AFC North: Sammy Watkins

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers will hold two days of joint practices this week at St. Vincent College, which hosts the Steelers' training camp.

Wednesday's session will kick off at 2:55 p.m. ET, followed by a practice Thursday (5:30 p.m. ET) and a preseason game Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET) at Heinz Field.

To preview the joint practices, NFL Nation reporters Mike Rodak (Bills) and Scott Brown (Steelers) answer three questions on their teams.

EJ Manuel
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesBuffalo Bills fans will take note of how EJ Manuel practices against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What has been your biggest storyline of camp?

Rodak: Far and away it's been the development of EJ Manuel. Entering his second season, the pressure is on Manuel to take the Bills to the playoffs. He has more help this season than he did as a rookie. The Bills, as we all know by now, traded their 2015 first-round pick to move up for Sammy Watkins, who has been everything as advertised so far. Watkins has been Manuel's best friend on the practice field, snagging everything thrown his way and stretching the defense vertically. While Watkins hasn't necessarily lit it up in preseason action (three catches for 21 yards in two games), there are no worries about him. The questions remain with Manuel and his abilities as a pocket passer. He took a step forward in last Friday's preseason win in Carolina, but he's been inconsistent in camp. Manuel can find Watkins for a big gain on one play, but then drive onlookers mad by patting the ball and taking a sack on the next play.

Brown: I’d have to say it is how much younger the Steelers have gotten, particularly on defense. Eight projected starters on that side of the ball are 27 years old or younger, and rookie Ryan Shazier has already won the starting job alongside Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker. Shazier headlines a draft class that has created quite a buzz. Second-round pick Stephon Tuitt will start sooner rather than later at left defensive end. Third-round pick Dri Archer is an electric and versatile playmaker who will line up all over the field. Fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant, Watkins’ teammate at Clemson, has a chance to develop into a big-time wide receiver, and could help right away. I have eight of the nine Steelers’ 2014 draft picks making the 53-man roster, and the rookies have indeed shown that much promise during camp.

What is one important question that your team could answer in these joint practices?

Rodak: Is the offensive line's struggles simply a matter of practicing against their own, ferocious defensive line? The Bills' front line hasn't done a great job protecting Manuel in practices this summer. Outside of center Eric Wood, a team captain, there a question marks abound. Seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson has filled in nicely for Cordy Glenn at left tackle, but he's been prone to rookie mistakes. Left guard Chris Williams is out with a back injury, while right guard Kraig Urbik -- a former Steeler -- is being pushed for his job by rookie Cyril Richardson. Finally, right tackle Erik Pears looks to have kept his starting job, but only by default, as second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has been a disappointment so far. The offensive line has been dominated at times by the Bills' defensive line, which had three Pro Bowlers last season (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus). If they have breakdowns against the Steelers' defensive line, which will bring a different 3-4 look, then their protection issues extend beyond the talent across the ball in Buffalo.

[+] EnlargePouncey
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarCenter Maurkice Pouncey is one of the high draft picks the Pittsburgh Steelers have used on the offensive line in recent years.
Brown: How much improvement the Steelers have made along the offensive line. I can’t remember the last times hopes were this high for the Steelers’ offensive line, and that is due to the investment they have made in a unit that general manager Kevin Colbert used to be accused of neglecting. Since 2010 the Steelers have used two first-round draft picks and two second-rounds selections on their offensive line and three of those players will start this season. The Steelers also hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak last January, and he is expected to bring everything together up front. The first-team offensive line played well in limited snaps in the Steelers’ preseason opener last Saturday night. Now the coaches get to see how it fares against a Bills team that is stout up front and plays a different scheme than what the offense is used to practicing against. The two practices should give the Steelers a better gauge of where they are up front.

Who are a few players on your team that the opposing club might be looking down on the roster to say, "Who is that?"

Rodak: He's been a star of "Hard Knocks," but wide receiver Chris Hogan has been rising steadily since OTAs. At 6-foot-1, Hogan is a former college lacrosse player who brings some toughness to the Bills in the slot. He's not as short and shifty as a prototypical slot man like Wes Welker, but Hogan's hands are among the surest on the team. He also has some speed and can stretch the field vertically. He's been running with the first team and should continue to be in the mix this week. On defense, I'd look out for cornerback Nickell Robey. At 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, he's the smallest player on the team but plays as tough as any defensive back on the roster. Robey went undrafted last season but won the Bills' nickel cornerback job and was part of an underrated defense led by former coordinator Mike Pettine. You might see Robey disrupt the pocket as a blitzer, but he also has a knack for being around the ball, and should make for a compelling, competitive match-up with Lance Moore in the slot.

