NFL Nation: Carey Davis
» 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 ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Under-the-radar needs.
The Ravens posted a tremendous No. 3 ranking in total defense in 2009. But often lost in that ranking was the fact Baltimore had just 32 sacks in 16 games, which was 18th in the NFL. The Ravens need to generate a better pass rush, either by acquiring help via the draft or getting more production from their current players. For example, three-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs suffered through injuries and had a career-low 4.5 sacks. He needs to have a bounce-back season. The lack of pass rush also hurt Baltimore's pass coverage.
Can someone who didn't kick in 2009 and who has bounced around with eight teams -- including a brief stint in Cincinnati -- really be the answer? Maybe Dave Rayner comes in this upcoming season and kicks lights out for the Bengals. But he wasn't the answer in Washington, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Kansas City, Green Bay or Indianapolis. So it's fair to wonder if Rayner can solidify the kicking position during his second stay with the Bengals. Cincinnati hasn't re-signed veteran free agent Shayne Graham, which means a kicker could be a target in the NFL draft. The Bengals have nine picks next month and, at the very least, Rayner should have someone to push him and compete with in training camp.
Coming off a 5-11 season, the Browns have a lot of needs and it's debatable whether any are "under the radar." But while most of the conversation focuses on quarterback, receiver and the secondary, not many in Cleveland talk about the running backs. Last year Jerome Harrison led the Browns with 862 yards thanks to a great stretch toward the end of the season. But can the smallish Harrison handle 30 carries a week over the course of a 16-game season? Cleveland's new regime has its doubts. The Browns need another quality running back to complement Harrison. There is very little tailback depth on the roster after the team released veteran Jamal Lewis. James Davis is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and the team acquired Peyton Hillis in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Hillis can play both fullback and tailback positions.
With everyone healthy, the Steelers do not have a lot of holes beyond the obvious like offensive line and cornerback. So let's dig deep with a covert need: Pittsburgh could use a good fullback next season. The Steelers struggled in short yardage and in the red zone, in part, because they lacked a devastating lead blocker to bust open holes in the defense. Carey Davis couldn't cut it. Converted tight end David Johnson was average but played out of position. Frank "The Tank" Summers was too green as a rookie last season. Adding to the quandary is offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' reluctance to utilize the position. Pittsburgh often uses three-receiver and single-back sets at the expense of fullbacks, and perhaps the Steelers' lack of talent at the position contributes to that. But if Pittsburgh finds a punishing run-blocker at fullback, third-and-short won't be such a daunting task next season.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DL Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Corey Ivy, WR Derrick Mason, TE L.J. Smith, WR David Tyree, CB Frank Walker, WR Kelley Washington
Potential restricted free agents: OT Jared Gaither, K Billy Cundiff, S Dawan Landry, CB Fabian Washington, P Sam Koch, OG Chris Chester, QB John Beck, QB Troy Smith, OT Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Prescott Burgess, WR Mark Clayton, WR Demetrius Williams
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Ravens have a ton of quality free agents. It will be interesting because Baltimore is the only division team which has to abide by the "Final Eight Plan" for making the divisional playoffs. This will restrict Baltimore from making a lot of moves. Therefore, expect the team to keep most of its key restricted free agents while trying to explore the trade market. On the unrestricted side, the Ravens are negotiating with receiver Derrick Mason and are expected to keep him. But two players who could get some interest in the open market are defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. Baltimore likes both players but could lose at least one.
Potential unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams, TE J.P. Foschi
Potential restricted free agents: LB Brandon Johnson, LB Rashad Jeanty, OL Evan Mathis, C Kyle Cook, DE Frostee Rucker, CB David Jones, LB Abdul Hodge, QB Jordan Palmer, TE Daniel Coats, DT Shaun Smith
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Bengals have yet to announce their tenders, so this list could change by Thursday evening. But traditionally they are not big spenders in free agency and will stay true to that even with an uncapped year. Cincinnati could make one or two decent outside signings that may help the team. Finding a receiver would be the most likely target. The most interesting in-house name is offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who likely will test the market. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also would like to keep veteran Roy Williams and Tank Johnson. But the team hasn't made a major push for either player before they're let loose Friday.
Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jerome Harrison, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers, S Brodney Pool, S Abram Elam, DE Matt Roth
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: Cleveland has the money to spend and the biggest talent deficit. So look for the Browns to attempt to make up ground in free agency. Major names like defensive end Julius Peppers and tailback Thomas Jones have been mentioned as possibilities for Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Internally, the Browns should be interested in keeping Harrison and Vickers in their backfield. Jackson also has value. None of their unrestricted players are priorities for the team and will be allowed to hit free agency.
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, CB Deshea Townsend , FB Carey Davis, OG Darnell Stapleton
Potential restricted free agents: OT Willie Colon, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth
Franchise tag: K Jeff Reed
What to expect: The Steelers are pretty predictable. Pittsburgh intends to keep all of its restricted free agents, get a long-term deal complete with Reed, who has the franchise tag, and let nearly all of their unrestricted free agents test the market. The exception is Clark, who the Steelers targeted as a priority but has yet to reach a long-term extension before Friday's deadline. Negotiations have been ongoing and should go to the final hour to decide whether both sides can come to an agreement or allow Clark to test the market.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Biggest surprise: Rookie free-agent tailback Isaac Redman did all he could to impress the Steelers this summer to make the 53-man roster. But the numbers game was too much as Pittsburgh already has three quality tailbacks in Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. The Steelers won’t hesitate to place Redman on their practice squad if no team claims him.
Recently released Carey Davis was the team’s starting fullback last year, so that also counts as a surprise. But Davis has been in the doghouse for Pittsburgh since last year, and with the arrival of rookie Frank “The Tank” Summers, Davis became expendable.
No-brainers: Linebacker Bruce Davis was a third-round pick in 2008 with potential. But he didn’t show much in more than a year in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers were tired of waiting for him to come around. This year’s seventh-round pick, A.Q. Shipley, came in with high hopes but struggled physically at the NFL level as most scouts projected. The Steelers might like to spend more time teaching Shipley the NFL game if he isn’t claimed. Others like Justin Vincent, Scott Paxson and Donovan Woods were not surprises.
What’s next: With starting guard Darnell Stapleton (knee) out for the year and on injured reserve, don’t be surprised if the Steelers search the waiver wire for some depth on the offensive line. That’s really the only glaring weakness Pittsburgh has entering the season. The center position behind starter Justin Hartwig is particularly thin now that both Stapleton and Shipley were taken off the active roster.
We will have more analysis Saturday as the rest of the AFC North makes its announcements.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Half of the AFC North division saw action Saturday night in the preseason.
- The Steelers were wise to take precaution in sitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Achilles) in a 17-13 exhibition loss to the Washington Redskins. In fact, I said on ESPN radio Saturday night that I wouldn't be surprised if Pittsburgh sits "Big Ben" the following week as well. In my time with the Steelers this summer, I came away feeling one of their biggest priorities was making it through training camp and the preseason with as few injuries as possible. So the Roethlisberger injury Thursday had to give the team a scare. The Steelers already have well-defined roles, and besides a few backup jobs and bringing along rookies, Pittsburgh doesn't have as much use for the preseason as most teams.
- The first-team offense minus Roethlisberger did not look sharp in the first quarter. Starting left tackle Max Starks was called for holding on the first offensive play, fullback Carey Davis had a false start and quarterback Charlie Batch also contributed an intentional grounding penalty all within the first two drives. The unit still produced a touchdown with Willie Parker's 3-yard run, but there are some minor procedural things offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will want to clean up after he watches the tape.
- This week was Stefan Logan's turn to return kicks and he looked impressive. He had the longest kickoff return in the game (60 yards), in addition to averaging a solid 12 yards per punt return. The Steelers are looking to boost their special teams and have turned over every rock this offseason to do so. The team signed Logan from the CFL, and his best chance to make the roster is to become the best returner.
- Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson responded in what was a make-or-break game for him in Saturday's 27-10 win over the Detroit Lions. Anderson completed 8 of 13 passes for 130 yards and a interception as he moved the offense well. The performance likely evened the competition with Brady Quinn, who outperformed Anderson in the first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Expect this competition to go down to the wire.
- Josh Cribbs is doing all he can to prove that the new regime in Cleveland should give him a new contract. The special-team's ace returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown and had another return to start the game called back. Cribbs, who is also competing for the No. 2 receiver job, has been impressive in both preseason games. But Cribbs says he is undecided if he will play in the regular season without a new deal.
