NFL Nation: NFL draft 2011

Bunkley joins Broncos, not Browns

August, 1, 2011
The Cleveland Browns traded for former Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Brodrick Bunkley on Saturday.

But something happened in the past 48 hours that neither the Browns nor Eagles are willing to explain. Instead, Bunkley is now a member of the Denver Broncos after Denver traded an undisclosed draft pick in 2013, leaving Cleveland still thin on the defensive line.

So what happened? Did Bunkley refuse to report to Cleveland? Who knows? But it's been a poor start to the season so far for the Browns, who have failed to make significant progress by adding talent via trades or free agency.
Ike Taylor, Chad Ochocinco and Lawrence VickersAP PhotoDraft-day moves by their teams could mean Ike Taylor (Steelers), left, Chad Ochocinco (Bengals), middle, and Lawrence Vickers (Browns) will be wearing different uniforms next season.
While one dream was being made last week, another was coming to an end.

Saturday in California, former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic happily took a call from the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round. Marecic was excited to be entering the NFL and knowing his destination in 2011.

Soon after, current Browns fullback and pending free agent Lawrence Vickers' phone began buzzing constantly to let the veteran know Cleveland likely drafted his replacement.

"Honestly, my first reaction was 'Wow,'" Vickers told the AFC North blog this week. "I'm amazed. I was amazed I was still a free agent and wasn't signed [by the Browns] before the deadline. I didn't understand it. But at the same time I do understand, because nothing has ever come easy to me. So I was prepared for it.

"If they want me, they want me. If they don't, they don't. As a man, you have to be prepared for anything. But in the back of my mind I thought I would be in Cleveland."

Welcome to the harsh world of the NFL.

As teams were making draft picks last week, each move to replace players and plug holes could impact what AFC North teams do in free agency. Let's take a look at where each division team stands.

Cleveland Browns

Top draft picks: DT Phil Taylor, DE Jabaal Sheard, WR Greg Little, FB Owen Marecic

Potential impact: The Browns were in need of talented players and could have as many as four Week 1 starters in this year's draft class. Health permitting, Taylor and Sheard are heavy, heavy favorites to start at defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively. Cleveland doesn't have many bodies at those positions. Little will be thrown into a receiving corps that includes Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Both have struggled and Little, who missed last season at North Carolina because of a suspension, will have every chance to compete for a starting role. But Marecic was the pick that turned some heads. The Browns were eerily quiet about Vickers' pending free agency this offseason, and speculation began to grow that the new coaching staff didn't feel he was a good fit for the West Coast offense. Those thoughts were confirmed Saturday, when Cleveland made a surprise pick for a fullback in the fourth round. Vickers, one of the top blocking fullbacks in the NFL, is expected to test the market, where he will surely get interest. The Browns did a good job of filling holes but still need to address certain areas. Safety and the right side of the offensive line remain glaring needs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top draft picks: WR A.J. Green, QB Andy Dalton, OLB Dontay Moch, G Clint Boling

Potential impact: Cincinnati's first two picks were not a surprise, but both were telling. It likely signaled the end of the Chad Ochocinco-Carson Palmer era with the Bengals. Both veterans, who have been the faces of the franchise for years, are under contract. But Ochocinco is in the final year of his deal and is expected to be traded or released following the acquisition of Green. Palmer wants to be traded or he plans to retire, which is why the Bengals drafted Dalton. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is already projecting Dalton to be the Week 1 starter. Cincinnati should get all the value it can for Ochocinco and Palmer. It's questionable whether any team is willing to trade and pay the approximate $6 million for one year with Ochocinco. But it takes only one team. With Palmer, there will be several teams lined up and ready to pounce if the Bengals put him on the market. Cincinnati's coaching staff appears ready to move on without Palmer, so it will come down to ownership. Bengals owner Mike Brown said recently that the team has no intention of trading Palmer. The Bengals did not draft a cornerback until the seventh round (Korey Lindsey), but that probably has no bearing on pending free agent Johnathan Joseph. Cincinnati isn't expected to retain Joseph, who will be one of the league's top free agents. But the team has Adam Jones for insurance to pair with starter Leon Hall. The Bengals also want starting tailback and pending free agent Cedric Benson back, as evidenced by the team not drafting a replacement.