Brown: The No. 1 player would probably have to be inside linebacker Sean Spence. It was, after all, a preseason game against the Bills almost two years ago when Spence ripped up his left knee and had to be carted off the field. His career hung in the balance in the aftermath of a devastating injury and even his own position coach, Keith Butler, later said it would be a miracle if Spence over played again. But watching Spence during his first camp since that injury you would never be able to tell he had torn several ligaments, dislocated his knee cap and sustained nerve damage. Spence has emerged as one of the storylines of camp, and the 2012 third-rounder could really help the Steelers this season. Bills coaches may also be asking about Jordan Dangerfield even though the hard-hitting safety spent training camp with Buffalo last season. Dangerfield as consistently flashed in practice, and he is among the longshots who appears to be putting themselves in position to make the 53-man roster. The separation among the contenders and pretenders as far as making the team has started this week, and the two practices against the Bills will help the Steelers’ coaches in their evaluations.
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay don’t always agree when evaluating draft-eligible players. But their thinking falls along the same lines when it comes to Steelers fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant.

Kiper listed the former Clemson wide receiver as one five offensive players drafted in the later rounds who could make an immediate impact in the NFL. McShay also said that Bryant has a chance to contribute early for the Steelers.

“He does a really nice job of getting off the line and he’s a vertical route runner,” McShay said. “You’ve got a big, strong-armed quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and you want a guy that can stretch the field vertically. There’s some boom or bust there, but when you get him in the fourth round you’re not worried so much about the risk factor. If he focuses and does all the right things he could wind up being a real steal from this class.”

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesMartavis Bryant's size and speed could help the WR earn plenty of playing time as a rookie.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bryant gives the Steelers the tall wide receiver that the offense has lacked. His 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine as well as his career yards per catch (22.2) at Clemson validate his potential as a big-time deep threat.

And he started only one season at Clemson where first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins overshadowed Bryant, meaning he is far from a finished product -- something that should excite the Steelers’ coaches as well as challenge them.

“He’s what I have been hunting,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “Probably had he played more [at Clemson], stayed for another year, he would have been a first-rounder for sure. I think all that he needs to learn we will teach it to him.”

Bryant slipped to the fourth round of the draft because of concerns about his maturity as well as his inconsistency as a pass-catcher. The Steelers hosted Bryant for a pre-draft visit and were comfortable enough after what they heard from him to think that he will be fine in the right environment.

As for the drops he had in college, Mann said that is something that can be easily corrected and can probably be traced to Bryant’s hand placement or his trying to run before securing a catch.

“He does a really good job of tracking the ball and catching it over the top,” Mann said. “A lot of times guys can’t do it and it’s very hard to teach.”

McShay agreed that Bryant’s ball skills are undeniable.

“He was inconsistent catching the ball but he also makes tough catches,” McShay said, “and he can adjust to the ball below his waist, over his head, behind his body.”

It is way too premature to get overly excited about Bryant, who takes part in the Steelers' three-day rookie minicamp that starts on Friday.

Fred Gibson, the last physically gifted wide receiver that the Steelers drafted in the fourth round (2005), didn’t even make it out of training camp. And for all of the buzz created by the second-round selection of Limas Sweed in 2008, the former Texas standout caught just seven career passes for the Steelers.

Chronic drops were one of the reasons why the Steelers released Sweed in 2011.

One thing that Mann won’t do is speculate on how big of a role Bryant will have in the Steelers’ offense as a rookie. But he also won’t rule out Bryant challenging for the starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

“You have to come in and work because we have other guys in the room,” Mann said. “Potentially he will be a starter, you just never know. You play the best. That’s how you win.”
The first day of the Cleveland Browns draft ended amid jubilation and celebration.

It turned depressing and mysterious before the first player had even been taken on Day 2.

When word broke via ESPN’s Outside the Lines that Josh Gordon was facing a one-year suspension for failing another drug test, the effect was deflating.

