AFC North: Wake Forest

Morning take: NFL draft

April, 23, 2009
4/23/09
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Forty-eight hours before the NFL draft, it's officially "smoke-screen day" in the media and AFC North.

Morning take: (Cough) Sorry, some smoke just entered the room.

Morning take: (Cough, cough).

  • According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals are hoping to draft Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry (and not an offensive tackle).

Morning take: (Cough, cough, cough).

Morning take: (Cough, cough, cough, cough).

  • Also according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns "have fallen in love" with Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree.

Morning take: (Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough) OK, get me out of here! I'm suffocating.

Updated AFC North mock draft

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay provides his latest mock draft as the NFL will hold its draft this weekend.

With several free-agent acquisitions and trade rumors circulating, McShay has made several last-minute changes on his draft board in the AFC North.

So let's take a look at his latest picks.

Cleveland Browns

Pick: No. 5

McShay's previous pick: Brian Orakpo, DE/LB, Texas

McShay's current pick: Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech

Analysis: The strong Braylon Edwards trade winds definitely influenced McShay's big board to change from Orakpo to Crabtree. Although I am against taking receivers in the top five, I can see the Browns making this pick. Cleveland has been hit hard at the position after cutting Joe Jurevicius and facing legal troubles with Donte Stallworth. If the team also moves Edwards, you are looking at David Patten and Joshua Cribbs as Cleveland's two starting receivers.

Cincinnati Bengals

Pick: No. 6

McShay's previous pick: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia

McShay's current pick: Monroe

Analysis: McShay has stayed the course with this pick and it's a good one. If Monroe is still on the board at No. 6, Cincinnati should have no problem taking him. Offensive tackle remains the team's biggest need. Jason Smith of Baylor likely will be gone in the first five picks. The Bengals will have their fingers crossed that two teams ahead of them don't select left tackles.

Baltimore Ravens

Pick: No. 26

McShay's previous pick: Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois

McShay's current pick: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC

Analysis: When McShay picked Davis in his previous mock draft a few weeks ago, I was scratching my head a little, because Baltimore paid a lot of money for Domonique Foxworth in free agency, in addition to signing Chris Carr. I just didn't see the Ravens also investing a first-round pick into the position following those two pickups. But the recent re-signing of veteran corner Samari Rolle, who was once released by Baltimore, probably took McShay over the edge to switch positions. Maualuga would be a tremendous value pick here if he's still available. But wide receiver remains the team's biggest need.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: No. 32

McShay's previous pick: Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest

McShay's current pick: Max Unger, C, Oregon

Analysis: We're not sure why McShay switched positions from cornerback to center. But there is a good chance the Steelers address one of these two positions with their first-round pick. McShay has Unger rated slightly higher than Alex Mack of Cal on his big board, so Unger is the pick. I tend to think Mack or Louisville's Eric Wood would be better fits, but this may be splitting hairs. McShay and I both agree Pittsburgh should go center with this pick.

Also, ESPN.com did an ultimate mock draft Monday involving every player in college football history. It's very well done. 

Here is the link. 

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North:

  • Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to compete for a starting job.

Morning take: With this domino falling, expect the Steelers to strike a deal with veteran quarterback Charlie Batch very soon to become Ben Roethlisberger's backup in 2009.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs signed veteran linebacker Zach Thomas to a one-year contract this weekend.

Morning take: Why is this important to the AFC North? With starting linebackers Thomas, Mike Vrabel and Derrick Johnson in Kansas City, it is now possible for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry to fall to the Cleveland Browns with the fifth overall pick.

Morning take: The feeling I gather is the player wants out and the team does not want to comply -- unless it's at the right price. Coming off a down year, the "right price" for Cincinnati doesn't seem attainable.

  • New St. Louis Rams quarterback Kyle Boller says he has few regrets from his time with the Baltimore Ravens.

Morning take: Boller took a pounding early in his career and never recovered with the Ravens. It will be interesting to see if he can take advantage of a fresh start.

Browns draft prospectus

April, 6, 2009
4/06/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

As the NFL draft nears, AFC North teams are narrowing their list of prospects to take with the first-round pick. This week we look at those select players and how each would fit with their respective division teams in 2009.

On Monday we start with potential prospects for the Cleveland Browns, who own the No. 5 overall pick:

1. Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas

Assuming Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the best-case scenario, is taken off the board, Texas hybrid Brian Orakpo could be the next best option on Cleveland's radar. He has a mean streak and the ability to rush the passer from the defensive end or outside linebacker position. The Browns desperately need those assets added to their defense. If Orakpo fulfills his projection to become a No. 1 pass rusher, he would take a lot of pressure off outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who would get fewer double teams and develop into a better player in his own right. The pair of Orakpo and an energized Wimbley in 2009 would be a significant upgrade from last season.

2. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech

Although a lot of NFL people are against taking a wide receiver in the top five, the Browns just might do it. The recent release of Joe Jurevicius and serious legal trouble for starter Donte Stallworth have suddenly added to the urgency to getting another playmaker at the position. Crabtree would give Cleveland a big-time playmaker opposite starter Braylon Edwards, which would help the quarterback to be named later and open up the running game. Plus Edwards set to become a free agent in 2010 and, barring a franchise tag, he likely will not return. Crabtree could step into the top receiver role in Cleveland for years to come.

3. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College

Cleveland has very little depth on the defensive line and needs to add players to the rotation. The Browns haven't stopped the run in a very long time and could use Raji's ability to do so. But Raji has to prove he could play defensive end in a 3-4 defense, because there is very little playing time available behind Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers. Pairing Rogers with Raji and a third d-lineman (Shaun or Robaire Smith?) would be a significant upgrade and a very physical unit, which is necessary in the AFC North. There was a report last week of Raji failing a drug test which, if confirmed, would likely take him out of the running.

Next up Tuesday: A look at the Cincinnati Bengals

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Perhaps more than any other position, the Cleveland Browns needed linebackers heading into the 2009 season.

  Bowens

That need became somewhat less vital Tuesday as the Browns signed former New York Jets linebacker David Bowens to a four-year contract. According to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton, the deal is worth $7.2 million.

Bowens is versatile and can play inside or outside for Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, who spent time with Bowens in New York. Bowens, 31, was primarily a backup in New York but is expected to start for the linebacker-deprived Browns, who lost two starters (Willie McGinest and Andra Davis) this offseason.

The acquisition of Bowens doesn't mean Cleveland will stop looking for linebackers in the NFL draft, where the team hopes Aaron Curry of Wake Forest will be available at No. 5. But the Browns have at least three penciled-in starters for next season in Bowens, Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson.

In other AFC North news, the Browns also signed restricted free-agent safety Abram Elam to a one-year deal. The Jets have seven days to match Cleveland's $1.5 million offer. Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon also signed his one-year tender of $2.189 million Tuesday to officially return to the defending Super Bowl champions. Here is the full story.

Cleveland Browns mailbag

February, 17, 2009
2/17/09
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Wolf from Cleveland, OH writes: James, I have just read your post on Mangini fixing up the Browns. I have a few questions for you in regards to the Browns in the off season. 1. Who do you think the Browns will keep if they decide to get rid of one of them...Braylon Edwards or Kellen Winslow Jr? 2.Will Mangini and his staff better utilize Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison than Romeo's staff did? 3. What will the Browns do at #5 in the draft? I think they should trade down to get more picks unless Crabtree is available then they should take him based on his talent and the Browns needs at WR. 4. Finally I have to ask it, in your opinion, if you were in Mangini's position would you start Quinn or Anderson? Thank you for your time. The Wolf

JW: Mr. Wolf...buddy...you had so many questions that I had to give you your own post. There was no way I could get to these in one mailbag filled with other questions.

So let's break it down into parts.

Who do you think the Browns will keep if they decide to get rid of one of them...Braylon Edwards or Kellen Winslow Jr.?

With a new regime, I'm not sure the Browns are interested now in moving either player. But if they did, Winslow would be traded before Edwards. But keep in mind there is depth issues behind both players. At tight end, Darnell Dinkins is a free agent, Steve Heiden injured his knee late in the year and may not be ready for training camp, and Martin Rucker didn't show much in his first year. At receiver, Edwards was the only (somewhat) reliable option the Browns had last season.

Will Mangini and his staff better utilize Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison than Romeo's staff did?

Absolutely, even if it's by default. I cannot see these two players being used any worse than they were the past couple of seasons. With just running him up the middle, things became predictable when Cribbs was in the game, which defeated the purpose. Harrison, meanwhile, always seemed to be on a "pitch count” of three or four carries per game, even if those carries netted 30 yards. Expect better utilization of this pair in 2009.

What will the Browns do at #5 in the draft? Michael Crabtree?

Cleveland's roster will look much different in April than it does in February. But right now, before free agency, the Browns need to fill a need at linebacker. There are several options, such as Aaron Curry of Wake Forest and Everette Brown of Florida State. Cleveland has other needs. But if the team wants to play a 3-4 defense, it cannot have Leon Williams and Alex Hall making up half of the starting linebacker group. Crabtree is a great talent, but I'm not big on taking WRs in the top 5. That's a quick way to run your organization into the ground because the position is not that important. See the Detroit Lions.

If you were in Mangini's position would you start Quinn or Anderson?

If the assumption is the Browns won't get a good trade offer for Derek Anderson, I would open up an old-fashion quarterback competition. As a new head coach, I would have no ties to either player. Anderson didn't lead my team to 10 wins in 2007, and my general manager didn't take Brady Quinn in the first round. So without the behind-the-scenes politics or favoritism, I would aim to find who really is the better quarterback for my team. But the team will at least try to trade Anderson this offseason.

Thanks for the questions, Wolf.

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