Baltimore Ravens

Top draft picks: CB Jimmy Smith, WR Torrey Smith, OT Jah Reid, WR Tandon Doss

Potential impact: The Ravens took one of the biggest risks in the draft by selecting Smith of Colorado. He has a long list of off-the-field issues at Colorado, but the Ravens feel confident Smith will stay out of trouble. In terms of talent, Baltimore landed a player with the potential to be the team's first shutdown corner since Chris McAlister. Smith is expected to start right away, and this impacts two pending free agents in Josh Wilson and Chris Carr. Wilson played well for Baltimore once he earned the starting job in the second half of the 2010 season. Carr was a backup, but a solid presence in the locker room. With the pickup of Smith, Wilson and Carr are no longer huge priorities in free agency. The Ravens are getting Domonique Foxworth back from a knee injury and Lardarius Webb is still on the roster. The pick of Torrey Smith in the second round fills a need for a speedy receiver to pair with Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. He is expected to fill the No. 3 receiver role T.J. Houshmandzadeh will leave behind. Ravens coach John Harbaugh also spoke highly of Reid, the team's third-rounder. Former starting offensive tackle Jared Gaither was injured last season and has been in the doghouse for quite some time and isn't expected to return. In terms of holes, the Ravens still need an impact pass-rushing threat to pair with Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top draft picks: DE Cameron Heyward, OT Marcus Gilbert, CB Curtis Brown, CB Cortez Allen

Potential impact: The Steelers stayed true to form by drafting for depth in the first two rounds with Heyward and Gilbert. Barring injury, both players will be put in the rotation but are not expected to start. But the third and fourth rounds are where things got interesting for Pittsburgh. The Steelers went with cornerbacks in back-to-back rounds with Brown and Allen. They hope one or both rookies can make an immediate impact. That might be asking a lot for the reigning AFC champions. Brown was the second-best corner on his team at the University Texas to Aaron Williams, on whom the Steelers passed in the first round. Allen played at a small school (Citadel) and will make a significant jump to the NFL. All of these factors increase the value of Ike Taylor, who is Pittsburgh's biggest free agent. The Steelers' No. 1 corner would fill an important starting role and take a lot of pressure off the team's young corners. That way Brown, Allen, Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler can all compete for reserve roles and develop at a more gradual pace. The price tag will be the biggest question. The going rate for solid cornerbacks this offseason has been about $10 million per season. It's doubtful the Steelers are willing to pay that much to retain Taylor. Also look for the Steelers to fill their kicker positions in free agency and perhaps add another backup tailback to replace Mewelde Moore.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may not admit it, but the urgency to re-sign top cornerback Ike Taylor probably increased this past weekend.

Taylor is Pittsburgh's biggest unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the team failed to land a top-rated cornerback in the NFL draft. The Steelers filled other needs in the first and second round before addressing the position.

The Steelers picked Texas cornerback Curtis Brown in the third round and Citadel corner Cortez Allen in the fourth round. Pittsburgh feels both players have potential. But based on their draft status, it's rare for a rookie taken in the middle rounds to be ready to start right away for a Super Bowl contender.

If Taylor is re-signed, this would help the transition of the younger corners. Similar to last year, Taylor and Bryant McFadden would be the starters for the Steelers, while young corners like Brown, Allen, Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis can compete for backup roles.

But the going rate for free-agent cornerbacks are extremely high this offseason. Oakland Raiders corner Stanford Routt recently signed a deal averaging $10 million per season, which could set the market for free agents like Taylor and Johnathan Joseph of the Cincinnati Bengals.

With those kind numbers being thrown around, there's no guarantee Taylor will return to the Steelers. If that's the case, one of Pittsburgh's inexperienced corners might have to step up into a starting role in 2011.

AFC North draft grades are in

May, 1, 2011
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has turned in his draft report cards, and it's clear Kiper is impressed with the AFC North.

