AFC North: Tavon Austin

After Tavon Austin was selected 13th overall by the New York Jets in Tuesday's blogger mock draft, ESPN's Matt Williamson predicted that the West Virginia wide receiver wouldn't last this long in the first round Thursday night.

Williamson then added: "Austin to Browns?"

Could the Cleveland Browns really take Austin at No. 6? Or would they consider him if they traded back to No. 11 (San Diego) or No. 12 (Miami)?

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTavon Austin could be the dynamic playmaker the Browns lack on offense.
After the mock draft, I asked Williamson how strongly he felt about Austin ending up in Cleveland.

"I don't love the fit honestly, but I think just about every team could use Austin and should consider him," Williamson said. "The Browns new coaching staff has historically liked very big wide receivers, but it is tough to argue against that this offense could use one more dynamic weapon. Also, the Browns are in a bit of draft no-man's land where they sit right now. I think Austin ends up with the Jets in the end."

Williamson is right about the Browns' offense needing a spark. New coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are taking over a group that has produced these rankings in scoring offense over the past five seasons: 30th (2008), 29th (2009), 31st (2010), 30th (2011) and 24th (2012). The Browns have two starting wide receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little. What this offense lacks is a dynamic element like Austin, who made a pre-draft visit to Cleveland earlier this month.

I don't think the Browns will take Austin, but I won't rule out the possibility completely. Austin is considered one of the top offensive playmakers of this draft with his explosive speed. Last season, Austin caught 112 passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns. He rushed for 643 yards and three touchdowns. The biggest concern is his durability at 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds.

Some would argue that the Browns already have a fast but undersized receiver-returner in Travis Benjamin, a fourth-round pick from a year ago. But no one would put Benjamin in Austin's class in terms of potential and game-changing ability.

"He's a phenomenal player,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of Austin. “I think Tavon is going to have a heck of a career. He is a touchdown-maker, he is a scoreboard-changer. You can get him the ball in terms of a running game, you can get him the ball on reverses, the wide receiver screens to get him in space, the return game. He’s dynamic.”

Austin is perhaps the biggest wild card in this draft, next to West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. There's a chance Austin could go as high as No. 4 to the Philadelphia Eagles or as low as No. 16 to the St. Louis Rams. Or maybe somewhere in the middle to the Browns.
The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Wednesday, the blog is addressing wide receivers. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five receivers are: West Virginia's Tavon Austin, Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, California's Keenan Allen (before he was red-flagged for a drug test) and Southern California's Robert Woods.

Here's the rankings ...

1. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick and have yet to replace him. Torrey Smith is expected to take over Boldin's role as the No. 1 receiver, but Jacoby Jones is seen more as a returner than a receiver. That leaves a big hole in the starting lineup. Team officials said Tandon Doss, David Reed and Deonte Thompson all will have shots at stepping up. But none of them have shown any promise during their limited playing time. The Ravens have been linked to wide receivers in the first round from Allen to Woods to Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton. Based on need, the Ravens should take a receiver somewhere in the first three rounds.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: This would be a bigger need if the Steelers hadn't matched the New England Patriots' offer sheet to Emmanuel Sanders. Pittsburgh has one of the quickest receiver tandems in the league in Sanders and Antonio Brown. There's a big drop-off after them. Right now, the third receiver is either Jerricho Cotchery or Plaxico Burress. This is why some have linked the Steelers to Patterson in the first round. He's a playmaker with the ball in his hands but he tends to disappear for long stretches in games. The last wide receiver taken in the first round by the Steelers was Santonio Holmes in 2006.

3. Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon and Greg Little are far from established, but the Browns are hopeful both will develop. The expectations for Gordon have been heightened after making 50 catches and five touchdowns. Little has the potential to be the complementary No. 2 target if he can cut down on his drops. The third receiver could be either David Nelson, who is expected to be finished rehabbing his knee by training camp, or the undersized Travis Benjamin. Like last year, the Browns will probably take a wide receiver somewhere in the middle rounds.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: You could make the case that the Bengals should rank second on this list because they don't have a proven No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green. Some have projected the Bengals to take a wide receiver early in the draft, and you can't rule that out. The Bengals, though, have repeatedly talked about how much they like this receiving group of Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones and Brandon Tate. As far as offense, wide receiver ranks behind offensive tackle and running back in terms of need. The Bengals may still draft a wide receiver, but it seems like it will be in the later rounds.
A programming note: I'm attending a summit for ESPN.com bloggers in Bristol, Conn. (I'm representing the AFC), and will be in meetings all day. While I won't be able to react to news as quickly as I would like, I will have blog posts throughout the day, including my weekly column that should be posted before noon. I will touch base either late Wednesday or early Thursday. Here's the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Baltimore recently had a pre-draft visit with Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker, according to The Baltimore Sun. He is projected to be gone before the Ravens are on the clock for the last pick in the first round. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin is scheduled to attend the Ravens' local pro day workout, The Sun reported. Austin, who is also expected to go earlier in the first round, went to high school in Baltimore.

