AFC North: Shaun Rogers

Outside linebacker Keith Rivers, who was traded today to the New York Giants for a fifth-round pick, wasn't the only disappointment in the Bengals' 2008 draft class.

Cincinnati failed to find a long-term impact player out of its 10 picks that year. Rivers, the ninth overall pick in the 2008 draft, finished with the most starts in this class with 33, and the only players that remain with the team are two backups: defensive tackle Pat Sims (third round), and offensive tackle Anthony Collins (fourth round).

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson (second round) produced a career-high 50 catches last season as the team's No. 2 wide receiver, but he now faces 15 days in a Kentucky jail after pleading guilty to a drug charge. The Bengals haven't ruled out bringing him back.

Wide receiver Andre Caldwell (third round) showed promise in 2009 when he made a career-best 51 catches. But he followed that up with a combined 61 receptions the past two seasons. Caldwell signed this offseason with the Denver Broncos.

There were two players -- defensive tackle Jason Shirley (fifth round) and safety Corey Lynch (sixth round) -- who played a handful of games for Cincinnati before going elsewhere for reserve roles. Shirley played last season for Carolina, and Lynch was with Tampa Bay.

The last three players taken in the Bengals' 2008 draft -- tight end Matt Sherry (sixth), defensive end Angelo Craig (seventh) and wide receiver Mario Urritia (seventh) -- never played a regular-season game for Cincinnati and are out of the league.

In comparison, the Ravens drafted quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice that season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers selected running back Rashard Mendenhall. Even the Browns, who had limited picks after trading for Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, got underrated defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin in the sixth round.

Grading the Browns' 2008 draft

May, 10, 2011
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It's often said that it's unfair to grade a draft class in the NFL until you've had three full seasons to evaluate the body of work.

Therefore, this week in the AFC North blog we will take a look at the 2008 draft classes in the division and provide a letter grade. Tuesday we start with the Cleveland Browns.

Draft picks: LB Beau Bell (fourth round), TE Martin Rucker (fourth), DT Ahtyba Rubin (sixth), WR Paul Hubbard (sixth), LB Alex Hall (seventh)

Analysis: This was the final draft of former general manager Phil Savage's tenure in Cleveland, and it turned out to be a bad one. The Browns were coming off a successful 10-6 season in 2007 and had high expectations. Savage made a risky move by trading away all his top picks in 2008 in a draft-day deal for quarterback Brady Quinn the year prior and offseason trades to get defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. To some degree, you must consider those players in this equation. But none worked out besides one productive season from Rogers. Of the five picks, only Rubin panned out and is still with the team. He is now Cleveland's best defensive lineman, which prevents this draft from being a complete disaster.

AFC North blog draft grade: D+

On Wednesday we will take a look at the 2008 draft of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Phil TaylorJerry Lai/US PresswireCleveland acquired additional picks Thursday and also drafted Baylor DT Phil Taylor at No. 21.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns had an opportunity to make an immediate splash Thursday with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft. Instead, Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert and president Mike Holmgren opted for longevity instead of immediate gratification.

First, they traded their sixth pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for five draft picks. Then, the Browns moved back up from No. 27 to No. 21 to select Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor in the first round. Cleveland also gave up its third-rounder (No. 70 overall) to the Kansas City Chiefs to make the move.

Although Taylor is not the huge splash the Browns' faithful had hoped for in this draft, credit Cleveland's regime for thinking about the big picture.

In all, the wheeling and dealing gave the Browns four additional picks over the next two years. That totals an astounding 18 picks in the next two drafts, giving Cleveland a chance to infuse youth and talent into a struggling franchise.

"We thought if something was really, really intriguing to us to add more players, we'd do it," Heckert explained of the deal. "We're not saying we're one player away. There were some good players there [at No. 6], but it turns out what we got in return we feel very good about."

Heckert admitted Thursday night what we already knew: Cleveland has a long road ahead to build its roster into a contender. But credit the Browns' front office for making that honest assessment.

The Browns are not close to supplanting the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, and they're not going to make a run to the Super Bowl this season. But this trade helps put Cleveland in position to build a solid foundation.

