NFL Nation: Draft Watch 040710 AFC

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: Draft approach.

Cleveland Browns

This year Cleveland's draft approach is a mystery. There's an entirely new front office led by team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. The pair share many of the same philosophies but have never worked together -- particularly in the same draft room selecting players. Therefore, it's unknown whether the team will take a conservative or aggressive approach in two weeks. So far, the power pairing has made a lot of sense with its offseason moves. The Browns quickly got rid of two struggling quarterbacks and acquired veterans such as Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Jake Delhomme, Benjamin Watson, Chris Gocong and Peyton Hillis to fill important roles. With 10 draft picks, it will be interesting to see what Holmgren and Heckert have in store for Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are very underrated for their wheeling and dealing on draft day. Because of their conservative approach to free agency, the Steelers probably don't get enough credit for frequently moving up and down the draft board to get players they covet. Last year they traded out of the second round to get more mid-round picks. The Steelers traded up to get receiver Santonio Holmes (2006) and safety Troy Polamalu (2003). This year Pittsburgh has 10 picks with a veteran-laden team that's just one year removed from a Super Bowl title. So it's debatable whether 10 rookies can make Pittsburgh's 53-man roster out of training camp. In other words, keep a close eye on the Steelers and director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals, led by owner Mike Brown, are pretty conservative when it comes to the draft, particularly when they have picks later in each round. The Bengals typically will not trade to move up. The team traditionally doesn't enjoy giving out huge contracts and is widely regarded as one of the toughest teams to negotiate big-money deals with. Last year's contract dispute with No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith was a perfect example. Smith missed all of training camp because both sides were unable to reach an agreement. Therefore, expect the Bengals to stay put with the No. 21 overall pick. They should be able to land a good prospect because this is a very deep draft.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is similar to Pittsburgh in its approach. The Ravens are prone to do anything -- which can include moving up, trading down or staying put. In the past two years alone, Baltimore has been a big mover and shaker. In 2008, the Ravens traded back and then up in the first round to land quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 18. Then Baltimore traded up three spots to select right tackle Michael Oher at No. 23 last April. Therefore, you can never put it past general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens to be very aggressive. A major difference this year is the team doesn't have as many draft picks (five) to barter following the offseason trade with the Arizona Cardinals to land receiver Anquan Boldin.

Draft Watch: AFC East

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: Draft approach.

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo's draft decision-makers have changed and morphed so often over the past decade there's no track record to suggest their strategy this year. Buddy Nix has been influential in past Bills' drafts, but this is his first go-round as general manager. We're not sure how much input new assistant GM Doug Whaley or new head coach Chan Gailey will have. But the front office is exuding a sense of direction it hasn't had in years. In their previous four drafts, nobody really knew who made the decisions and nobody would admit it. Former head coach Dick Jauron, top college scout Tom Modrak, former pro personnel director John Guy and former chief operating officer/GM Russ Brandon all were involved, but to what degree? Of that muddled group, only Modrak remains in his role.

Miami Dolphins

Maybe they're ready to loosen up now that a foundation has been established, but the Dolphins' modus operandi was pretty simple for the first two years under football operations czar Bill Parcells. They were coming off a 1-15 season and needed to be rebuilt carefully. Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano set out to make the safest picks. Because left tackles are surer things than quarterbacks, the Dolphins chose left tackle Jake Long first overall in 2008 and not Matt Ryan, for instance. Then the Dolphins came back in the second round for quarterback Chad Henne. In the first three rounds of the past two drafts, the Dolphins drafted a left tackle, two quarterbacks, two cornerbacks, two defensive ends and a wide receiver.

New England Patriots

Perhaps no club drafts with value in mind more than the Patriots do. Unlike the Jets, who'd rather shoot up in the order, the Patriots are more content to backpedal and collect more picks. In last year's draft, they started out with the 23rd selection, backed up to 26th and eventually ended up with the 41st, 73rd and 83rd. Dissatisfied with the talent pool and reluctant to invest first-round money in anybody on the draft board, the Patriots traded out of the first round completely and took four players in the second. The Patriots have an embarrassment of bargaining chips this year. New England is the only team with four choices in the first two rounds and already holds two selections in the 2011 first round. New England also led the league in compensatory picks, but those cannot be traded.

New York Jets

The Jets own the 29th selection of the draft, but it would be a stunner if they actually pick there. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is intrepid when it comes to making trades, famously moving up to nab cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris, quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene within the past three drafts. Tannenbaum, however, might abandon the maverick approach this spring. The Jets have traded away so many draft choices, they need to replenish their depth for developmental purposes. That could mean moving back into the second round to collect more picks, or, at the very least, holding onto the ones they have. But if presented another chance to pounce, it'll be interesting to see if Tannenbaum succumbs to temptation.

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: Draft approach.

