AFC North: University of Texas
Last week we wrote a column explaining why the Cleveland Browns would be a great fit for former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. This week we want to get feedback on the interesting photo that accompanied the story.
In five words or less, share your thoughts on this picture from the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. McCoy and Texas upended Pryor and Ohio State, 24-21, and this was the postgame meeting between the two quarterbacks.
Have fun and keep it clean.
David, break down Williams' strengths and weaknesses based on what you've seen throughout his career at Texas.
David Ubben: It's kind of an interesting situation, because he's played everywhere. He fit in the rotation wherever he could as a freshman. But to get on the field your first year at Texas and be such a big contributor, that's an accomplishment in itself. He blocked about four punts also. He played more of a traditional corner the last two years and worked a lot at nickelback as well. He's played everywhere, but he's got a ton of size. I've heard at the NFL level some teams may want him at safety, because he's a big hitter. But he also has speed. He's talented as a cover guy, but for him the only weakness is he's not really locked into any position. He can play everywhere. He didn't necessarily get a whole lot better as his career went on, and I think part of that was because he had to move around.
You mentioned the corner vs. safety debate. What position do you think suits Williams best at the next level?
Ubben: It's going to depend on the team. I think he has the capability to play both, but he will have a lot more of a learning curve to play safety. If he's going to play safety, I think you have to give him a little bit of time. But at corner he can step right in and do really well at it. So it kind of depends on the team. If you need help right now, you play Williams at corner. If you want help later and you can wait some time to develop him, help him learn on the fly and make some mistakes, then it's safety. If you want him there, I think he can play safety eventually.
Lastly, how does Williams rate with other good corners you've seen last season?
Ubben: The thing with Williams, he has so much more raw talent of any of the corners in the draft. He looked like an elite guy early in his career. But probably some guys passed him now and are a little bit better. But in terms of raw talent, he's certainly up there with just about anybody.
Meanwhile, Gabbert struggled. He completed just 8 of 16 passes for 86 yards, one touchdown and was pulled in the third quarter. The October 2009 showdown was the only time these two quarterbacks met at the collegiate level.
But fast forward to the present where Gabbert is now a top draft prospect who could go as high as No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. McCoy, meanwhile, was a third-round pick in 2010 and an eventual starter for the Cleveland Browns.
Depending on where Gabbert lands (Bengals at No. 4?), these two Big 12 alums could continue their rivalry in the NFL. But in college there was no competition. McCoy was 2-0 against Missouri in his four years as a starter at Texas and thrashed Gabbert by 34 points in their only head-to-head meeting.
Credit Gabbert for not letting that blowout loss to McCoy define him and improving to become a top pick over the next year and a half.
McCoy clearly had the advantage in college. But who will have the better NFL career?
- Several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, including coach Mike Tomlin, were on hand for the University of Texas pro day this week.
- The Cleveland Browns held a private workout for Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
- The Baltimore Ravens also have taken a closer look at Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
- Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones is auditioning to become the voice of the Aflac duck.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
What about Flacco? On the flip side, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has a return meeting against the team he struggled with most this season. Flacco threw a career-high four interceptions in Baltimore's 15-10 loss to the Bengals in Week 2. The bad performance was a turning point for Flacco, who has only four picks in his past 13 games. The Bengals will try to confuse Flacco again, but the third-year quarterback has shown no signs of struggling in recent weeks. Flacco has led the Ravens to a 5-1 record in the past six games.
Will McCoy bounce back? Continuing our theme of starting quarterbacks, if there is one word to describe Colt McCoy of the Cleveland Browns during his football career, it would be "successful." So how will McCoy respond to his first awful game at the pro level? The Browns are about to find out as their rookie quarterback prepares for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. McCoy left the University of Texas as college football's all-time winningest quarterback. The 2010 third-round pick played solid football until he ran into Baltimore's defense and threw three interceptions. McCoy doesn't have an easy task against Pittsburgh's No. 2-ranked defense.