Cleveland got off to a good start with the 2010 draft. The Browns drafted cornerback Joe Haden in the first round, safety T.J. Ward in the second and quarterback Colt McCoy in the third. All three players developed into starters.

Last year's draft was the first of the Holmgren-Heckert partnership. Both are proven winners with a lengthy track records and experience. They are eager to acquire additional picks and are confident their front office and scouting staff knows what to do with them.

"Tom Heckert is the real deal," Holmgren said recently. "The people that work with him, our personnel department, they do their jobs and they do them very well. If I put on my coach hat for a moment, that's a real encouragement to Pat [Shurmur] and the coaches."

In Taylor, the Browns feel they drafted a potential starter at No. 21. The team cut former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers this offseason, and the 337-pound Taylor fills a huge need with Cleveland switching to a 4-3 defense. He recorded 87 tackles and 2.5 sacks in two years at Baylor.

The AFC North is arguably the most physical division in football, and the Browns hope defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Taylor will prevent Cleveland from getting gashed up the middle of the defense. The Ravens (Ray Rice), Steelers (Rashard Mendenhall) and Cincinnati Bengals (Cedric Benson) all had 1,000-yard running backs last season.

"I'm a great run-stopping defensive tackle, and I get a good pass rush as well," Taylor said Thursday night. "I played in the 4-3 my whole college career."

"We're going to be very tough inside," Heckert added.

With the Atlanta trade, the Browns will have two second-round picks Friday and a chance to add more building blocks.

"We have an opportunity in this draft to get more good players," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said. "We're one more player better, and that's the approach. If you don't sense the excitement in my voice, it's there. We really feel we got a good player."

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 10, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore's offensive line gradually fell apart as the 2010 season progressed, and it affected both the running and passing game. That is why the Ravens' biggest need entering next month's draft is offensive tackle. The Ravens tried Marshal Yanda, Tony Moll and Oniel Cousins at right tackle and never found the right combination to pair with Michael Oher. Even Oher struggled at times on the left side. If the Ravens are fortunate enough to find a true left tackle in the draft with the No. 26 pick, they could put Oher back at right tackle, where he thrived as a rookie.

Pass rush is a concern but not nearly as pressing. Some mock drafts also have the Ravens taking a cornerback. Josh Wilson and Chris Carr are both free agents. But if one or both were re-signed, I think the Ravens would feel more comfortable with their secondary than people think. Starter Domonique Foxworth is returning from a knee injury, and Lardarius Webb still has room for growth.

Cincinnati Bengals

When you're picking so high in the draft, you have a variety of needs. The Bengals own the No. 4 overall pick -- the highest in the AFC North -- and could go several ways.

Currently, most of the attention has been put on Cincinnati's quarterback position after Carson Palmer's threat to retire. The Bengals say they're taking this situation seriously, and speculation has increased that they might be interested in Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who reportedly will hold a private workout for Cincinnati.

But unless the Bengals are 100 percent certain they will trade Palmer or he will retire, they may want to address other needs in the first round, like the defensive line. Cincinnati needs more help with its pass rush up front. The Bengals can always come back and draft "Palmer insurance" in the second round. Prospects include Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Florida State's Christian Ponder or TCU's Andy Dalton.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns' two biggest needs are wide receiver and defensive line, and they could really be 1A and 1B. Cleveland could have a chance to improve both positions with the No. 6 overall pick.

Cleveland's passing game needs help. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy had no one to throw the ball to last season. That really showed in the final two games, when the stiff defenses of the Ravens and Steelers put a hurting on McCoy. A legitimate No. 1 threat like A.J. Green could be just what they need in rookie head coach Pat Shurmur's new West Coast offense.

Defensively, Cleveland is very thin on the defensive line. There are very good prospects this year at defensive end and defensive tackle in the top 10, and the Browns could have their choice of several. Cleveland is switching to a 4-3 defense, where the linemen in the trenches are very important. If the Browns don't patch up their defensive line, they could get run over this season in this physical division.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has very few holes to fill, and its needs are clear-cut. The team could use an upgrade and depth at cornerback and the offensive line.

