame out.

Here is a breakdown of the best and worst moves in the division:

Best move

  Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
  The Ravens traded up three spots to land Michael Oher, who will help protect quarterback Joe Flacco.
Although neither the Steelers nor the Ravens made flashy selections -- defensive tackle Evander Hood and offensive tackle Michael Oher, respectively -- both of their first-round picks were solid moves.

These two AFC North teams realize games are won in the trenches. Despite picking late in the first round, the Ravens and Steelers got solid value picks, which will help them continue to control the line of scrimmage. Not coincidentally, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns also picked a pair of offensive linemen to try to catch up and win the line of scrimmage. But we will get to those picks later.

Baltimore needed to help second-year quarterback Joe Flacco in some fashion this weekend, and they did by getting added protection. Baltimore traded up three spots to land Oher of Mississippi at No. 23. He has a tremendous story of overcoming hardship and the Ravens like his mental and physical toughness.

If coached up properly, Hood also could develop into a solid starter within a couple years for Pittsburgh. After the Steelers lost  just one starter (cornerback Bryant McFadden) from last year's Super Bowl team, there wasn't much of a chance any pick would start right away, particularly on Pittsburgh's top-rated defense. But Hood is a physically strong player who gives the Steelers depth and options on the defensive line, where all three starters are over the age of 30.

Riskiest move

The Bengals continued their trend of taking risks high in the draft, starting in the first round with Smith.

Without a doubt, the Alabama left tackle was one of the best players in the country during the college season. He has tremendous talent. But a suspension before the Crimson Tide's Sugar Bowl game, a poor NFL combine and not-so-great pro day led to questions about his work ethic and decision-making. The Bengals will invest a lot of guaranteed money in Smith, which raises even more questions. Add the fact that Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe, a much safer pick, was still available at No. 6 and that will add a lot of pressure for Cincinnati's selection of Smith to pan out well.

Cincinnati also took another player with somewhat similar issues in Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson in the third round. He has tremendous first-day ability, but apparently every NFL team feels he has second-day motivation. Again, it will be up to the coaches to get the best out of Johnson at all times.

This is the ultimate boom or bust draft for the Bengals. They probably drafted more pure, athletic talent than any team in the division, which could turn out to be all that matters. But players like Smith and Johnson will need to be constantly monitored, and there has to be some reason every team passed on USC linebacker Rey Maualuga as well. Perhaps many general managers felt he was overrated, which remains to be seen.

Overall, these draft picks have the potential to either lead to Cincinnati's resurgence or add to its recurring problems.

Most surprising move

It is becoming an annual trend in Pittsburgh: The Steelers once again did not select an offensive lineman in the first or second round of the NFL draft.

The last time the Steelers selected a lineman on the first day was in 2002, when they tabbed former guard Kendall Simmons 30th overall. There was a run on centers before Pittsburgh's No. 32 pick in the first round with Mack (No. 21 to Cleveland) and Louisville's Eric Wood (No. 28 to Buffalo Bills) off the board. Pittsburgh felt center Max Unger and offensive tackle Eben Britton didn't fit in the first round and passed on several more offensive line prospects in the second round, where it traded out of the pick.

Pittsburgh's struggles with running the ball and protecting the passer last season were well documented. The Steelers finally took Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik with one of their three third-round picks.

File it away

Under new coach Eric Mangini and first-year general manager George Kokinis, the Browns did a lot of wheeling and dealing in their first draft together. With a focus on depth they made an NFL-high three trades in the first round before landing University of California center Alex Mack.

The Browns got three players and the Jets' first- and second-rounders for Cleveland's No. 5 overall pick, which turned out to be USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Browns continued their trading ways by picking up two sixth-round picks to move to No. 19 and again to No. 21, where they eventually took Mack.

This 2009 draft could eventually be judged by the way its trades led to two potential franchise quarterbacks. The Browns gave up the No. 5 overall pick, which turned out to be Sanchez, and the No. 17 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which turned out to be quarterback Josh Freeman.

If quarterbacks Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson don't pan out in Cleveland, and Sanchez and/or Freeman are future NFL stars, expect many Clevelanders to utilize revisionist history down the road.

Posted by's James Walker

It doesn't sound fair for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. But it's the reality.

After losing longtime Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca in free agency last year, the Steelers received just a fifth-round compensatory pick in this year's draft. Pittsburgh used the pick Sunday on running back Frank Summers of UNLV, who was selected No.169 overall.

Although you never know, chances are Summers will not be as productive as Faneca. The Steelers will be happy if this late pick simply becomes a solid contributor. Because Faneca had more than 10 years of NFL experience, Pittsburgh by rule couldn't get more than a fifth-rounder.

The Steelers also chose cornerback Joe Burnett from Central Florida in the fifth round to help the secondary.

Posted by's James Walker

Entering the weekend, the Cincinnati Bengals desperately needed help at center. They waited until the fourth round to get it in Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs.

Luigs will compete for the starting job in Cincinnati left vacant by former center Eric Ghiaciuc. If he gets the job, Luigs would face stud defensive tackles in the AFC North such as Haloti Ngata, Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers.

Is Luigs ready?

In other AFC North draft notes, the Baltimore Ravens traded their fourth-round pick (No. 123 overall) to the New England Patriots. Does anyone else find it strange Baltimore has yet to select a wide receiver?

AFC North adds four

April, 26, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

The AFC North added four more rookies to their 2009 rosters.

After filling the need for cornerbacks in free agency, the Baltimore Ravens waited until the third round to take Nicholls State defensive back Lardarius Webb.The Ravens signed cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth in free agency, Chris Carr and re-signed Samari Rolle after cutting him earlier this offseason. There are some questions of what position, corner or safety, Webb is best suited to play at the pro level.