BENGALS: Tommy Urbanski, who was paralyzed in a 2007 strip-club shooting that was sparked by cornerback Adam Jones, told the New York Daily News that he has yet to receive any money from last year's $13.4 million judgment. Urbanski has filed papers in Ohio to seek 25 percent of Jones' earnings this year. Jones, who re-signed with the Bengals last month, will earn $750,000 in 2013.

STEELERS: Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has been linked to Pittsburgh in the first round, had a pre-draft visit with the Steelers on Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Jones is an explosive pass-rusher who could fill James Harrison's spot on the defense. There is concern whether Jones has stenosis, which is the narrowing of the spinal column. His medical condition, along with a disappointing pro-day performance, may cause Jones to fall to the Steelers at No. 17.

BROWNS: Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib will have a private workout with the Browns on Thursday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are scheduled to attend. Nassib is the latest quarterback prospect to get an up-close look by the Browns, who have the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns have a private workout scheduled with Florida State's E.J. Manuel on Friday and are expected to have one with West Virginia's Geno Smith. Chief executive officer Joe Banner previously said taking a quarterback early in the draft is not the team's focus.
Is it even newsworthy anymore when the Baltimore Ravens lose a starter from their Super Bowl team? It's more newsworthy when the Ravens don't lose a starter for a day. This time, however, it's different because the Ravens said goodbye to safety Ed Reed, the third-best player ever to wear their uniform. He reached an agreement with the Houston Texans on Wednesday night. Hopefully, Ravens fans will remember Reed's dramatic plays on the field and not his painful rendition of "Two Tickets To Paradise," which he sang repeatedly during the team's Super Bowl run. Here's your wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • Head coach John Harbaugh was complimentary of Reed after news spread that the free-agent safety agreed to a deal with the Texans. “Ed is a great guy and a very good friend,” Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun. “We will always appreciate what he accomplished as a Raven. He has a lot of good football left and we wish him all the best.”
  • The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is a long shot to leave the team for Alabama's athletic-director vacancy. When asked about the job opening, Newsome replied: "I already have a great job."
  • Harbaugh said he is "very open" to bringing back free-agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, according to the team's official website. "I hope that works out and we’ll just have to see," he said. I wouldn't read too much into this. Harbaugh was also "very hopeful" of Reed returning.
  • Wide receiver Anquan Boldin passed his physical in San Francisco, which completes his trade with the 49ers, according to The Baltimore Sun. The Ravens get a sixth-round pick from the 49ers for Boldin.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Owner Mike Brown wasn't available on Wednesday, but his comments earlier this week explain why the Bengals were the only team to vote against the helmet rule. "I view it as a difficult, if not impossible, play to call," Brown said, via USA Today. "We had a lot of this with the secondary plays last year. I didn't think those calls were always right," he said. "These plays happen in a flash. They're just a reaction to people did he hit him with his shoulder pad, did he hit him with his helmet? Was it intended? That's difficult to sort out. I'm not confident we should add another discretionary call."
  • Returner Ted Ginn Jr. might not end up with the Bengals after leaving his visit with the Panthers with a contract offer. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Panthers could have the edge over the Bengals because they can offer more playing time at receiver. The Bengals also offered a contract to Ginn.
  • The Bengals have a private workout scheduled with West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin, according to WVU Pros.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Linebacker James Harrison isn't drawing much interest in free agency, but The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac doesn't expect him to return to Pittsburgh. "Mike Tomlin effectively said today that the Steelers will play the 2013 season without James Harrison," Dulac wrote.
  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the former Steelers offensive coordinator, is excited about reuniting with running back Rashard Mendenhall. "He's a legitimate big-time threat every time he touches the ball," Arians told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's a big back who never has to come out of the game. He has a 230-pound body with 180-pound feet."
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Running back Trent Richardson feels responsible for the new helmet rule. His crushing collision with Philadelphia's Kurt Coleman was the centerpiece of the NFL's decision to ban running backs from using their helmet against defenders. "I feel like I made it bad for all the backs," Richardson told The Plain Dealer. "I feel like it's my fault."
  • Phil Dawson officially signed a one-year deal with the 49ers worth $2.25 million, which includes a $1 million signing bonus, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This inexpensive contract shows the Browns could've retained Dawson if they wanted to do so.
  • Panthers coach Ron Rivera was worried about losing backup quarterback Derek Anderson to the Browns and coach Rob Chudzinski, according to The Plain Dealer. Something tells me Browns fans were worried that Cleveland would get him.

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