Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Draft Watch: AFC North
By James Walker
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.
The Browns have a lot of needs, so there are multiple dream scenarios. The biggest (pipe) dream would be to somehow land former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who is expected to go No. 1 overall to the St. Louis Rams. Cleveland president Mike Holmgren knows how important having a long-term solution at quarterback is, and he's entertained trade talks with St. Louis about trading up to No. 1. But the reality is it would likely cost the Browns their entire draft. A more realistic dream scenario would be to land Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 7. He would be a perfect fit in Cleveland's secondary, which also added veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown this offseason. Berry is a strong candidate to be selected by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 5. Plan B would be to take safety Earl Thomas, who is not rated far behind Berry, or trade back to get multiple picks.
The Steelers like several players, but they would love for Florida cornerback Joe Haden to fall to them at No. 18. The scenario played out in ESPN.com's blogger mock draft this week, so perhaps there is a chance. Pittsburgh could also entertain trading up to get Haden if he falls into the teens. The Steelers have 10 picks and don't have that many holes. Haden, the best cover corner in the draft, was initially projected to be a sure top-10 pick until a poor performance at the NFL combine raised some questions about his speed. Pittsburgh hopes those questions remain this week. If not, offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey or Mike Iupati wouldn't be bad secondary choices for the Steelers. Both would help their running game.
The reigning AFC North champs don't have a lot of glaring holes. A player the Bengals could have in mind is Thomas, who is rapidly climbing up draft boards. Cincinnati struggled to cover slot receivers and tight ends over the middle last season, and Thomas has great instincts in coverage to solve that problem. Keep in mind Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens both have playmaking safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, respectively. Those two have given Cincinnati headaches for years. The Bengals would be able to do the same to opponents if they got their own playmaker in Thomas. Otherwise, Plan B for Cincinnati could be tight end Jermaine Gresham or safety Taylor Mays.
The Ravens could go a lot of different ways, so it's hard to pinpoint one ideal scenario. But a dream situation for Baltimore could be for receiver Dez Bryant and Gresham to fall to No. 25. Bryant is believed to be falling down draft boards and the Ravens wouldn't mind adding another dynamic weapon to the offense. Bryant also could be trade bait for a team (Dallas Cowboys?) looking to move up and willing to give additional picks to Baltimore, which has just five selections. If Gresham is still there after moving down a few spots and getting additional picks, there likely will be celebration in Baltimore's draft room. The Ravens would get the best tight end in the draft -- who can help quarterback Joe Flacco immediately and be the eventual successor to Todd Heap. It would take a lot for all of this to play out. So it's more likely the Ravens will look to add depth at cornerback (Kyle Wilson) or the defensive line (Jared Odrick).