Cleaning up special teams: Pittsburgh had a nice bounce-back game on special teams in last week's 27-3 win over the Carolina Panthers. Pittsburgh's kick coverage was shredded by the New York Jets in Week 15, but the Steelers didn’t allow any big returns and forced two fumbles (recovering one) against the Panthers. Covering kicks has been an issue for Pittsburgh the past couple of seasons, yet the team has cleaned up a lot of those mistakes this season under first-year special-teams coach Al Everest. It was a good sign for the playoff-bound Steelers to keep those struggles at just one game.
Easy playoff scenarios: The Week 17 playoff scenarios are simple for the Ravens (11-4) and Steelers (11-4). Both teams are already in the playoffs, but a Pittsburgh win would clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye. For Baltimore, it can win the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win and a Pittsburgh loss. Both games are at 1 p.m. ET.
Mangini gushed about McCoy's work ethic, quick learning curve and how the rookie wouldn't accept it when everyone in the organization -- from Holmgren on down -- said they didn't plan for McCoy to see the field this year. Instead, McCoy is projected to play eight games, which is half of the Browns' season.
McCoy landed his initial opportunity through injury, but he's regaining the starting job with solid play in five starts. He threw for 975 yards, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had an 85.3 passer rating. The rookie proved to be the best quarterback on the roster and essentially forced the team into this decision.
"I wasn't really looking at this as just being the case where we're throwing a young guy in to see whether or not a young guy can do it," Mangini said. "I think Colt really did a good job with the opportunities that he had. I think he's earned the chance to play these three games."
Is McCoy the long-term solution in Cleveland? It's too early to tell.
But the Browns (5-8) and the rest of the NFL are about to learn a lot more about McCoy in the next three games against AFC North opponents. The first test is Sunday, a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) and then there's back-to-back home games against the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens (9-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3).
The training wheels are officially off for McCoy.
"It's no landmark day," McCoy said Thursday. "Today is the day that I know I'm the starter and I have to go out and play. I have to go out and get better and I have to go out and help us win."
McCoy's play down the stretch will affect a lot with the Browns, starting with the NFL draft. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and Cleveland has lacked stability there since returning to the NFL in 1999.
A lot of quarterbacks have passed through Cleveland's revolving door, including Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and now Jake Delhomme. Poor quarterback play is one of the biggest reasons Cleveland has just one playoff appearance in more than a decade.
McCoy showed promise, going 2-3 in five starts. But five games do not make a solid season. Three more contests will provide a half-season's worth of film to evaluate the rookie.
"The No. 1 goal of the Cleveland Browns right now has to be finding out what they have in McCoy," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They like what they've seen from him, but can he be the guy? Or do the Browns need to draft a guy or bring in a free agent? I think the Browns need to have a clear picture of that going into the offseason."
The Browns also need to find out whether McCoy can play in inclement weather. Garcia, Frye and Quinn didn't have the arm strength to throw against the heavy winds that come off Lake Erie in Browns Stadium during the winter.
McCoy's biggest asset is his accuracy, not arm strength, which raised some red flags when the Browns drafted the University of Texas product in the third round. McCoy didn't see a lot of bad weather as a four-year starter in the Big 12.
"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin]."
McCoy believes playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. But when he was pressed by the media this week regarding his arm strength, a confident McCoy fired back.
"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy scoffed.
Running the carousel in the AFC North also will be a great learning tool for McCoy. If Cleveland is to turn the franchise around and make a run at the postseason, it first has to win within the division.
The past three seasons the Browns are just 3-12 against AFC North opponents. It's a major reason former head coach Romeo Crennel was fired in Cleveland and Mangini is currently on the hot seat. If McCoy can get hot and pick up two or three wins against Cleveland's biggest rivals, everyone in the organization looks better heading into the offseason.
It's obvious the Browns have a lot riding on McCoy's performance in these final three games.