Later in the night, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen broke the news that Nate Burleson had a fractured arm and would miss the offseason but would be back for training camp.

If Gordon does miss a year and assuming Burleson returns, the Browns right now have Burleson, Greg Little and Andrew Hawkins as their prime receivers.

General Manager Ray Farmer said he was not concerned about the team’s depth at receiver, though.

“We play games in September,” Farmer said. ”Right now there’s still plenty of opportunities for us to acquire players and to make things happen.”

There’s only one draft, though, and the team’s decision in hindsight to trade down for cornerback Justin Gilbert and not take Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans looms larger if Gordon is suspended. Gordon is the team’s star and playmaker, and the receiving corps would have to depend on guys doing things they haven’t done in the past to succeed.

The Browns didn’t want to comment on Gordon’s situation, and in fairness the league handles the drug-testing program and teams are not supposed to comment on the details.

“Whenever we do have clarity we will express our sentiments then,” Farmer said.

He also did not get into whether he knew about Gordon’s situation but said he drafts based on the team’s draft board and not on need or a player’s health situation.

“We organize the players, we rank them, we stack them and we stick to it,” Farmer said. “We believe that you do the work for a reason. You take the best players available. You establish your team by going through that process in making sure you draft the best guys in how you had them ordered in who are the best players in college football.”

The Browns went through the second day drafting an offensive lineman, a linebacker and a running back, but no receivers. Farmer said that was because of the way the team rated its players.

“We stuck with our board,” Farmer said. “As we looked at that board when it was our turn to select, we took the name that was the best name for us at that time.”

Thus, the Browns passed on Watkins and Evans because they liked Gilbert better. They passed on receivers on the second day because they liked offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, linebacker Christian Kirksey and running back Terrance West better.

The decision may come back to haunt them. In a sense it’s classic hindsight to look back -- except that Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam knew of Gordon’s situation before the draft started, according to Mortensen and ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.

Farmer simply believes he can still address the situation.

“Whether it’s trades, drafting someone the [third] day, players that get cut or we acquire somebody from the street,” Farmer said “there’s always opportunities to acquire players.”

There aren’t a lot of Josh Gordons, and if the Browns lose their top playmaker they may be left trying to win games with potentially a rookie quarterback, and a receiving group without its star.

That could leave the team relying on defense and the run game to win.

It can work, but without Gordon, well, the highs from Manziel sure seemed to dissipate in a hurry.
Without knowing the Josh Gordon situation yesterday, I praised the Cleveland Browns. They got presumably a high first-round pick from the Buffalo Bills and had lots of receivers on the board.

But I didn’t know the information.

Ignoring weapons for your rookie quarterback is a mistake too many teams make. If they knew Gordon wasn’t going to be there because of this possible suspension, that changes my opinion on everything. They should have taken Sammy Watkins and been thrilled about it. I don’t know how you trade away from Watkins.

I understand you probably love Justin Gilbert, although I thought they overspent on him. If you know Gordon may not be available and you bring in a rookie quarterback, who is he going to throw to? That’s poor planning in my opinion with a ton of picks.

I know they’re high on Andrew Hawkins, and he’s a good pick-up, but he’s a slot receiver and won’t be the featured guy. I doubt they’re super excited about Greg Little.

As far as the second round, I really like Joel Bitonio. I think that offensive line was one player away, and he’s it. He could be a right tackle or play either guard position, maybe center although they don’t need a center. I would assume he’ll be one of the starting guards immediately.

I think Chris Kirksey will be a true second-level defender, and he could be maybe Karlos Dansby's heir apparent. I would think he’ll be an immediate special teams stud.

Nothing against him, but of all the picks they made, to me that’s the one that definitely should have been a receiver. You’re really ignoring wide receiver when there are a lot of guys there who could help. A guy who is still out there and I like a lot is Bruce Ellington. He’s very, very small, but he’s a former point guard and plays that way. Real shifty, real explosive. Surprised he hasn’t gotten picked.

As far as Terrance West, he’s a bigger back, a decisive runner who fits the new blocking scheme well because he runs downhill and gets his pads square. When Ben Tate is your No. 1 back you have to worry about durability. So West may play a lot.