- Rookie tailback James Davis provided the big play Cleveland is looking for from its backfield this season. Davis, a sixth-round pick who has been a pleasant surprise, broke through for an 81-yard touchdown run against the Lions. The Browns are looking for a change-of-pace tailback to pair with Jamal Lewis, and big plays like that will earn the trust of Browns coach Eric Mangini.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
In a division filled with quality defenses, it was only fitting that a young, up-and-coming linebacker caught the most attention of his AFC North peers.
In the closest vote of the entire player survey, Cincinnati Bengals second-year linebacker Keith Rivers edged linebacker Lawrence Timmons of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn by one vote to become the 2009 pick for breakout player.
This offseason, ESPN.com granted anonymity to 32 players -- eight from each AFC North team -- on select topics that will be revealed throughout July. The players surveyed could not vote for themselves or their teammates.
Rivers led an extremely diverse group of breakout players with six votes, while Timmons and Quinn received five votes apiece. An astounding 14 different players were selected, which was the most of any survey question. They ranged from all different positions such as receivers linebackers, tailback, and even a fullback (Carey Davis of Pittsburgh).
But in the end, Rivers stood atop the list.
"It means a lot," Rivers told ESPN.com after learning of the results recently in Bengals minicamp. "I think it means players felt I was doing well, even though it was only through seven games. It's great to know that I had an effect on the guys in this league that I play against, and I just hope to build on that."
So far, defensive players have dominated this year's AFC North survey. In addition to Rivers, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu were voted by opponents as the best all-around and smartest player in the division, respectively.
The definition of a breakout player can vary. So ESPN.com did not preclude anyone from being chosen for this particular category. For instance, if a player surveyed thought Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be considered a breakout player, despite two Super Bowl victories, he went on the list.
|Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers had his rookie season cut short by a broken jaw.|
This explains several votes for players such as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who broke through last year in leading his team to the AFC title game, or Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes, who was the Super Bowl XLIII MVP in February. But minus those two exceptions, AFC North players were pretty unified across the board on what they considered a breakthrough season.
In 2008, Rivers broke his jaw in the seventh game, which ended his first NFL season. At the time of his injury, Rivers was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors and finished with 37 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.
Rivers got to play every team in the division once last season, which was enough to earn the respect of his peers.
"He's solid," said one rival player who voted for Rivers. "I think this could be a good year for him."
Other notable players who received multiple votes included another young linebacker in Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson (2), who led the NFL in tackles last season, and a pair of receivers in Brian Robiskie (3) and Chris Henry (2).
Said one future opponent of the rookie Robiskie: "He's a polished receiver and his dad [Terry] being a coach will help his learning process."
Another AFC North player had an even bigger projection for Henry.
"I bet he gets 1,000 yards this year," the player said confidently.
Overall, every division team had at least one representative. The Browns had the most players selected for this particular category with five. But the fact that 14 players total were chosen for this survey question also highlights the depth of young players in the AFC North.
"It's great because I think it brings more competition to our division," Rivers said. "I think this is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, and with the continued young, great players that we're getting in this division it makes it that much better."
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Pittsburgh made qualifying offers to offensive tackle Willie Colon, cornerback Anthony Madison and tight end Sean McHugh. The team also tendered exclusive rights free agents Carey Davis, a fullback, and offensive tackle Jeremy Parquet.
Davis and Parquet cannot negotiate with other teams. Colon, Madison and McHugh can negotiate deals but the Steelers could match any offer or accept draft picks as compensation.
Ravens reserve safety Daren Stone was slobberknocked by running back Carey Davis while attempting to cover the opening kickoff. Stone staggered to his feet and needed defensive backs Evan Oglesby and Tom Zbikowski to escort him to the sideline.
An announcement was made in the Heinz Field press box that Stone has a concussion. His return is doubtful.
7:30 PM ET Carolina New England 7:30 PM ET New York New York 7:30 PM ET Jacksonville Detroit 8:00 PM ET Oakland Green Bay 10:00 PM ET Chicago Seattle
4:30 PM ET Tampa Bay Buffalo 7:00 PM ET Dallas Miami 7:00 PM ET Tennessee Atlanta 7:30 PM ET Washington Baltimore 8:00 PM ET New Orleans Indianapolis 8:00 PM ET St. Louis Cleveland 8:00 PM ET Minnesota Kansas City 9:00 PM ET Houston Denver