But 2010 is expected to be a learning year for the University of Texas product. Browns president Mike Holmgren said he prefers veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme lead the team this season while McCoy transitions to the NFL and learns from the sidelines.
"I can't have the mentality coming out to practice that I'm going to sit out all year," McCoy said. "If I did that, I wouldn't be [prepared]. So every day I come here, I got to compete. I got to do my best and be ready whenever something happens."
McCoy will make his NFL debut Saturday when the Browns travel to play the Green Bay Packers. As the third quarterback, McCoy should get plenty of playing time in the second half.
Most of McCoy's offseason has consisted of limited reps in practice behind Delhomme and No. 2 quarterback Seneca Wallace. But it will be interesting to see how much McCoy has learned at this point about the NFL game.
"I spend a lot of time in the film room," McCoy said. "I'm really excited about Saturday and really excited about getting out there and playing live at Lambeau Field. That's going to be a lot of fun. So I feel really good. I do."
McCoy's former college teammate and close friend Jordan Shipley is making a splash for the rival Cincinnati Bengals. Shipley, McCoy's favorite target in college, is competing for the No. 3 receiver role in Cincinnati and likely will play right away as a rookie. Meanwhile, McCoy must wait -- perhaps an entire season -- for his first opportunity.
"It's just one of those things," McCoy explained. "Some rookies step in and play. My hats off to them. But I just really try to be the best I can be in the situation that I'm in. And when it's time, it's time."
So the AFC North blog briefly caught up with the Cincinnati Bengals rookie during Wednesday's minicamp to get his thoughts on his former teammate and Cleveland's projected future quarterback.
On McCoy's chances in the NFL
Shipley: I think he'll do great. Colt's a guy that's just a competitor, and he's going to do well wherever he is. So I'm sure he'll go in and have a lot of success. He's definitely a great leader. He includes everybody, especially with off-the-field stuff. He does a lot to keep everybody together, so he's a great leader.
On potentially playing against McCoy twice a year
Shipley: It's going to be fun, you know. It's exciting to get to compete against him. We do that all the time anyway in whatever we do.
Every day this week, the AFC North blog will look at a different 2010 draft pick to get our community more familiar with rookies we'll see this upcoming season.
Here is Kindle's full scouting report, according to the draft experts at Pro Football Weekly:
- Positives: Looks the part with good length and overall muscle definition. Athletic. Good balance and body control. Coverts strength into power. Explosive first-step quickness. Rips off blocks, bends the corner and closes fast to the quarterback. Uses his hands well to control blockers and can set the edge against the run. Violent, striking hitting with explosive hip snap. Good instincts. Plays hard and pursues the ball, showing good range. Is able to play over tight ends and shadow them downfield. Drops into zone and shows awareness. Tough and will play hurt. Versatile.
- Negatives: Plays upright at times and is tightly wound -- shows some stiffness moving laterally. Shows some tightness in his hips. Needs to develop a wider array of counter moves. Immature. Character will be scrutinized after a DWI in 2007 and a one-car accident in which he damaged a building and left the scene. Is rough around the edges and considered too much of a follower.
There you have the pluses and minuses with Kindle.
Now it's time for our community to weigh in: Good addition or bad addition to the AFC North?
The Browns have expressed significant interest in McCoy heading into next week's NFL draft. Cleveland likes McCoy's pinpoint accuracy and believes he could fit well in a West Coast offense.
After trading former starter Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos and releasing former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson, Cleveland is searching for its quarterback of the future. McCoy is a potential target for the Browns early in the second round.
But Cleveland is not alone. The Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams have also expressed interest in McCoy in recent weeks. The NFL draft begins on April 22.
St. Louis is the favorite to take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the top overall pick. But the Rams are still turning over every rock and examining alternate plans in case they want to take another position, such as defensive tackle, in the first round.