Here is a recap:

Cincinnati Bengals

Kiper's grade: A-

Analysis: Kiper likes the fact the Bengals got good values while filling big needs. Everyone knew entering the draft that receiver Chad Ochocinco and quarterback Carson Palmer were on their way out in Cincinnati. But the Bengals were still able to land their targets in Georgia receiver A.J. Green and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton without losing picks in the process. Reportedly, the Atlanta Falcons offered Cincinnati a similar deal to the one they eventually gave Cleveland and the Bengals turned it down. Whether that was the right move or a mistake will depend on how the Green pick pans out.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Kiper's grade: B+

Analysis: Kiper is correct in saying Pittsburgh had a "typical unflashy" draft. But solid prospects like Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward and Florida offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert have a chance to be solid contributors for a long time. The only criticism I would have for Pittsburgh is it didn't draft a cornerback in the first two rounds. Third-round pick Curtis Brown of Texas and fourth-round pick Cortez Allen from the Citadel could be steals. But usually middle-round picks at cornerback are developmental players who need time to adjust to the NFL, and the Steelers need an immediate impact at this position this upcoming season.

Cleveland Browns

Kiper's grade: B+

Analysis: The Browns have been getting praise nationally for their shrewd deal with Atlanta to trade the No. 6 overall pick for five draft choices -- and rightfully so. With Cleveland's roster very thin at many positions, this was a good time to stockpile draft picks and build for the future. Similar to Pittsburgh, the Browns didn't get any flashy, home-run picks in this draft. But Cleveland added solid talent. Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor and Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard are expected to be Week 1 starters for the Browns.

Baltimore Ravens

Kiper's grade: B+

Analysis: How this draft will be remembered for Baltimore will hinge on first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith, who I think is the biggest boom-or-bust candidate in the AFC North. Smith's talent is undeniable, but his rap sheet is lengthy as well. The Ravens know they are taking a risk, but they're comfortable with their decision. If Smith stays out of trouble, this class could be very solid. I also like the pick of Maryland receiver Torrey Smith, who could be a nice addition to stretch the field for veteran starters Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.

AFC North fourth-round notes

April, 30, 2011
Several interesting draft picks came off the board in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Here are some notes on the AFC North:
  • The Cincinnati Bengals took Georgia offensive tackle Clint Boling in the fourth round. Boling also will get a look at guard, where the Bengals struggled last season. But Cincinnati could use versatility and depth at both positions next season.
  • The Cleveland Browns made a somewhat surprising selection in the fourth round with USC tight end Jordan Cameron. Tight end is one of the few positions the Browns have depth with starter Benjamin Watson and backup Evan Moore.
  • The Browns also took Stanford fullback Owen Marecic with their second fourth-round pick. This likely signals the end of veteran free agent Lawrence Vickers' tenure in Cleveland. Vickers is one of the top power fullbacks in the AFC. But the Browns are switching to a West Coast offense, where Vickers is no longer a great fit.
  • The Baltimore Ravens continue to add youth at receiver by drafting Indiana's Tandon Doss in the fourth round. He will join fellow rookie Torrey Smith of Maryland to compete for backup roles behind starters Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers added their second cornerback from this draft in Cortez Allen from the Citadel. Pittsburgh was very thin at the position, but now has Allen and third-round pick Curtis Brown from Texas to add to the mix. With Ike Taylor and William Gay both free agents, there's no guarantee either player will return.
Andy Dalton/A.J. GreenUS PresswireAndy Dalton and A.J. Green are going to be the centerpieces for the rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals.
The Cincinnati Bengals have officially ushered in a new era.

With franchise quarterback Carson Palmer and former Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco aging and disgruntled, the team drafted their replacements in quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. Cincinnati's urgency to replace the soon-to-be former faces of the franchise is the strongest sign yet that the Bengals are blowing up the core and starting over.

Technically, Palmer and Ochocinco are still under contract with Cincinnati. But behind closed doors, the team knows it's likely both veterans played their final game in a Bengals uniform. Palmer demanded a trade, put his house on the market and says he's willing to retire, while Ochocinco has joined the offseason campaign to get out of Cincinnati.

With both players well over 30 and past their prime, the Bengals appear willing to oblige.

"It seems like a lot of guys might not be around," Dalton admitted Friday when he was drafted. "But the guys that will be there will get in and have one goal in mind -- and that is to win a lot of ballgames."

At times Cincinnati can be unpredictable with personnel, but it executed a well-thought out plan to land new building blocks. Green is the draft's best receiver and Dalton was a top-five quarterback, depending on which team you survey.

If you want further proof the Bengals are moving on, head coach Marvin Lewis was already talking about Dalton's prospects of being the Week 1 starter in September.

Carson who?

Lewis called Dalton an "important, important piece" to the team.

Could the Dalton-Green combo match the Palmer-Ochocinco combo? Obviously, there are very big shoes to fill.

