AFC North: Syndric Steptoe

Browns, Steelers make early cuts

September, 3, 2010
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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns moved one step closer to trimming their final rosters down to 53 players Friday evening.

Pittsburgh announced 10 cuts. They included receiver Brandon London, running back Justin Vincent, linebacker Renauld Williams, defensive tackle Scott Paxson, long snapper Matt Stewart, safety Justin Thornton, offensive linemen Dorian Brooks and Kyle Jolly, and tight ends Sean McHugh and Eugene Bright.

The Browns released six players: cornerback Coye Francies, tight end Joel Gamble, offensive linemen Casey Bender and Joel Reinders, and receivers Syndric Steptoe and Jake Allen.

Final cuts have to be made by 6 p.m. Saturday.
A lot has been made of the Cleveland Browns' recent acquisition of veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme. But perhaps an even bigger question is who will catch passes from Delhomme this season?

The Browns have a proven commodity at quarterback. But the receivers Delhomme is working with this year have very little experience or success at the NFL level.

Leading up to the draft, Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson wasn't shy in saying the Browns may have the worst receiving corps in the NFL. At the very least, they don't stack up at that position compared to division rivals like the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Surprisingly, the Browns didn't address the receiver position until the sixth round when they drafted rookie Carlton Mitchell. But in all likelihood, that won't be enough.

Someone who is already on the roster will have to step up for Cleveland. Second-year player Mohamed Massaquoi made good strides in his rookie year with 34 receptions for 624 yards. He's currently the team's No. 1 receiver, which may be a role that's a notch too big for Massaquoi at this stage of his career.

Former second-round pick Brian Robiskie didn't show much last season but will get plenty of opportunities to earn a starting job this summer. Chansi Stuckey, Syndric Steptoe and return specialist Josh Cribbs make up the rest of a suspect group that has a lot to prove this year.

Morning take: Cam Cameron 2.0

August, 9, 2009
8/09/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

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

  • Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron aims to make Baltimore an even better offense in 2009.

Morning take: With several losses on the defensive side, there is a chance Baltimore's D will not finish No. 2 in the NFL like it did last season. That means the offense needs to step up and help the Ravens by moving up a few notches.

Morning take: From what I've seen in training camp, Harrison is due for another big season. He has been arguably the most impressive Steelers player to watch in Latrobe the past several days.

  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco says he's replacing his infamous checklist from the names of cornerbacks to the names of defensive coordinators this season.

Morning take: Ochocinco says he's doing this to challenge himself. If this keeps him motivated and focused for 16 games, so be it.

  • In more receiver news, Cleveland Browns receiver Syndric Steptoe suffered a torn labrum and is likely is out for the season.

Morning take: The injuries are piling up in the division and we haven't played any games yet. Is this a bad sign?

Player survey: Breakout player

July, 7, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In a division filled with quality defenses, it was only fitting that a young, up-and-coming linebacker caught the most attention of his AFC North peers.

In the closest vote of the entire player survey, Cincinnati Bengals second-year linebacker Keith Rivers edged linebacker Lawrence Timmons of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn by one vote to become the 2009 pick for breakout player.

This offseason, ESPN.com granted anonymity to 32 players -- eight from each AFC North team -- on select topics that will be revealed throughout July. The players surveyed could not vote for themselves or their teammates.

AFC North Breakout Player
As voted by 32 anonymous players in the division:
Player Pos. Team Votes
1. Keith Rivers LB Bengals 6
(Tie) 2. Lawrence Timmons LB Steelers 5
Brady Quinn QB Browns 5
4. Brian Robiskie WR Browns 3
(Tie) 5. D'Qwell Jackson LB Browns 2
Chris Henry WR Bengals 2
Joe Flacco QB Ravens 2
(tie) 8. Cedric Benson RB Bengals 1
Limas Sweed WR Steelers 1
Eric Wright CB Browns 1
Rey Maualuga LB Bengals 1
Carey Davis FB St
eelers
1
Santonio Holmes WR Steelers 1
Syndric Steptoe WR Browns 1
* Note: Players surveyed could not vote for themselves or teammates.

Rivers led an extremely diverse group of breakout players with six votes, while Timmons and Quinn received five votes apiece. An astounding 14 different players were selected, which was the most of any survey question. They ranged from all different positions such as receivers linebackers, tailback, and even a fullback (Carey Davis of Pittsburgh).

But in the end, Rivers stood atop the list.

"It means a lot," Rivers told ESPN.com after learning of the results recently in Bengals minicamp. "I think it means players felt I was doing well, even though it was only through seven games. It's great to know that I had an effect on the guys in this league that I play against, and I just hope to build on that."

So far, defensive players have dominated this year's AFC North survey. In addition to Rivers, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu were voted by opponents as the best all-around and smartest player in the division, respectively.

The definition of a breakout player can vary. So ESPN.com did not preclude anyone from being chosen for this particular category. For instance, if a player surveyed thought Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be considered a breakout player, despite two Super Bowl victories, he went on the list.

