NFL Nation: Draft Watch 30310 AFC

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:05
PM ET
NFC Schemes/Themes: 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: schemes and themes.

Baltimore Ravens

Theme: Getting vertical. The Ravens are dedicated to helping third-year quarterback Joe Flacco as much as possible. This will not be limited to the NFL draft. Baltimore also will explore free agency and the trade market in an effort to find receivers and tight ends who can stretch the field. Flacco has a very strong arm, but the Ravens were not able to throw deep enough last year. There is speculation that Baltimore could be in the market for veteran receivers such as Brandon Marshall (trade), Anquan Boldin (trade) and Terrell Owens (free agency). Baltimore holds the No. 25 overall pick. So options in the draft include speedy Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate, Arrelious Benn of Illinois and Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Cincinnati Bengals

Theme: Getting vertical. Cincinnati, like Baltimore, wants to improve the deep passing game. Was the problem in 2009 quarterback Carson Palmer or his supporting cast? For the first time in his career, Palmer struggled with deep accuracy. The struggle was highlighted down the stretch when Cincinnati lost four of its last five games. But other than receiver Chad Ochocinco, no one else was able to get behind the defense consistently. Look for the Bengals with the No. 21 pick to have similar targets with Baltimore, such as Gresham, Benn and Tate. Cincinnati also is rumored to be interested in Owens. Usually, the Bengals are not major players in free agency.

Cleveland Browns

Scheme: Adding West Coast principles. For Cleveland, it's all about scheme and philosophy this offseason. Although the Browns are being vague about the topic, there are a lot of internal discussions going on about the offensive side of the ball. Cleveland president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert both believe in the West Coast offense. Head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll do not. At some point their schemes and principles will have to mesh to come up with Cleveland's new offense for 2010. But what does this mean for the quarterback? Do Brady Quinn's strengths match the West Coast system or the old offense under Mangini? Should the Browns find another quarterback? Will they draft West Coast-type receivers and tight ends? There are a lot of questions that need to be settled before Cleveland takes the field in September.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Theme: Plugging holes. For a team that missed the playoffs last season, the Steelers do not have a lot of glaring weaknesses. Pittsburgh is still a veteran-laden team that is in position to compete for a title if everyone stays healthy. Last year's absence of safety Troy Polamalu helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. This year's draft is about adding depth and plugging holes. Pittsburgh could use help at cornerback and depth on the offensive line, either at guard or tackle. The Steelers struggled in the red zone, so getting a physical presence on the offensive line could cure those ills. Idaho guard Mike Iupati would be a good fit. There are not a lot of top-flight cornerbacks available at No. 18, but Boise State's Kyle Wilson has impressed a lot of scouts and might be an option. Also, despite Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton's three-year extension, do not rule out Pittsburgh finding his heir apparent in this year's draft, which is rich with defensive linemen.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:03
PM ET
NFC Schemes/Themes: 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: Schemes and themes.

Houston Texans

Alex Gibbs is gone, but offensive line coach John Benton learned from the master and the Texans are expected to continue to rely largely on the zone blocking run scheme Gibbs installed. That means the interior offensive lineman the Texans bring in to compete for a starting spot will be a smaller, more agile type, not a super-heavyweight bruiser. The bigger running back they seek to run behind that line needs to be a one-cut-and-go guy, not a dancer. If the Texans draft a back, look for them to go for a bigger guy who can get a tough yard and fare better in goal-line situations.

Indianapolis Colts

Speed and agility are always at more of a premium than size for the Colts, though they welcome all of those when they can get them. It would seem they would look to add at least one offensive tackle who’s a sure pass-protector but can also help spring a running back like Joseph Addai around the corner with some consistency. Another Colts' tenet is that a steady, threatening pass rush is a crucial component and it’s likely time to upgrade end No. 3 and groom the next Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Head coach Jack Del Rio says quarterback David Garrard is good, but not elite, and that’s perfectly true. For him to lead the Jaguars to the playoffs, he needs to be surrounded by a quality cast that plays close to error-free. So look for second-year general manager Gene Smith to try to mirror his first draft that brought in quality players who had no character questions. Many members of his first draft class were team captains in college, a leadership trademark the team would like to continue to add to its roster. They dabbled with a 3-4 last season, but are back to a 4-3 and need a high motor, consistent pass-rusher more than anything.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans don’t prefer to blitz, but when their front four doesn’t generate sufficient heat they either have to bring extra people or suffer the consequences. Defensive linemen in Tennessee are asked to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. A defensive end who can be disruptive as a rusher is a priority for a team coming off a mediocre pass-pressure season and looking at a youth movement. They’ll be looking at cornerbacks, too. Just as they expect their wide receivers to be a force in the rushing offense, they expect their corners to be big parts of the run defense on the perimeter. They won’t draft a guy afraid to nose in on tackles.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Schemes/Themes: 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: Schemes and themes.