Although not by much, the need at cornerback is probably more pressing, especially if the Steelers can't re-sign No. 1 cornerback Ike Taylor. The lack of depth in Pittsburgh's secondary was exposed in Super Bowl XLV, as the Green Bay Packers used three- and four-receiver sets to pick apart Dick LeBeau's defense. Opponents will continue to follow that blueprint until Pittsburgh finds a counter, and it starts with getting better cornerbacks.

The offensive line has been an issue for years. Pittsburgh could use help at either guard or tackle. The Steelers hit big last year in the first round with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. Another blue-chip lineman could go a long way toward helping get the Steelers back in title contention.

Morning take: Foxworth's progress

February, 16, 2011
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth says his knee is progressing well.
Morning take: Foxworth would be a good addition to Baltimore's secondary next season if healthy. His progress could prevent the Ravens from having to fill one need via the draft or free agency.

  • Former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Shaun Rogers says he played hurt last season against his agent's advice.
Morning take: There are some words going back and forth between the Browns and Rogers now that he's been released. But it's probably best both sides move on.
Morning take: LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor are the two big names as starters on defense. The Steelers will make a push for both once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, while giving Woodley the franchise tag in the meantime.

  • Cincinnati Bengals tailback and pending free agent Cedric Benson likes what he's hearing from new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Morning take: It's no secret Benson was not a fan of former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Gruden intends to pound the ball, which increases the likelihood of Benson returning.

Could Shaun Rogers replace Haynesworth?

February, 11, 2011
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As expected, it didn't take long for former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Shaun Rogers to get interest as an unrestricted free agent. After getting released by Cleveland earlier this week, Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com reports the Washington Redskins are already showing interest in the three-time Pro Bowler.

Washington is in need of a defensive tackle after dealing with the Albert Haynesworth fiasco. Haynesworth was involved in a public feud with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and was eventually suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Washington's immediate interest in Rogers is a sign the team is searching for a replacement.

When healthy and motivated, Rogers is one of the NFL's most dominant defensive linemen. He had his best year in 2008 with Cleveland under former head coach Romeo Crennel but had two lackluster seasons under former Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Rogers was the biggest name of the six players released by the Browns on Wednesday.

Browns clean house

February, 9, 2011
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New Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur made his first major step of the offseason.

The Browns cut six veterans Wednesday: tight end Robert Royal, offensive tackle John St. Clair, defensive lineman Shaun Rogers and Kenyon Coleman and linebackers David Bowens and Eric Barton. Most were considered "Eric Mangini guys." Mangini was fired recently after back-to-back 5-11 seasons.

"We kind of had a feeling that with a new regime that Cleveland wanted to go with younger players," said Bowens' agent Harold Lewis. "David was Eric’s guy and [former defensive coordinator] Rob Ryan’s guy, so it’s not a surprise."

Cleveland is looking to start a new rebuilding phase under Shurmur. Cleveland will transition to a West Coast offense and a 4-3 defense next season.

All of these players are now unrestricted free agents.
We have additional injury updates on the AFC North rivalry game between the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) and Cleveland Browns (5-10).

Both Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles) and Browns tailback Peyton Hillis (ribs) are listed as questionable. Polamalu returned to practice Friday for the first time in weeks to test his Achilles, and the team felt good enough to give him a 50-percent chance of playing in Cleveland. Hillis rested his rib injury this week, but Browns coach Eric Mangini expects his leading rusher to play.

Also from the injury report, Steelers running back Mewelde Moore (knee) is out. Cleveland starting guard Floyd Womack (knee) and defensive linemen Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip) and Kenyon Coleman (knee) are questionable.

AFC North evening links

October, 18, 2010
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Here are the latest happenings Monday evening in the AFC North:

Seven-step drop: Colt McCoy aftermath

October, 18, 2010
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 6 in the AFC North:
    [+] EnlargeColt McCoy
    Icon SMIBrowns rookie QB Colt McCoy held his own in his NFL debut against a tough Steelers defense.