 
  Tom Hauck/Getty Images
  Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers had his rookie season cut short by a broken jaw.

This explains several votes for players such as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who broke through last year in leading his team to the AFC title game, or Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes, who was the Super Bowl XLIII MVP in February. But minus those two exceptions, AFC North players were pretty unified across the board on what they considered a breakthrough season.

In 2008, Rivers broke his jaw in the seventh game, which ended his first NFL season. At the time of his injury, Rivers was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors and finished with 37 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.

Rivers got to play every team in the division once last season, which was enough to earn the respect of his peers.

"He's solid," said one rival player who voted for Rivers. "I think this could be a good year for him."

Other notable players who received multiple votes included another young linebacker in Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson (2), who led the NFL in tackles last season, and a pair of receivers in Brian Robiskie (3) and Chris Henry (2).

Said one future opponent of the rookie Robiskie: "He's a polished receiver and his dad [Terry] being a coach will help his learning process."

Another AFC North player had an even bigger projection for Henry.

"I bet he gets 1,000 yards this year," the player said confidently.

AFC, NFC Breakout Players
ESPN.com's NFL experts have teamed up to examine "The State of NFL Nation," a weeklong look at the biggest questions facing the league. In this installment, we take on 2009 breakout stars.
AFC | NFC

Overall, every division team had at least one representative. The Browns had the most players selected for this particular category with five. But the fact that 14 players total were chosen for this survey question also highlights the depth of young players in the AFC North.

"It's great because I think it brings more competition to our division," Rivers said. "I think this is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and with the continued young, great players that we're getting in this division it makes it that much better."

Browns' drops

April, 2, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In the process of writing last week's feature on Pittsburgh Steelers' receiver Limas Sweed, we asked the Elias Sports Bureau to provide its 2008 list of drops for the reigning champs. Elias is one of the few companies to keep the stat, which is not recognized by the NFL.

In an effort not to cheat fans of the other three teams, we checked in again this week with Elias to provide its list of 2008 regular-season drops for the rest of the AFC North, starting with the Cleveland Browns.

Who had the dropsies in Cleveland?
Player Position Drops REC Drops as %
of drops+REC
Braylon Edwards WR 14 55 20.3
Kellen Winslow TE 3 43 6.5
Steve Heiden TE 3 23 11.5
Jamal Lewis RB 2 23 8.0
Syndric Steptoe WR 2 19 9.5
Darnell Dinkins TE 2 5 28.6
Donte' Stallworth WR 2 17 10.5
Charles Ali FB 1 4 20.0
Josh Cribbs WR 1 2 33.3
Martin Rucker TE 1 2 33.3
Jason Wright RB 1 22 4.3
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cleveland Browns do not have many options if starting receiver Donte' Stallworth cannot play football for any period of time in 2009.

Although the legal system has yet to run its course, Stallworth could face charges following an automobile accident that killed a pedestrian in Miami Beach. The early reports have not been good and, at the very least, the Browns need to begin examining what's left at receiver.

Let's take a deeper look at Cleveland's roster:

 Steptoe

Syndric Steptoe, two years of experience, 19 catches in 2008

With veteran Joe Jurevicius being released, Steptoe could be the leading candidate to start opposite receiver Braylon Edwards if the season started today. Through injuries, Steptoe has had several chances to perform and has been serviceable as a fill in. But the undersized Steptoe (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) is not starter material, and the offense could struggle if he is asked to do so for 16 games next season.

  Cribbs

Joshua Cribbs, four years of experience, two catches in 2008

Cribbs in an intriguing option because he remains one of Cleveland's best pure football players. He learned to return kicks on the fly upon his arrival in Cleveland in 2006, and quickly developed into a Pro Bowl player. If asked to be a full-time receiver, could he do it? This would be a risky experiment. The Chicago Bears tried something similar with return specialist Devin Hester last season with mixed results. The new coaching staff in Cleveland will have to determine if keeping Cribbs' main focus on returning and covering kicks is in the team's best interest.

  Hubbard

Paul Hubbard, one year of experience, zero catches in 2008

Hubbard is a former sixth-round pick that is still looking for his first opportunity. He has good size (6-foot-3, 221 pounds) and was a favorite of former general manager Phil Savage. But Hubbard would have to prove himself to an entirely new group of coaches. With the way the roster is currently set up, he should get a chance to show what he can do in minicamps and training camp.

At some point, Cleveland's receiver position needs to be addressed in the draft, regardless of Stallworth's legal outcome.

First impressions of Quinn

November, 6, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CLEVELAND -- Browns quarterback Brady Quinn is making his first NFL start tonight against the Denver Broncos.

Our first impression is that Quinn is showing some good signs and yet a little rust to start the game. His first throw was a shade off to the right of tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., and Quinn's second completion on third-and-8 was a 7-yard pass to Syndric Steptoe, which showed they haven't had much time to work together this week.

But Quinn looked much better in his second series with an 18-yard pass to receiver Donte' Stallworth, which helped set up a touchdown drive that tied the game at 7-7. He hit Winslow on a 5-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to tie the game.

