NFL Nation: Draft Watch 2011 decision makers AFC

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Baltimore Ravens

Ozzie Newsome continues to be one of the NFL's best general managers, and right-hand man Eric DeCosta is starting to create a significant buzz in league circles as well. DeCosta is widely viewed as the Ravens' future GM whenever Newsome decides to retire. But together they have helped Baltimore become a consistent contender in the AFC North.

The Ravens rely heavily on their regional scouts to provide the initial groundwork, while the front office digs deeper to determine which prospects fit the system. The Ravens have an established identity, and they evaluate toughness and football character better than most teams. Baltimore also thrives on finding value picks in the draft, particularly in the middle rounds, which is hard to do.

Cincinnati Bengals

Many have been critical of Cincinnati's lack of a general manager and lighter resources in its front office and scouting staff. Bengals owner Mike Brown recently defended the practice. But the results, which include zero back-to-back winning seasons in 29 years, speak volumes.

The Bengals had a solid draft last year and that needs to continue to develop the same consistency as their rivals. With fewer resources than most teams, the Bengals too often miss on important things such as character and work ethic, which eventually comes back to haunt them.

Cleveland Browns

The power duo of president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert flexed its muscle for the first time last year in Cleveland. The result was a solid draft that landed cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy in the first three rounds. The Browns also made a shrewd trade to land 1,000-yard rusher Peyton Hillis from the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn.

But Cleveland posted its second consecutive 5-11 season, proving there is still plenty of work to do. Starting with the No. 6 overall pick, Holmgren and Heckert have a chance to land impact players in this draft to help ease the transition for rookie head coach Pat Shurmur.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Not much has changed in Pittsburgh, which is a good thing for the Steelers. Pittsburgh continues to let the front office dominate the offseason while giving way to the coaching staff during the season. Kevin Colbert mostly stays out of the public eye but is well-known as one of the league's top general managers. The Steelers continue to build through the draft and got plenty of rookie contributions last year from center Maurkice Pouncey and receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown during their Super Bowl run.

This year some of Pittsburgh's philosophies will be put to the test. The team usually avoids cornerbacks in the first round but may have several good options at No. 31. The Steelers also have the propensity to take the best available player later in the first round instead of the biggest need. Do not be surprised if the Steelers go against the grain in both instances.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Houston Texans

General manager Rick Smith runs the large scouting staff and the draft operation and works to build consensus. But the Texans are not drafting anyone coach Gary Kubiak doesn’t want, and Kubiak will lean heavily on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the new members of the defensive staff. They’ve taken a lot of fire for last year’s first-rounder. Cornerback Kareem Jackson struggled as he started all year.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts haven’t done as well at the top recently. Bill Polian, who’s new title is vice chairman, is still overseeing things, and although his son Chris is more active now as the general manager, you can be sure the elder Polian is still calling the shots. I expect he’s determined to break a streak where four of the last seven players picked in the first and second rounds are question marks -- offensive tackle Tony Ugoh has already busted and guard Mike Pollak, running back Donald Brown and defensive end Jerry Hughes all have a lot of work to do to prove worthy of their status.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager Gene Smith has complete authority over the draft, but he worked his way up the ranks as a scout and surely gives his staff’s opinions a lot of power. He will also take input from Jack Del Rio and the coaching staff. Smith’s got a formula that puts a premium on guys who’ve led in college. Look for the class to include several four-year players who captained their college teams. He’s not afraid to take a guy who draftniks and other teams may not value in the same way.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans will talk consensus, but general manager Mike Reinfeldt has more power now that he’s working with a first-time head coach in Mike Munchak. A new power player is involved, too. Ruston Webster came on board after last year’s draft as the VP of player personnel. He’ll have a big say. The lockout and lack of quarterbacks at this stage mean the systems won’t change dramatically in Munchak’s first year. But he and his staff can sell the scouting staff and start to get slightly different personnel based on what coaches would ultimately like to do.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Buffalo Bills

This will be the second draft for general manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Chan Gailey. Vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak is back for his 11th draft. Bills founder Ralph Wilson has been known to get involved on draft day, but Gailey recently said he hasn't seen the Hall of Fame owner meddle. "He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."

Miami Dolphins

For the first time since general manager Jeff Ireland joined the club in 2008, he will run the show without Bill Parcells watching over his shoulder. Parcells stepped away from the Dolphins a few days before the 2010 season opener, leaving his hand-picked GM at the controls. Head coach Tony Sparano also would appear to have a bigger voice with his contract extension. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made the move to make amends after an embarrassing flirtation with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick is entering his 12th draft with New England. He remains in control of every personnel move and hasn't missed without Scott Pioli, who departed for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Belichick receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. The Patriots' draft room must be a sight to behold. On the first two days of last year's draft, they made a series of trades in which they acquired 10 picks (including a 2011 second-rounder) with an average value of the 69th pick and peddled eight picks with an average value of the 85th pick. So these minds somehow accumulated more picks and higher in the order.

New York Jets

General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan enter their third draft together. Top college scout Joey Clinkscales is highly respected in the business, but Ryan has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Denver

This is the only place in the AFC West where there is major change in the decision-making process this year. Denver will be closely watched during this draft for reasons that extend beyond the fact that it owns the No. 2 pick. This will be the first draft since legendary former Broncos quarterback John Elway took over as the team’s vice president of football operations. He was hired in January.

The Broncos have a three-way leadership format, with Elway, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox. Elway has the final say on all decisions. However, Elway will rely on Xanders and Fox. Fox is the key. This is his 10th straight draft as a head coach. But this is an opportunity for Xanders to spread his wings too. He was the general manager the past two years with former coach Josh McDaniels. But McDaniels had final say and he used it. The Broncos had several questionable draft decisions the past two years and have privately made it clear it was McDaniels who was driving the draft ship. This new crew has been busy this offseason preparing for the draft. The Broncos’ brass has been at several pro days and the team has scheduled many workouts and visits with players at many positions. Elway has preached the importance of preparation as the Broncos try to rebuild.

Kansas City

This is Scott Pioli’s show. Pioli is in his third season as Kansas City's general manager. He has final say in all draft decisions. Pioli was part of many successful drafts in New England prior to joining the Chiefs in 2009. Pioli has fit this role well in Kansas City. He is a strong, confident leader. After a so-so first draft in Kansas City, Pioli struck gold in 2010. Several rookies made instant impacts and the class was a big reason why the Chiefs went from four wins to a 10-6 team that won the AFC West. Pioli works well with coach Todd Haley, whom Pioli hired. They seem to have the same draft vision and it seems to be a working well.

Oakland

There is no doubt here -- this is Al Davis’ show. No owner in the NFL is as involved in his team’s day-to-day operations as Davis. That includes the draft. Davis, 81, enters this draft with a hot hand. Oakland had one of the best drafts in the NFL last year and if the Raiders become a playoff team soon, the success of the 2010 class will play a major role. Davis bragged about the class in January and he deserves to boast. Suddenly, the calls from fans for Davis to hire a general manager have quieted. One of the biggest reasons Oakland floundered from 2003-09 was poor drafting, especially in the first round. But Davis proved he can still be effective in the draft room. He still watches countless hours of film and keeps in close contact with the team’s scouts.

San Diego

As in Kansas City, this is a classic leadership arrangement. A.J. Smith is the general manger in San Diego. He has been responsible for making all football-related decisions since he took over in San Diego in 2003. He prides himself in his film study and has been immersed in draft preparation for months. Smith is a strong leader who is known around the league for his willingness to strike a draft-day deal. He’ll move up or down. There’s no insecurity here. He’s in charge and he’s not afraid to use his power.

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