AFC North: Troy Williamson

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2010
NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns hold the highest slot in the AFC North, the No. 7 overall pick. With the type of money that's involved, this pick has to be a franchise player or it could set back an offense or defense. For example, the Minnesota Vikings selected running back Adrian Peterson at No. 7 in 2007 and he put the entire franchise on his back. But recent busts such as receiver Troy Williamson (2005) and safety Michael Huff (2006) haven't done enough to warrant the high pick. Either way, Cleveland has to be prepared to dole out a large contract. Last year's No. 7 pick -- Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- received a five-year deal worth a maximum of $38.25 million. So expect the Browns to be paying this year's No. 7 pick upwards of $40 million this summer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has the No. 18 slot this year. The Steelers could take advantage of getting a very good player in what's considered a deep draft. In the past five years, this pick has been hit or miss. Quality players such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall (2007) were added to the AFC North from this spot. But there were also a pair of recent misses with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter (2006) and defensive end Erasmus James of Minnesota (2005). Last year the Denver Broncos selected Robert Ayers, who had a fairly uneventful rookie year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati has the No. 21 pick, where the last two years offensive linemen have done pretty well. The Browns took center Alex Mack in 2009 and the Atlanta Falcons selected offensive tackle Sam Baker in 2008. Both players fit right in with their respective teams. But the previous three years were all misses for first-rounders. The Jacksonville Jaguars missed twice with this pick with safety Reggie Nelson (2007) and receiver Matt Jones (2005), who was out of football last season and signed with Cincinnati in February. New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, who was taken in 2006, has been decent but not great.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens hold the No. 25 overall pick, where there has been plenty of recent success. The group includes a Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes), a starting quarterback (Jason Campbell), a one-time Pro Bowl linebacker (Jon Beason) and two good young cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins and Vontae Davis). If the Ravens have this type of success with the No. 25 pick this year, it will be a good draft day for Baltimore. The Ravens have thrived picking players late in the first round in the past. Great players such as Ed Reed (No. 24), Ray Lewis (No. 26), and most recently Michael Oher (No. 23) have all come toward the end of the opening round.

A look back: No. 7 and No. 18 picks

February, 19, 2010
Sometimes you have to look at the past to get a glimpse of the future.

The Cleveland Browns (No. 7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 18) have the first two draft picks in the AFC North this year. But that doesn't always guarantee they will get the best players.

Here is a look at past picks taken in the same slots Cleveland and Pittsburgh hold this year:

Recent No. 7 overall picks

2009: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders

2008: Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints

2007: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

2006: Michael Huff, S, Oakland Raiders

2005: Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Analysis: Looking at these picks, Cleveland needs to be careful. The Browns could get a franchise player (Peterson) to take them to the next level at No. 7 or a complete bust (Williamson) to hold the franchise back. Ellis and Huff have been starters, but are far from Pro Bowlers, which is what you want this high in the draft. There is already talk of Heyward-Bey being a bust after an uninspiring rookie season, but he deserves more time. The biggest risk is the Browns will pay the No. 7 overall pick like a franchise player, regardless of how it turns out. Heyward-Bey reportedly signed a $38.25 million contract with at least $23.5 million guaranteed in 2009.

Recent No. 18 overall picks

2009: Robert Ayers, LB, Denver Broncos

2008: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

2007: Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

2006: Bobby Carpenter, LB, Dallas Cowboys

2005: Erasmus James, DE, Minnesota Vikings

Analysis: This slot has been very kind to the AFC North. Hall and Flacco are two very good picks at No. 18. Hall is one of the top cornerbacks in the division and a steady force with the Bengals, while Flacco already has led the Ravens to back-to-back playoff appearances. Ayers recorded 19 tackles in his rookie year and it's too early to judge. Carpenter and James haven't worked out for Dallas and Minnesota, respectively. But two solid players and one undecided pick isn't a bad success rate for where the Steelers are drafting this year.