Through two offensive series, Quinn is 3-for-4 for 30 yards and a touchdown. So far he looks poised and doesn't seemed fazed by the situation.

AFC North bubble watch

August, 28, 2008
8/28/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

With the final week of preseason games starting Thursday night, it's a good time to keep close tabs on bubble players from each AFC North team. Rosters will be trimmed from 75 to 53 players by Saturday, which means there are a lot of big decisions to be made on players in the next 48 hours.

Here are some notable bubble players that could help their cause with big preseason games this week:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Players: Receivers Willie Reid and Dallas Baker

Skinny: Both young players have been around, know the system well and have shown flashes. But Pittsburgh is stacked with skill players and don't have to wait for both to develop. Receivers Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Limas Sweed will be the top four in this group. Our guess is the Steelers only take five receivers into the regular season.

Prediction: Reid stays, Baker goes

Players: Punters Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster

Skinny: This competition was created by the season-ending knee injury to punter Daniel Sepulveda. Ernster has been around a little longer and has the edge, especially after last week's performance with three punts inside the 20. But he still could use a strong finish.

Prediction: Ernster stays, Berger goes


Cincinnati Bengals

Players: Fullbacks Daniel Coats and Jeremi Johnson

Skinny: Coats, a former tight end, has been impressive this summer making the move to fullback. He earned most of the reps, and most likely a roster spot, because Johnson's weight kept him out for most of camp. The Bengals are tired of dealing with Johnson coming into camp out of shape every year. But he's been too good a player for the Bengals to let go so far.

Prediction: Coats and Johnson (barely) stay

Players: Receivers Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman

Skinny: There are a lot of young receivers on this roster behind starters Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. So don't be surprised if one of the proven veterans is let go. Holt and Chatman are both on the bubble because they're undersized and don't fit the system -- Cincinnati prefers bigger, stronger pass catchers. Injuries to Johnson (shoulder) and rookie Andre Caldwell (toe) may scare the team into keeping both Chatman and Holt, but we doubt it.

Prediction: Chatman stays, Holt goes


Cleveland Browns

Players: Receivers Travis Wilson, Steve Sanders and Paul Hubbard

Skinny: The battle for the No. 3 receiver spot in Cleveland has been underwhelming, to say the least. Now all three of these players could use a big performance tonight against the Chicago Bears to solidify a roster spot. With Syndric Steptoe likely on the 53-man roster, at least two of these receivers, if not all three, will be cut by Saturday.

Prediction: Hubbard stays (or practice squad), Wilson and Sanders goes

Players: Linebackers Kris Griffin, David McMillan and Alex Hall

Skinny: This decision is more important than it appears on the surface. Hall, a rookie, has been a nice sleeper this summer, and Griffin and McMillan are important cogs on special teams. Luckily, they all play linebacker and Cleveland is a 3-4 team. But one still has to go.

Prediction: Hall and Griffin stay, McMillan goes


Baltimore Ravens

Player: Fullback Le'Ron McClain

Skinny: The banged-up Ravens have seven guys already on injured reserve, so there aren't as many significant bubble players. But McClain is one because the team recently signed Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wants more of his style of players to run his offense. The question is, with Neal's injury history, does Baltimore want to risk taking one fullback into the season? Probably not.

Prediction: McClain stays

Could Horn, Browns be a match?

August, 27, 2008
8/27/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Thirteen-year veteran Joe Horn is in Atlanta waiting for a phone call and, perhaps, a little symmetry.

Before the 1996 NFL draft, a small-school receiver met with a young, up-and-comer from the Baltimore Ravens by the name of Phil Savage, who was the first scout willing to spend time and visit with Horn coming out of Itawamba Junior College.

 
 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
 Joe Horn is still looking for a team that could use his services.

Four Pro Bowls and 603 receptions later, Horn says he's never forgotten that day working out for Savage in North Carolina.

"Actually, he didn't have to work me out," Horn said in a telephone interview with ESPN.com. "He came down there and I think my agent got in contact with him. Phil worked me out, shook my hand, and talked to me about the league and what I need to do to get to the NFL and stay in the league. I just appreciated him for giving me that opportunity."

A dozen years later, Savage is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns -- a team in need for a veteran third receiver to complement Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards and Donte' Stallworth.

Veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius, who was expected to be the No. 3 receiver, was put on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday after contracting a staph infection following minor knee surgery this offseason.

Also, a dozen years later, Horn is a free agent in search of a contending team. He recently asked for his release from the Atlanta Falcons and sees Cleveland as an attractive destination, where Savage is the boss in addition to a former pupil in Stallworth that Horn mentored as members of the New Orleans Saints.

Do we have a match?

Horn certainly thinks so.

"I would love to get with those young guys and help them win, because I know they are right at the next step of getting to the Super Bowl," Horn, 36, said. "I would love to be a part of Cleveland's organization and help them get to that next level."

But the stars do not always align in reality as they do on paper.

The Browns are in no rush to make any additions to their team, particularly with final cuts approaching that will reduce the roster from 75 players to 53 by Saturday.

(Read full post)

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