I understand storing away that Bills’ first-round pick. I don’t think anyone thinks the Browns are going to win the Super Bowl, so continue to build for tomorrow. Let’s say Johnny Manziel is a total bust, well they have their pick and the Bills’ pick so they could possibly move up. Nice fall-back option if your rookie quarterback is trouble.

But I can’t get around the fact they’re weak at receiver.

Analyzing McShay mock: Steelers 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick of the NFL draft and it seems likely they will select a cornerback or a wide receiver in the first round.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay plays general manager for every team in his latest mock draft , pairing players with teams based on what he thinks are the best fits, not how he sees the first round unfolding in two weeks.

Josh Gordon said it early in the day on ESPN's "SportsCenter." He said it as the day continued. And he reiterated it late in the day in an interview with He expects the Cleveland Browns to take a quarterback with the fourth pick in May's draft.

“I don't think Ray Farmer wants to miss out on a quarterback pick,” Gordon said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

Which in words is a slight upgrade from him saying earlier in the day that he was “pretty sure” it would be a quarterback. (Then again ... Gordon also was quick to say Farmer had texted during the day to keep folks guessing.)

Gordon was not saying Farmer told him anything. Just that he had talked with the Browns GM, and after the talks he feels the Browns are leaning toward the passer. To the point that when the possibility of drafting wide receiver Sammy Watkins was mentioned, Gordon talked as if he'd be the 26th overall pick, not the fourth.

“It would be great to have him, if he lasts that long,” Gordon said.

The three quarterbacks Gordon mentioned as possibilities were Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Derek Carr of Fresno State.

This is either the greatest smokescreen in draft history, a player just expressing his opinion or a clue to the Browns plans.

Given Farmer's stated belief in keeping others around the league guessing, it might seem more smokescreen than clue. But Gordon is not just another guy on the team. He spent Thursday on several shows with interviews at ESPN. Late in the day he said the Browns need a quarterback and Brian Hoyer can win.

“Both are true," he said. “We need a quarterback for sure. We only have one on the roster (actually two, Hoyer and Alex Tanney), and you never want to go through that battle of attrition -- like last year.”

He called the quarterback carousel of 2013 “extremely frustrating,” and sounded like a guy anxious to settle in with a guy. He also sounded more concerned about Hoyer's return from a torn ACL than many others.

“It's never something I'd want to rush on anybody,” he said. “That can ruin a career. He can do it on the field, but at the same time you've got to be looking for the future and longevity.”

Gordon may have been thinking of his friend and former college teammate at Baylor who came back too soon, Robert Griffin III of Washington. Gordon supports Hoyer if he's healthy, and appreciates the notion of Hoyer throwing to him and Watkins.

To a point.

“There's more than enough balls to go around,” Gordon said. “The more weapons you have on offense, the harder it is for the defense to key in on one guy. But first and foremost, we need to solidify a quarterback back there.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers used a third-round pick last year on Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton, and I'm starting to wonder if they will give serious consideration to adding his college teammate via the draft.

To do that the Steelers will have to spend their first-round pick on Brandin Cooks even though he would do anything but add size to their receiving corps.

Cooks measured in at just 5-foot-9 3/4 at the NFL scouting combine in February but he also wowed teams in Indianapolis by running a blistering 4.33 in the 40-yard dash.

Take that eye-popping time, Cooks' production in college -- he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last season -- and his swagger and there is a lot to like about this guy.

Speed, after all, wasn't the only thing that Cooks displayed at the combine. He called himself the best wide receiver in the draft and explained from where such confidence emanates.

"Numbers don't lie and I feel like no one is out there working harder than me," Cooks said. "I have a lot to prove. They say I'm not the tallest but I feel like there's so many guys in this game today that are potential Hall of Famers like Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson. I can go down the list and there's under 5-10 [players] that are great receivers in this game. For me, I'm a playmaker.”

Cooks has a believer in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Kiper ranks Cooks as the No. 3 wide receiver in the draft behind only Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans -- the two players Cooks beat out for the Biletnikoff Award in 2013 -- and the 15th-best player overall.

Kiper has compared Cooks to Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft, but said Cooks is quicker, stronger and a little bigger than Austin.

Kiper has the Ravens taking Cooks at No. 17 overall in his latest mock draft. But the Steelers could give him serious consideration at No. 15 depending on how the draft shakes out before they make their first pick.