ESPN's Mel Kiper said he liked this pick of Webb.

The Pittsburgh Steelers made their third pick of the third round, selecting Oregon State cornerback Keenan Lewis. Pittsburgh also grabbed offensive guard Kraig Urbik and receiver/kick returner Mike Wallace with its two previous picks in the round.

The Cincinnati Bengals added Missouri tight end Chase Coffman with their third-round compensatory pick, which was awarded by the league for the amount of quality free agents the team lost last season. The Cleveland Browns didn't have a third-rounder but selected USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava at the top of the fourth.

Steelers (finally) address o-line

April, 26, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

It was surprising that the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers didn't address their inconsistent offensive line on the first day of the NFL draft.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Pittsburgh addressed arguably the team's biggest need with its first pick Sunday.

The Steelers took Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik in the third round. Urbik is durable, starting 45 consecutive games for the Badgers. The streak was broken last season because of a knee injury.

Urbik will provide depth and competition at guard for the Steelers. Their struggles running the ball and protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last season were well documented.

The Steelers also took receiver Mike Wallace from Mississippi with their other third-round pick. Wallace is a speedster who also can provide depth and has potential to return kicks.

Bengals help pass rush

April, 26, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals make the first AFC North selection of Day 2, taking Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson in the third round (No. 70 overall).

Cincinnati needs pass-rushing help and may have added it with Johnson. He was third in the ACC with nine sacks last season but fell to the third round because he struggles with consistency.

But for the third round, Johnson could be a solid value pick if coached properly. Starting defensive end Robert Geathers is coming off major knee surgery and Antwan Odom on the other side underperformed last season, despite a big contract.

The Bengals will pick again at the end of the third round as the compensatory selections begin to roll in. Cincinnati has the No. 98 overall pick, which is the second-highest compensatory pick in this year's draft.

The New England Patriots have the top compensatory pick for 2009, one spot ahead of Cincinnati at No. 97 overall.

Browns continue major overhaul

April, 25, 2009
  G Fiume/Getty Images
  After trading down three times in the first round, the Browns finally selected Cal center Alex Mack at 21.

Posted by's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- The 2009 NFL draft was held in New York City, but the central hub for trades and significant movement Saturday was in northeast Ohio.

The Cleveland Browns were the most active team on the first day of the draft, passing on highly-coveted players such as USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji early, and later Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin and USC linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round.

Flurry of activity
The Cleveland Browns made a league-high three first-round trades Saturday.

Browns trade No. 5 overall pick to the New York Jets for the No. 17 pick, No. 52 pick (second round) and DL Kenyon Coleman, S Abram Elam and QB Brett Ratliff.

Browns trade No. 17 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the No. 19 pick and No. 191 (sixth round).

Browns trade No. 19 pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 21 pick and No. 195 (sixth round).

Browns select Cal center Alex Mack with the No. 21 pick.

Instead, the Browns preferred three additional draft picks, three veterans from the Jets and California center Alex Mack in the first round. The Browns' three trades in the first round were a league-high.

"We bumped back, we bumped back, and we bumped back again," Browns first-year general manager George Kokinis said with a smile Saturday night.

Entering the weekend, it was clear Cleveland didn't covet any particular player at the top of the draft more than adding depth. As a result, the Browns added a total of seven new players Saturday to a team that finished 4-12 last season.

Cleveland turned over 13 percent of its 53-man roster in a single day. That percentage will only increase Sunday with four more draft picks on the way.

But it's one thing to gain additional picks. It's another thing to draft the right players.

For the next several months, expect many questions to linger about Cleveland's first-day selections.

A center was the first pick of the Eric Mangini era. The new Browns coach mimicked his former mentor Bill Belichick by trading down with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles in a flurry of shrewd moves. But the end result turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic.

Mack is considered by many to be the highest-rated center in this year's draft. He is a solid player by all accounts and very smart. But most projections had him going somewhere between No. 25 and No. 40. Add in all the aforementioned flashy talent Cleveland passed over at other positions, and it certainly opens the team's first pick for debate.

"I like it because I'm on the team now, [so] I think it was a good move," Mack said Saturday. "Hopefully we get another great class, because we can do a good job and get to work."

"With Alex, he's an outstanding player, he's an outstanding person and he should be a good player for a long time," Mangini added.

The remainder of the picks included second-rounders Brian Robiskie of Ohio State (No. 36), Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (No. 50) and defensive end David Veikune of Hawaii (No. 52).

Similar to Mack, Robiskie also could be considered a reach early in the second round. But he does fill a major need at receiver, as does Massaquoi, who was a top target for quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford at Georgia. Following the release of veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius and the pending legal trouble with Donte' Stallworth, it's apparent Cleveland was concerned with its receiver depth.

"I'm anxious to get up there with Robiskie and the other guys up there," Massaquoi said. "I just want to go out there and put together some wins."

Veikune is listed as 6-2, 252 pounds and has potential to play the hybrid defensive end/linebacker role in the Browns' 3-4 defense. He was the first defender drafted this year for a Browns unit that struggled last season and finished 26th in the NFL.

At least on paper, the 2009 Browns will look nothing like the 2008 Browns.

Cleveland's roster has been dramatically altered from last year's 4-12 team via free-agent signings, the draft and multiple trades. But whether the Browns' win total also changes significantly next season depends a lot
on the production of these four first-day draft picks.

Browns wrap up first day

April, 25, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns finished a busy first day of the 2009 draft by selecting Georgia receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Hawaii defensive end/linebacker David Veikune in the second round.

Cleveland traded down three times to gain additional picks and took four players total Saturday. Cal center Alex Mack and Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie were taken with the first two picks.

We will have more on Cleveland's first draft under new coach Eric Mangini and general manager George Kokinis later.