AFC North: On the Clock

On the Clock: Cleveland Browns

April, 13, 2009
4/13/09
9:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Team needs: Linebacker, receiver, defensive line

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Because it's unlikely Aaron Curry will be on the board, the Browns should consider defensive lineman Brian Orakpo (above).
Dream scenario: Cleveland would love for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry to fall into its lap at No. 5. Curry is considered by some to be the best player in the draft. Last month, the Browns desperately needed help at linebacker but figured Curry would be gone, so the team signed former New York Jets linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens to fill the needs. Barton and Bowens are over 30 and will be stopgap players in Cleveland for a couple seasons. Landing Curry would give the Browns a franchise defensive player to possibly build around for the next decade.

Plan B: If Curry is off the board, the Browns could turn their attention to Texas linebacker/defensive end hybrid Brian Orakpo. New head coach Eric Mangini needs versatile players for his 3-4 defense. Orakpo also brings a pass rush, which was a major weakness last season in Cleveland. Do not completely rule out Cleveland looking at receiver. It recently released receiver Joe Jurevicius and starter Donte Stallworth is facing legal woes that have put his career in jeopardy. With top receiver Braylon Edwards a big name on the trading block, Cleveland will need someone to throw to in '09.

Scouts Inc. take: "Their needs are many. Going across their offense, the Browns need receivers now. I think receiver all of a sudden is a huge need and Michael Crabtree might be a great pick for them. They need a running back-in-waiting. But they really need a pass-rusher. Their pass rush is atrocious, so Orakpo makes sense for them, putting him on the other side of Kamerion Wimbley. I think Wimbley has proven that he is not a No. 1 pass-rusher. He could be OK as a complementary guy. But he's been disappointing when the attention is rolled in his direction. So Orakpo or Crabtree makes the most sense, but they need a lot." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

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Who has final say: Contractually, first-year general manager George Kokinis has final say on the 53-man roster. But based on the team's moves in free agency -- acquiring four Jets last month -- it's clear that new coach Eric Mangini is pulling many of the strings behind the scenes. The company line is that both Mangini and Kokinis will work together as an equal tandem.

Now on the Clock: Seattle Seahawks.

Previous On the Clock: Cincinnati Bengals. The team-by-team series.

On the Clock: Cincinnati Bengals

April, 12, 2009
4/12/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Team needs: Offensive tackle, center, pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  An offensive tackle such as Eugene Monroe would provide an upgrade for the Bengals at a critical position.

Dream scenario: Unless five teams in front of Cincinnati have brain cramps, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith -- arguably the top player in the draft -- will not be available when the Bengals use their sixth overall pick. Smith would be perfect for Cincinnati as he would fill the team's biggest need at left tackle and provide tremendous value at No. 6. University of Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe would be another solid pick who may be off the board. Injuries have caught up to former Cincinnati first-round pick Levi Jones, so much so that he is no longer a dependable blindside protector for quarterback Carson Palmer, who's suffered two season-ending injuries (knee, elbow) the past four seasons.

Plan B: With Cincinnati possibly in a poor spot to secure one of the draft's two best tackles, the Bengals' focus could shift to taking the best defensive player along the front seven. Cincinnati has drafted a defensive player in the first round the past four years. The result is a sneaky good unit which steadily improved last season and finished No. 12 in total defense, despite little help from the offense. A player such as Texas defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo could be a good addition. The Bengals could still address the tackle position as a Plan B if they are desperate enough. They can take a risk on Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, whose stock has taken a hit this offseason, or reach for Mississippi tackle Michael Oher, who is widely considered a mid first-round prospect. The recent flirtations with running backs and receivers the past couple of weeks appear to be more smoke screens than substance. Those positions are likely targets in the second and middle rounds.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "The offensive line certainly needs work, and a major weakness of this team that sometimes goes unidentified is the center position. In their division, the Bengals play six games against Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton and Haloti Ngata. They were trying to get by with Eric Ghiaciuc, who is 280 pounds and he just gets manhandled. They had no inside running attack against those three divisional teams because they couldn't handle the 3-4 nose tackles. That's a huge disadvantage. But in the first round I think they can go a lot of different ways. I like their defense. I don't think their defense is as bad off as it usually is. But, boy, do they need a pass-rusher. They need a difference-maker, and Orakpo makes a lot of sense for them to rotate in with the defensive ends they already have." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: With a miniature scouting department, the Bengals' coaches are responsible for a significant chunk of talent evaluation. That gives head coach Marvin Lewis' staff a decent amount of input. But the final call on all major decisions usually must go through the ownership level with the Mike Brown family.