I'm all for the Steelers adding a tall receiver to the offense but it doesn't look like the 6-foot-5 Evans will last until the 15th pick of the draft. And the Steelers are setting themselves up to make a mistake if they place too much of a premium on height when assigning draft grades to wide receivers.

As Cooks said, "Speed kills and I feel like that's what I'm going to bring to the game."

Combine Five, No. 5: Sammy Watkins

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
Player: Sammy Watkins (going in alphabetical order)

Position/College: Wide receiver, Clemson

Combine impression (1-10, 10 the best): Nine.

Likelihood he’s there at Browns' fourth pick: 70 percent.

Other teams interested: St. Louis, Jacksonville.

The skinny: Fast guys run fast when given a chance just to run.

That’s exactly what Watkins did at the combine, as he blistered the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. Not surprising, but it is impressive.

Watkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney are clearly the most talented players in this draft. The only reason they may not go one-two is they don't play quarterback.

That doesn't mean Watkins can't have a huge impact on a game or a team. He has the quickness to turn a bubble screen into a big gain, and the arms and hands to make big catches downfield.

Speed kills, as Jimmy Johnson always said, and Watkins has that speed -- as well as the ability to play receiver.

“Any time you can add somebody to your team who can score points and make explosive plays, that's what the NFL is all about," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “You have to have players who when they get their hands on the ball are special, and I think he falls into that category."

To understand the impact Watkins can make as he grows, think Josh Gordon. Watkins does not have Gordon's size, but he has more quickness and as much speed. The potential for the Browns to have two playmakers like that on opposite sides of the field is immense.

Watkins has been compared to A.J. Green, which really ought to be enough for anyone to make a judgment on how good he is. If Watkins is 80 percent the talent and professional of Green, he'll have an excellent NFL career.

Watkins knows he’s fast, but he also knows he’ll have to improve as a route runner in the NFL. He has to be tempting to the Browns at the fourth overall pick.

It’s possible the Browns may feel there are many talented receivers in the draft who can be taken later than the fourth pick, and that’s fine.
But it won’t diminish the impact Watkins will have on the team that does draft him.

The others: Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles.

WR Bryant could be a fit for Steelers

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers almost certainly won't get a chance to draft Sammy Watkins.

But the other wide receiver from Clemson could be a possibility in the second round if the Steelers address a different position with the 15th overall pick.

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesWR Martavis Bryant finished his three-year Clemson career with 1,354 yards and 13 touchdowns.
ESPN draft analysts Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl wrote that Martavis Bryant was among the wide receivers who helped themselves at the NFL combine, and indeed he posted impressive measurables across the board.

Bryant checked in at 6-4 and 211 pounds, and he ran an official 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds, tied for fifth and a tick better than the more celebrated Watkins.

Bryant further flashed his athleticism by tying for sixth among wide receivers in the vertical jump (39 inches) and tying for eighth in the broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches).

Here is what Muench and Weidl wrote as part of a report Insider on the running backs and wide receivers following the physical tests:
Bryant dealt with a few focus drops throughout the season, and being more of straight-line receiver, he wasn't an ideal fit within the Clemson offense. However, he has an intriguing skill set that translates well and could bring strong return in the fringe Day 2 range for teams like the Ravens, Steelers, Lions and Panthers who are looking for a vertical threat to team up with a strong-armed quarterback.

Bryant appears to have a ton of upside, and he set a Clemson record by averaging 22.2 yards per reception during his career. But he played sparingly his first two seasons at Clemson and didn’t start until 2013 when he caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns.

Questions teams such as the Steelers will have to answer when evaluating Bryant: Did his supreme physical skills not translate into more production at Clemson because he was overshadowed by DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round pick last year, and Watkins?

Also is Bryant’s best football ahead of him or are his measurables more of a tease than an indicator of success in the NFL?

Bryant, who has been training with Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter in Florida, was asked by reporters in Indianapolis what strengths he will take to the next level.

"Great speed off the ball. Good hands," he said. "I love to run past defenses after catching the ball."

Watkins has interviewed with Browns

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Sammy Watkins is not short of confidence.

The Clemson wide receiver, who said he hopes to break the Combine record in the 40-yard dash, said the Cleveland Browns drafting him with the fourth overall pick would be a “great decision.”

OK, then.