  • I've seen a lot of quarterback debuts up close as a former Cleveland Browns beat writer, and Colt McCoy's first NFL start was the best of the group. McCoy, Cleveland's 16th starting quarterback since 1999, threw for 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1). McCoy took a pounding and made rookie mistakes. But he also showed toughness, leadership and good accuracy. What does this all mean? Until Seneca Wallace (ankle) or Jake Delhomme (ankle) are 100 percent healthy, McCoy deserves at least one more start. After this Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, the Browns (1-5) can evaluate two of McCoy's games against the starts of Wallace and Delhomme and then figure their direction at quarterback.
  • Last year I thought cornerback Eric Wright was one of the Browns' more improved players. But Cleveland's No. 1 cornerback has regressed, allowing too many big plays. Wright gave up two more touchdown passes Sunday to Steelers receivers Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Wright has allowed five passing touchdowns combined in division games against Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens. It's hard to win when your top cover corner is this inconsistent. With No. 7 overall pick Joe Haden waiting in the wings, this could be one position Cleveland considers a lineup change after the bye.
  • In the Steelers' previous game against Cleveland, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times. But Roethlisberger wasn't sacked once by the Browns on Sunday. I have been critical of the offensive line in the past, but new offensive line coach Sean Kuglar has his unit playing very well this season. Drafting center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round provided stability in the middle and helped make the other four linemen better. Roethlisberger took some hits and had to throw the ball away several times. But overall he had enough time to throw downfield.
  • The Steelers were very defensive after the game about linebacker James Harrison's two hits on Cleveland receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. Both of Harrison's hits were blows to the head and knocked Cribbs and Massaquoi out of the game with apparent concussions. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin firmly believes both shots were clean, and Harrison doesn't think he should be fined. In my view, the second hit on Massaquoi will catch the league's attention more than the first hit. Neither play drew a flag.
  • There are two AFC North players to keep an eye on with the NFL's trade deadline approaching Tuesday. In Cleveland, defensive lineman Shaun Rogers is a player I'm hearing rumblings about. Rogers curiously didn't play much against Pittsburgh despite some injuries along Cleveland's defensive line. Also, Ravens tailback Willis McGahee is another possibility. Because of injuries, there are several teams (Green Bay Packers?) that need a starting running back. The Ravens have a surplus and might be able to sell high.
  • Although just an educated guess, I believe last year's playoff victory had a lot to do with Baltimore's strategy to play conservatively late in Sunday's overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Once they got the lead, the Ravens did a great job of taking the air out of the football in last year's 33-14 victory against New England. They were the more physical team by a wide margin, and those memories probably made Baltimore believe it could physically dominate and run out the clock again. Instead, the Ravens gave up key possessions and allowed New England to overcome a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
  • Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons could be the biggest game of the Bengals' 2010 season. A loss would drop Cincinnati to 2-4 in a very tough division and deep AFC. Although the season is still young, that might be a deficit too big to overcome. But a quality win would put the Bengals at 3-3 and right back in the mix. Either way, Cincinnati had the bye week to correct its issues.

AFC North injury report

October, 1, 2010
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Here is the Week 4 injury report for the AFC North (all times are ET):

Baltimore Ravens (2-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0), Sunday at 1 p.m.

Ravens

Out: OT Jared Gaither (back), WR Donte' Stallworth (foot), LB Tavares Gooden (shoulder)

Questionable: LB Edgar Jones (thigh), OL Tony Moll (hip), DL Cory Redding (head), RB Ray Rice (knee)

Probable: C Matt Birk (back), CB Chris Carr (thigh), OL Chris Chester (back), TE Todd Heap (shoulder), LB Jarret Johnson (back)

Steelers

Out: QB Dennis Dixon (knee), OL Trai Essex (ankle), DL Chris Hoke (knee)

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-3), Sunday at 1 p.m.