Buffalo Bills: As if the Bills didn't have enough holes to fill, they've chosen to overhaul their defense. New coach Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards are converting a Tampa 2 defense into a 3-4. They're missing the keystone of that scheme, a blocker-absorbing nose tackle. Logic would suggest the Bills draft either a nose tackle or an offensive tackle with the ninth overall pick, but they had the need for a left tackle last year and selected pass-rusher Aaron Maybin with the 11th pick. The 3-4 switch is good news for Maybin because he was invisible as a rookie and projects better as an outside linebacker. Still, the Bills will need to infuse that position with more talent in this transformation.

Miami Dolphins: Because quarterbacks coach David Lee and offensive coordinator Dan Henning were the Wildcat innovators, many look at their draft needs through that prism. They didn't disappoint the prognosticators last year when they reached to draft scat quarterback Pat White in the second round for the purposes of using him in their direct-snap offense. I'd be surprised if the Dolphins drafted for Wildcat purposes again this year. White's selection was a disappointment. He was no threat as a passer, and the coaches couldn't figure out a way to use him. Another theme to watch is how the Dolphins draft linebackers. They didn't like the way their linebackers performed under defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, inside linebackers coach Edwards (now with the Bills) and outside linebackers coach Jim Reid. All three coaches are gone.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have incredible flexibility entering the draft with four selections among the top 53 slots. They can go any direction they choose, but will Bill Belichick keep his picks or barter them? The Patriots have tweaks to make all over the place, particularly on defense. Fortunately for the organization, Belichick has a much better success rate when it comes to identifying defensive players early. Some of the Patriots biggest draft mistakes on Belichick's watch have been on offense. They found a keeper with left guard Logan Mankins, but didn't connect on such prospects as tight ends Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson and receivers Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson. Running back Laurence Maroney has been a contentious pick, too.

New York Jets: General manager Mike Tannenbaum said at the NFL scouting combine Friday the organization isn't placing any extra importance on collecting draft picks, but the Jets need to sow young talent onto their roster. Over the past three years, the Jets have traded away most of their draft picks to move up in the order and select players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris, quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene -- all successes to date. But their ranks have been thinned with only three draft picks last year and 13 since 2007. The Jets have used undrafted free agents and castoffs from other teams to fill out their roster, a philosophy that's difficult to maintain for the long haul. The Jets also are affected by the "final eight" plan that prevents them from signing unrestricted free agents until they lose one. A plump draft class would do the Jets wonders.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Schemes/Themes: 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: Schemes and themes.

Denver Broncos

Denver is a team that definitely will be drafting this year to fit its scheme. Second-year coach Josh McDaniels is still very much building his own program. Much of the scheme drafting will be done on the front lines. Denver is straying from the zone-blocking scheme employed in the past. McDaniels used the zone-blocking scheme last year. But he is switching to a more traditional power offensive line. Denver will look at bigger guards and centers in the draft. Defensively, Denver will be looking for a nose tackle to play in the 3-4 defense. Denver still needs an anchor on the line. With few options available in free agency, expect the Broncos to try to find a nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft. The Broncos also may try to find an inside linebacker to fit the 3-4.

Kansas City Chiefs

This will be the second year that Kansas City will use the 3-4 defense under general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley. With new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel on board, Kansas City is going to be committed in this draft to find players who fit the 3-4. Finding them isn’t easy. There is a growing number of NFL teams adopting the scheme but there is a limited number of college players who are prepared to play in it in the NFL. Still, Kansas City will look for perhaps a nose tackle and linebackers to fit the 3-4. Offensively, the Chiefs will look for receivers who are strong after the catch to fit with starting quarterback Matt Cassel.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders are going to be looking for multiple offensive linemen. Under head coach Tom Cable, an offensive line specialist, Oakland uses the zone-blocking scheme. Zone-blocking linemen are usually smaller and more athletic than the more traditional plodding, road-grading offensive linemen. There are plenty of zone-blocking offensive linemen out there, but it is difficult find some who are ready to play. But that’s what Oakland probably will be doing at least twice during the draft. Defensively, Oakland is the only 4-3 base defense in the division. Oakland needs linebackers and interior defensive linemen and it shouldn’t have trouble finding quality players. Of course, Oakland’s biggest draft theme is fast players. That will always be the case on Al Davis’ team. Expect the Raiders to take among the fastest players at each position they address.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers have two major needs in the draft this year and they are both specific to the team’s schemes. Offensively, San Diego is looking for a power back. The team released longtime star running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Finding a new primary back to fit San Diego’s system is necessary. Defensively, the Chargers are going to look for a nose tackle in the 3-4. Jamaal Williams is getting older and may only have one year remaining in San Diego if at all. Williams anchored the defense at nose tackle. He was sidelined for all but one game last year and San Diego’s defense missed him. The Chargers' 3-4 defense won’t be truly at its best until it gets a big nose tackle to collapse the middle of the offensive line. That’s San Diego’s goal this year in the draft.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Roster Advisor

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 12/18
Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22
WEEKLY LEADERS