The Browns clearly have interest in Watkins. Coach Mike Pettine gushed about him, and Watkins said he had informal and formal interviews with the team's coaching staff. Watkins is well aware that in Cleveland he’d share the field with Josh Gordon, but he’s very comfortable with the idea.

“I think Josh Gordon is probably one of the top receivers in the NFL,” Watkins said. “He led receivers this year with 1,700 yards. I’d kind of take the pressure off of him with being double-covered or them flipping coverage to his side. It’d be a nightmare for (defenses) to match up.”

Watkins said he can line up anywhere -- including running back -- and he can run any route, though there are many ways he can improve. He’s probably the fastest draftable player, and has unique quickness.

At just over six feet, he does not have Gordon’s size, but his hands and physical play and speed have many teams talking.

“I think I can run by just about anybody,” he said. “That’s my objective. That’s my motive. ... That’s what type of guy I am. I think I can score on just about any play.”
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine emphasized that he doesn’t believe the team absolutely needs to draft a quarterback in the Top 10 to win.

That and some glowing words about Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins highlighted Pettine’s meeting with the media at the NFL combine.

“We’re not locked into saying we have to take a quarterback early in the draft,” Pettine said Saturday. “Look at the final four in the NFL last year. You had s sixth-round pick, which is an absolute anomaly, in [Tom] Brady, and the first pick in the draft in Peyton Manning. Then you saw that the Niners and the Seahawks did it going another way. I think there’s a lot of different ways to win in this league.”

That being said, Pettine admitted that quarterback is a priority for the Browns (as is running back). Which leaves the Browns 10 weeks to decide if they want to take a quarterback or another position fourth overall. He said he wants an all-weather team with an all-weather quarterback, but he said the player doesn’t have to fit a mold.

“When I looked at Kyle’s background, he was able to succeed with a Matt Schaub and an RG III,” Pettine said, referring to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “I don’t think you can be further apart on the spectrum of a skill set. That gives me confidence that whoever we take, whoever ends up fitting that position, will be a player who gives us the best chance to win.”

He did not get into specifics about any of the quarterbacks, saying he hadn’t studied enough. But one player he did discuss was Sammy Watkins, the fleet receiver from Clemson.

“Explosive athlete,” he said “Any time you can add somebody to your team who can score points and make explosive plays, that’s what the NFL is all about. Being a defensive coach, you think about playing great defense and running the football. I don’t think you can win that way anymore in the NFL. You have to have players who when they get their hands on the ball are special, and I think he falls into that category.”

Does he worry about keeping everyone happy if Watkins were to join Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in the Browns receiving corps?

“That’s the last thing I worry about,” he said emphatically. “It’s the last thing. You can’t have enough explosive athletes that can score points for you. You can’t have enough. If that’s our biggest problem is worrying about it, then where do I sign up.”
Sammy WatkinsJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson receiver Sammy Watkins had 12 touchdowns on 101 catches last season.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The accolades flow freely and easily.

The talent that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins brings to the NFL is rare, which would also make it special.

Greg Cosell, a guy who is as good as anyone at projecting college players to the NFL, tweeted that Watkins is the “best WR prospect since A.J. Green (and) Julio Jones.”

And Mike Mayock of the NFL Network couldn’t stop gushing when asked about Watkins in a recent conference call.

“He’s got a little attitude about him,” Mayock said. “He blocks people. You can see him getting (angry) during games and going after corners and safeties and linebackers.

“So he’s got an attitude like he wants to be the best player there is, and when you combine that with his physical ability I think it’s awesome.”

In the NFL, receivers aren’t supposed to go Top 10. But the last time the pundits gushed this much about a receiver coming out of college was when Calvin Johnson left Georgia Tech. That hype also came from the pro scouts and GMs themselves. Every one said Johnson would change the game. He has. Just as Green has changed the Bengals.

Which leads to the inevitable question facing any team picking in the top five of this year’s draft: Why not Sammy Watkins?

Count the Cleveland Browns among the teams facing that question.

If a team can pair a guy compared to A.J. Green with Josh Gordon, why not do it? Imagine the nightmares for defensive coordinators, especially when the ability of tight end Jordan Cameron is added to the equation. The Browns would have two guys who could break a big play at any time.

