Sunday, February 28, 2010
Seven-step drop (combine edition)
By James Walker
INDIANAPOLIS -- The AFC North blog is wrapping up its four-day tour of the NFL combine.
Here are seven closing notes and observations on the division:
Marvin Lewis led the Bengals to the AFC North title in 2009.
Although it's rare in the NFL, in some ways it seems Marvin Lewis is holding back on a contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals. Lewis, who was honored as the NFL Coach of the Year, finally has some leverage to get some things how he wants them in Cincinnati. But at the same time, Bengals owner Mike Brown is notorious for rarely giving in and running the team his way. It will be interesting to see how this all works out. I talked to three league insiders at the combine about Lewis' situation and two felt he could definitely land a head-coaching job elsewhere in 2011. The third believed the uncertainty with the CBA and a potential lockout would be Lewis' biggest hurdle. But otherwise, Lewis could quickly land on his feet if he left Cincinnati.
Keep an eye on the Pittsburgh Steelers on draft day. I don't think they get enough credit for their propensity to wheel and deal on draft day. The Steelers are in a unique spot where their biggest need (cornerback) may not be available at No. 18. That could mean a trade out of the position for more picks or a trade up to get a player they covet. Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert has done both in recent years, which makes the team unpredictable. Last year, the Steelers traded out of the second round completely to get more second-day picks.
If I'm a general manager, sign me up for Michigan defensive end/linebacker Brandon Graham. He's not going to impress with his measurables, which is why there are some questions about him at the combine. But on the field, he has an NFL motor, he's productive and he gets to the quarterback. Also during his combine interview, you could tell he has a passion for the game. I want those type of players on my team.
Speaking of interviews, in no particular order I was really impressed with Florida State safety Myron Rolle, Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Idaho guard Mike Iupati, Graham and Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard. Interviewing well doesn't necessarily mean they all will be great NFL players. But it can't hurt and shows depth, character and personality.
Maybe I'm out of the loop on this one, but I would be surprised if the Baltimore Ravens landed free-agent receiver Terrell Owens. This rumor began to pick up steam at the combine, and was further perpetuated when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the team would be interested. Baltimore had a chance to sign Owens last season when he was a year younger, but didn't make a move. I don't get the sense much has changed with Baltimore about Owens, but I could be wrong.
But I do believe tailback Thomas Jones could be a potential target in free agency for the Cleveland Browns. Jones was coached by Eric Mangini, who has a fondness for his former players. Mangini doesn't have nearly the same pull in Cleveland. But the Browns have money to spend and a need for another running back to pair with Jerome Harrison, who is a restricted free agent Cleveland intends to bring back.
If the Browns don't go the free-agency route, Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller could be a sleeper candidate for Cleveland at No. 7. Already a top-10 player, Spiller solidified, and likely improved, his stock with a blazing (unofficial) 40-yard dash time of 4.28. The Browns drafted Spiller's former Clemson teammate James Davis last season. So rest assured, Cleveland's scouts have spent a lot of time the past two years tracking Spiller's career. Cornerback and safety are obviously bigger needs. But if those positions are taken off the draft board, I would take the top tailback (Spiller) over the top receiver (Dez Bryant) at No. 7 every time.