That might open the door for St. Louis to take McCoy before the Browns, who hold the No. 38 overall pick at the top of the second round. Cleveland is impressed with McCoy's accuracy and believes he could fit in an offense that has West Coast principles.
Both teams are in search of long-term solutions at quarterback and plan to find one in this year's NFL draft.
Cleveland will host Thomas for a two-day visit on April 5-6, according to a source. Thomas is widely regarded as the second-best safety in this year's NFL draft behind Tennessee's Eric Berry.
The Browns hold the No. 7 overall pick and are showing significant interest in defensive backs such as Thomas, Berry and Florida cornerback Joe Haden. That could be a strong indication of the front office's thinking and direction in the first round.
Thomas is an intriguing prospect who most scouts grade very close to Berry, a projected top-10 pick. If Berry goes early, as expected, this could help Thomas' draft stock with other teams looking for a playmaking safety.
Earlier this week the AFC North blog reported the Bengals, who hold the No. 21 overall pick, also will host Thomas on April 1-2.
According to a league source, the Browns are interested in University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. Cleveland will bring McCoy in for a two-day visit on April 12-13, the source told the AFC North blog.
After trading former starter Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos and releasing former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson, Cleveland is searching for its future quarterback. McCoy, a projected second-round pick, led the Longhorns with 3,521 passing yards and 27 touchdowns last season. He had a quarterback rating of 147.41.
The Browns signed veteran Jake Delhomme to a two-year contract during the offseason and traded for career backup Seneca Wallace. Delhomme, 35, is expected to be the starter in 2010 but is not Cleveland's long-term solution.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
ESPN.com held its first annual Blog Network NFL draft this week. The results were posted on Wednesday, and you can find all the results here.
But fear not, AFC North fans. Your division had the best general manager in the business.
We landed the top-rated offensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, the top pass-rusher for the Cleveland Browns, one of the top receivers and a local product for the Baltimore Ravens and the best center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here is how it all broke down:
Pick No. 5: Brian Orakpo, DE/LB, Texas
Why: After sending smoke screens in every direction possible, this is the guy we really wanted in Cleveland. We are smart enough to know that the AFC North is about defense first and having players who can pressure the quarterback. Orakpo is the best at that in this draft. Plus, he will make fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley a better player, so we feel like we're getting two players in this deal. We're glad Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree was taken one spot higher, because we never wanted to take him this high and the fact that he was off the board will keep the media off our backs.
Pick No. 6: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Why: We are still a little shocked by this one. Going in we didn't feel drafting Smith was a possibility for Cincinnati, but it shows how unpredictable draft day can be. Smith was the top player on our board for the Bengals, both because of need and talent. To land this left tackle at No. 6 was a great achievement. We thought Virginia's Eugene Monroe had a chance to fall at this spot. But NFC West GM Mike Sando must be down on Smith, because he passed him over twice with the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 and the Seattle Seahawks at No. 4. Because of Sando, Smith just told our coaching staff he's arriving in Cincinnati with a chip on his shoulder, which is what we like to hear.
Pick No. 26: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Why: Right around pick 20, we got a little nervous. We contacted all blogger GMs saying we wanted to trade up from No. 26, and I had $20 in my pocket to do it. NFC East GM Matt Mosley laughed out loud and took Ohio State tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells with the No. 21 pick for the Philadelphia Eagles. True story. But with USC linebacker Rey Maualuga off the board, the only player we really coveted at this point was Heyward-Bey. Luckily he got past teams like the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins. Their loss is Baltimore's gain.
Pick No. 32: Alex Mack, C, California
Why: Things panned out just as expected for Pittsburgh. Every top center was available with the final pick in the first round, so we took the highest one on our draft board in Mack. He will help improve our running game and should give us some options up front to move players around. Or we can simply let Mack learn the system before taking over permanently at center in 2010, when starter Justin Hartwig becomes a free agent.
Overall, we hope AFC North readers are happy with their picks. Let's see if the real NFL draft turns out just as well this weekend.