Watkins had 3,391 receiving yards in three seasons at Clemson, including 12 touchdowns on 101 catches last season. He runs a 10.5 100-meter dash, he’s 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and claims he ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at Clemson (yes, take that time with a grain of salt).

He’s amazingly quick. He has good hands. He plays football.

“What makes him such a great football player? It's all the other elements," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not his height, weight, speed. It's all the other stuff that's part of his makeup, his gifts.”

Taking him with the No. 4 pick would mean passing on a quarterback in the top three, but the unmistakeable buzz at the combine this week from NFL coaches and GMs is that they are wary of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class.

All have ability, but all have questions -- to the point that many wonder if they will be selected high, not because they are dominant players, but because they play quarterback.

The questions, too, seem legitimate, beyond the annual rite of finding something wrong with every draftable player.

Johnny Manziel is hit or miss, too small or flawed fundamentally with his whirling dervish moves that worked in college but might not work in the NFL.

Teddy Bridgewater's lean frame brings his durability into question, and his arm motion is a little quirky.

Blake Bortles has the size and arm strength, but he needs a couple years to develop.

They’re all “yeah, but” guys similar to the quarterback class that included Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert going in the first round -- not because they were the best players to take at those spots, but because they were quarterbacks.

Do the Browns want to roll the dice with the fourth pick with a guy who has legitimate questions?

Teams spend hours studying players and going over reams of information, then when they get to the draft they go away from their philosophy of best player available because a guy plays quarterback. NFL teams constantly tout “innovation” and “innovative thinking,” yet rebel against Watkins because the Browns have Gordon.

Having two outstanding receivers would spread the field, open up things for a running back, help an efficient quarterback like Brian Hoyer. A quarterback selected 26th or in the second or third rounds could be groomed to follow a guy like Hoyer.

It might mean something or nothing, but the Browns met or will meet with two quarterbacks expected to be taken later in the draft: Northern Illinois’s Jordan Lynch and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Browns aren’t tipping their hand, and the draft is 10 weeks away. Watkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina are considered instant hits.

Clowney would be tough to pass up.

Watkins should be.
There's agreement on the Cleveland Browns' two first-round picks in the second mock drafts of ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

Both agree the Browns will take a quarterback with the first pick (fourth overall) and a receiver with the second pick (26th overall). They both even agree on the receiver.

All of the picks make sense, and it's tough to argue them -- provided you share the belief the Browns pick a quarterback first. I don't. I'd take Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and at some point I'd take Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, perhaps in the second round. Kiper and McShay disagree.

Kiper has the Browns Insider taking Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the fourth overall selection.

Kiper opines that with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, the Browns have players to help a young quarterback. He calls Bridgewater the guy who "has a lot of traits that translate to early success."

Johnny Manziel is not available in Kiper's draft when the Browns pick. He is in McShay's draft, Insider but McShay has the Browns taking Blake Bortles of Central Florida.

His analysis might not exactly thrill fans, though, as he writes the Browns could wind up with a receiver and could pass on Bortles because he's not the most stout guy. He also has qualifiers about his ability.

"He will not wow scouts with a big-time arm, and, like most young quarterbacks, he can become more consistent with his decision-making," McShay writes. "However, Bortles does have enough arm strength to make all the NFL throws, and unlike many college QBs I study on tape, Bortles sees the entire field, stands strong in the pocket and shows the ability to go through NFL-type progressions."

Kiper and McShay both have the Browns taking Fresno State receiver Davante Adams (6-foot-4 and 228 pounds) with the pick they acquired from Indianapolis for Trent Richardson.

Kiper calls Adams "a strong receiver who will make plays in traffic and beat defenders for the ball on contested throws." McShay calls Adams "a very good complement to Gordon and a nice weapon for Bortles," whom he has the Browns taking first.

Adams is a redshirt sophomore who declared early. He's big and strong but isn't the fastest.

Physically, he resembles Greg Little. But unlike Little, who spent one season at receiver and didn't play his senior year due to NCAA violations, Adams' production in college was impressive. In 2012, he had 102 receptions for 1,312 yards. In 2013, he led the nation in receptions (131), receiving yards (1,719) and touchdowns (24).

Clearly those are some impressive numbers.
Here is the latest edition of the Steelers' mailbag. Any questions that I received but did not answer here are at the top of the list for next week. Great questions again, and please keep them coming. Send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with hashtag #steelersmail.