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak was already on board for the fantastic 2006 draft, but the old front office was also there. General manager Rick Smith was hired after that. I don't have a great sense of the Texans' philosophy. The three drafts since feature some hits -- most noticeably Brian Cushing -- but more guys who still haven’t fully tapped into the potential the team saw in them. They’ve only taken one defensive back as high as the third round, which is part of why they need a few so badly now. They’ve only taken one defensive tackle, and he was a fifth rounder.

Indianapolis Colts

Best player available, regardless of need. That’s how president Bill Polian strives to operate and that’s why the Colts are very unpredictable, especially at the top, when draft days roll around. The Colts still prefer fast and quick to big and super-strong, though they have come to desire more size on their offensive line and interior defensive line. The team’s first pick has been offense the last four years, and providing what Peyton Manning needs to be successful is usually priority one. This time around that would seem to be offensive line, but Polian won’t panic if there is a lineman he loves later and is confident he will be able to land.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager Gene Smith has only been on the job for a year, but we still know a good bit about his drafting philosophy. He believes in foundation first, which means offensive and defensive lines. He’s looking to hit singles with every pick, not to swing for the fences. He’s not afraid to stick his neck out as he did last year, trading his 2010 second-rounder for a third-round pick used on corner Derek Cox out of a lesser football school, William & Mary. The Jaguars will strive to get value at every pick while filling out their needs. They will be more likely to trade down than up because of that missing second-rounder and won’t force moves (read draft Tim Tebow) to please the marketing department or a segment of the fan base.

Tennessee Titans

In the three drafts run by general manager Mike Reinfeldt, the Titans have gotten excited over at least one workout warrior early: Chris Henry (bust), Chris Johnson (home run) and Jared Cook (we don’t know yet). The Titans are not afraid to look to smaller programs like Eastern Michigan or Winston-Salem State and some picks in recent years have clearly been favorites of position coaches -- Jim Washburn wanted Jason Jones, William Hayes and Sen'Derrick Marks; Marcus Robertson backed Ryan Mouton. The team doesn’t have big concerns over how other teams or people may value a guy. Sticking their neck out for Johnson made the Titans look great. The jury is still out others like Michael Griffin or Jones.

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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 Wednesday 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: Draft approach.

Denver: This is only the second season of the Josh McDaniels era, so it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how he approaches the draft. However, if his first draft is any indication, it's clear he's going to be bold. McDaniels took running back Knowshon Moreno with the No. 12 overall pick -- a choice many considered to be a luxury pick. Most analysts expected the Broncos to draft a defensive end.

McDaniels showed he is not afraid to wheel and deal. Denver traded its 2010 first-round pick to take cornerback Alphonso Smith with the No. 37 pick. McDaniels has guts and his draft philosophy is to take gambles when he feels the need. The former New England offensive coordinator used six of 10 picks last year on offensive players, despite having more needs on defense.

Kansas City: This is Scott Pioli’s second draft as the Chiefs’ general manager. While with New England, Pioli and gang were known for trading picks when necessary and for making value picks. Pioli’s first draft in Kansas City was difficult to gauge. The team so far hasn't received much value from its picks. Most alarming is that the team reached for defensive end Tyson Jackson with the No. 3 overall pick. The Chiefs drafted Jackson to fill a need. While there is nothing wrong with that strategy, there was no way Jackson, a 3-4 defensive end, would have been a top-10 pick had Kansas City passed on him. Overall, Pioli was more conservative in the draft last year than anticipated. He has, however, been more aggressive in pursuing free agents during the offseason so maybe he will take the same approach during the draft.

Oakland: We all know about Al Davis' legendary draft approach. Lately, his strategies have been ridiculed as Oakland’s drafts have put the team in a seven-year funk and kept it from getting out of the abyss. The Raiders have routinely had a top-10 pick in recent years and will pick eighth this month. If recent drafts are any indication, Oakland will look for a beauty contest winner.

Davis has always been smitten with speed. But his lust for speed and test numbers has gotten out of control. The Raiders drafted receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7 last year. He was expected to be a late first-round pick because of his speed and potential. But because he was raw and has trouble catching the ball, teams did not consider him a top-10 choice. His struggles as a rookie showed the Raiders may have overdrafted him.

In the second round, Oakland took little-known Ohio safety Mike Mitchell based, in large part, on his speed. He didn’t make a huge impact as a rookie. Oakland’s other recent first-round picks, Darren McFadden (No. 4 in 2008) and JaMarcus Russell (No. 1 in 2007), have failed to live up to their pre-draft rankings. Davis has had luck in the later rounds and his history as a drafter can’t be denied, but his approach has not worked recently in the early rounds.

San Diego: San Diego general manager A.J. Smith’s approach has been pretty flexible since he took over in 2003. He likes to make deals and is not afraid to move up or down in the draft.

The Chargers have the No. 28 and No. 40 overall picks. Because he is so flexible, Smith could stand pat and address needs at running back and defensive tackle. But Smith also could try to move up in the first round. He is a shrewd drafter who approaches every draft with an open mind. The Chargers have built a championship contender based on players who contributed on the field during their college days.

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