Now On the Clock: Cleveland Browns, April 13.

Previous On the Clock: Oakland Raiders. The team-by-team series.

On the Clock: Baltimore Ravens

March, 20, 2009
3/20/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Team needs: Receiver, inside linebacker, cornerback

 
  G Fiume/Getty Images
  Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey would be a good fit for the Ravens.
Dream scenario: Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is a player the Ravens are very familiar with, as he made his name at the University of Maryland in nearby College Park. Heyward-Bey also opened a lot of eyes when he did extremely well at the NFL combine, running a lightning-fast 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. The Ravens could use Heyward-Bey to stretch the field to complement second-year quarterback Joe Flacco's strong arm and the team's power running game. Heyward-Bey entered the offseason as somewhat of a sleeper who was considered a late first- or early second-round prospect. But his performance at the combine may have moved him up the draft board a little too much for Baltimore to snag Heyward-Bey at No. 26 overall.

Plan B: Baltimore's secondary plan sort of falls in line with the team's ideal scenario, and that is taking the best receiver available. That player could be Hakeem Nicks from the University of North Carolina. The Ravens also could look for more talent at cornerback or an extra linebacker to compete for the vacant spot left by the departure of Bart Scott. This week's signing of L.J. Smith likely rules out Baltimore taking a tight end high in the draft. But a developmental project could be had there on the second day.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "For a young quarterback you need to find a pass catcher -- that's their No. 1 need. I've mentioned Nicks for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I think he would also be a terrific Raven. One thing when they're looking at receivers, they cannot afford to get a small guy. Percy Harvin is not someone they should go after. They need to get big-bodied receivers." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has made his claim as one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL. With draft picks such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and most recently Flacco on his resume, the Ravens have the utmost confidence in Newsome calling the shots on draft day.

Now on the clock: Miami Dolphins, March 22.

Previous On the Clock: Indianapolis Colts. The team-by-team series.

On The Clock: Pittsburgh Steelers

March, 15, 2009
3/15/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Team needs: Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, cornerback

 
  G Fiume/Getty Images
  The Steelers could use California center Alex Mack if he drops to them at the end of the first round.
Dream scenario: An ideal scenario for the Steelers would be for them to have a smorgasbord of quality offensive linemen available with the final pick in the first round (No. 32 overall). The NFL draft tends to have teams make a run at certain positions in spurts. But if linemen such as Cal center Alex Mack, Oregon center Max Unger or a quality tackle such as Michael Oher of Mississippi somehow make it through the first 31 picks, Pittsburgh would have a happy draft room. To the chagrin of some fans, the Steelers retained their entire O-line front five from their Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Depth is sorely needed on the offensive line as the Steelers let go of veteran linemen Kendall Simmons and Marvel Smith. There is very little competition behind the starters and that position always faces the prospect of injuries.

Plan B: If the dream scenario fails to materialize, Pittsburgh can simply take the best available player. The Steelers have done it many times, drafting players they don't need right away but who will later develop into solid players. Pittsburgh could use help on the defensive line, which is aging but still has quality starters such as Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton. Cornerback also is a position of need after the loss of starter Bryant McFadden to Arizona in free agency. Pittsburgh is confident in William Gay but needs additional corners behind him and the aging Deshea Townsend to serve as backups and play in obvious passing situations.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "If I were a betting man, I would say the Steelers are going to go with an interior offensive lineman. But it certainly wouldn't shock me if they went with a defensive lineman. If you look at their defensive line, they're all 30-plus. And it takes those guys with the 'five technique' time to learn. None of them ever do it in college. So it takes a couple years of grooming. If you look at how successful they've been, Brett Keisel was a seventh-round pick and Aaron Smith was a fourth, and they didn't come in the league right away and handle that job. It's time to get young blood in to learn from the guys, rotate in and take snaps here and there. Two years ago, when Aaron Smith went down, their season completely crumbled. So that position might be their No. 1 need. If they can find a legit D-end to teach, that would be ideal. But those guys don't grow on trees.” -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: General manager Kevin Colbert makes the final calls on Pittsburgh's 53-man roster and will do so during the draft on April 25-26. But there will be group input from head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff as well.

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