Bengals

Out: DE Jonathan Fanene (hamstring)

Questionable: DE Antwan Odom (wrist), LB Keith Rivers (foot), WR Jordan Shipley (shoulder)

Probable: RB Cedric Benson (knee), CB Adam Jones (shoulder), WR Terrell Owens (back), FB/LB Dan Skuta (ankle)

Browns

Doubtful: DB Derrick Roberson (hip), OL John St. Clair (ankle)

Questionable: DE Kenyon Coleman (knee), QB Jake Delhomme (ankle), OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle), WR Brian Robiskie (hamstring), DL Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip), DL Robaire Smith (back)

Probable: LB Marcus Benard (ankle), RB James Davis (thigh), RB Jerome Harrison (thigh), OT Joe Thomas (elbow), LB Jason Trusnik (head), FB Lawrence Vickers (groin)

Morning take: Tomlin vs. Morris

September, 26, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC North: Morning take: Tomlin and Morris spent time coming up together as young assistants in Tampa. Each coach has to be proud of the other for the great job they're doing this season.
Morning take: This will mark Jimmy Clausen's first NFL start for the Panthers. The Bengals will look to rattle an opposing quarterback for the second straight week.
Morning take: Starting the season with two road games is tough, and that's certainly been the case for Flacco. I expect a bounce-back game from the third-year quarterback.
Morning take: Odds do not look good. The Browns were double-digit underdogs entering the week and recent scratches Shaun Rogers and Brian Robiskie do not help.

Browns put LB D'Qwell Jackson on IR

September, 25, 2010
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The Cleveland Browns put linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on injured reserve Saturday, ending his 2010 season.

Jackson injured his pectoral muscle during training camp. He tried to return to practice this week but didn't feel comfortable. Jackson suffered a different pectoral injury last year that also knocked him out for the season. The Browns signed receiver Sam Aiken with the open roster spot.

Cleveland also downgraded receiver Brian Robiskie (hamstring) and defensive lineman Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip) to "out" for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Receiver Josh Cribbs also was downgraded to "questionable" with an ankle injury.

A look inside AFC North injuries

September, 16, 2010
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Here is a look at the key injuries in the AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens (1-0)

Opponent: at Bengals

Inside key injuries: Things are looking promising for cornerback Lardarius Webb, who is coming off major knee surgery but isn't listed on this week's injury report. It looks like there's a good chance he will make his 2010 debut Sunday against Cincinnati. A lot of Ravens are limited in practice, but key members such as linebacker Ray Lewis (foot), receiver Anquan Boldin (thigh), and tight end Todd Heap (shoulder) say they will play. Rookie defensive lineman Terrence Cody is trying to work his way back from knee surgery, but his status remains up in the air. Also, a new injury popped up as linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) missed practice Thursday.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

Opponent: Ravens

Inside key injuries: The Bengals are pretty healthy going into their big game against Baltimore. The exception is defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (hamstring), who missed his second straight practice and likely won't play Sunday against the Ravens. Linebacker Keith Rivers, who hurt his foot in Week 1, returned to practice on a limited bases Thursday. But I'm hearing Rivers expects to play barring any major setbacks. Running back Cedric Benson (shoulder), receiver Andre Caldwell (groin) and cornerback Brandon Ghee (head) are all fully participating in practice, as well as running back Brian Leonard (foot), who should return this week.

Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

Inside key injuries: The big injury here is starting quarterback Jake Delhomme, who missed his second straight practice with an ankle injury. I saw Delhomme hobbling into the locker room with a boot Wednesday. I’m not a doctor. But based on my own eyes, I expect backup quarterback Seneca Wallace to play unless Delhomme forces himself to suit up Sunday at less than 100 percent. After watching Delhomme play hurt the entire second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, starting a hurt Delhomme is risky. Browns coach Eric Mangini said he will decide later in the week. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers also missed his second practice with an old (ankle) and new (hip) injury. He only played limited snaps last week. Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson could try to return to practice on Friday, but the team wants to be careful with his pectoral injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

Opponent: at Tennessee Titans (1-0)

Inside key injuries: Starting left tackle Max Starks (ankle) will not play Sunday, which likely leaves backup Jonathan Scott protecting Dennis Dixon's blind side. But Starks' injury isn't as bad as originally projected, so there's a chance he could return within the next couple of weeks. Another injury to watch is Pittsburgh Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton. He didn't play in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons because of a hamstring injury. Hampton is questionable for Sunday. The Steelers could use him to help stuff Titans Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson.

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