Palmer and Ochocinco have been one of the NFL's most prolific passing duos for the past eight years. Palmer threw for 22,649 yards and 154 touchdowns in Cincinnati. Ochocinco is the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 10,783 career yards. And according to ESPN's Stats and Information, the 46 touchdown connections for Palmer and Ochocinco ties them for 26th all time for a quarterback-receiver pairing.

Dalton and Green may not pass those statistical milestones. But that doesn't mean this pair can't win, which is something Palmer and Ochocinco struggled with in Cincinnati. The veterans combined for just two playoff appearances and zero postseason wins. Cincinnati has not won a playoff game in 21 years.

If Dalton and Green can eventually win playoff games, Bengals fans will forget the days of Palmer and Ochocinco as fast as you can say "Pepto Bismol."

The key to making this all work will be Dalton.

Every quarterback prospect this year has holes. Dalton is considered undersized and doesn't have a cannon for an arm. He's far from the sure-fire No. 1 overall pick Palmer was eight years ago. But if Dalton can get Green the football consistently, good things will happen in the Bengals' new West Coast offense.

The Bengals believed in Dalton early in this pre-draft process. He set a Mountain West Conference record with 42 career victories at TCU. He was 13-0 in his senior year and led the Horned Frogs to a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.

"I feel like I'm a leader," Dalton said. "I know how to push guys; I know what it takes to push guys. I’m excited to come in, learn the different personalities of everybody there, get on the same page with everybody, and just get to work."

In 2001, the Bengals drafted Ochocinco in the second round, and they got Palmer in the first round two years later. This year the Bengals flip-flopped, using a first-round pick on a Green and a second-round pick on a Dalton.

The final step for the Bengals may be the hardest. It's time for Cincinnati to trade Ochocinco and Palmer, and get as much value for them as possible. Player transactions are on hold with labor uncertainty. But as soon as trading and free agency opens, the Bengals should put both players on the market.

The Bengals had a chance to trade Ochocinco three years ago and were scared to pull the trigger, but they seem more open to the idea now.

Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has said he will not trade Palmer. But with Dalton now in the fold and several teams probably willing to give up a sizable bounty for Palmer, it would be in Brown's best interest to let go of the quarterback.


AFC North third-round update

April, 29, 2011
Three AFC North teams made picks in the third round of Friday night's NFL draft.

The Cincinnati Bengals started the round by drafting Nevada outside linebacker Dontay Moch. The Bengals need help with their pass rush and Moch had 38 career sacks in college. This is also another sign that the Bengals are hoping to move Rey Maualuga back to his natural position of middle linebacker.

The Baltimore Ravens finally addressed one of their biggest needs in the third round by drafting Central Florida offensive tackle Jah Reid. He has good size and athleticism for the position, and the Ravens hope Reid can compete for a starting job opposite Michael Oher.

Finally, the Pittsburgh Steelers got a cornerback in the third round. Pittsburgh took Texas corner Curtis Brown with the No. 95 overall pick. The Steelers also had their eye on former Texas teammate and corner Aaron Williams, who went to Buffalo in the second round. Pittsburgh is very thin at the position with Ike Taylor and William Gay pending free agents.

The Cleveland Browns did not have a pick in the third round following Thursday's trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to move up and select first-round pick Phil Taylor.
We've spent some time discussing the Green Bay Packers' future at receiver as James Jones approaches free agency. Normally, a team that features Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson wouldn't consider receiver a priority, but the possible departure of Jones and Driver's age (36) made it a position of (some) need.

Enter Randall Cobb, a 5-foot-10 playmaker who will have a chance to develop in the Packers offense but who ultimately should provide them a unique presence in multiple spots. He might even be the punt and/or kickoff returner the Packers lacked last season.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy runs plenty of four- and even five-receiver sets, making receiver depth more important than for most teams. I imagine McCarthy is already thinking of the possibilities for Cobb, who played both running back and receiver for Kentucky.

Last season, in fact, Cobb averaged 7.7 yards per carry in the running game (55 carries for 424 yards) and also caught 84 passes for 1,017 yards. He accounted for a total of 12 touchdowns. If you're thinking he is a smaller version of Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, you would be on to something. Cobb also returned two punts for touchdowns in his career and averaged 24.6 yards on kickoff returns.

Right after the pick, I got an email from an avid reader we'll call John B.

"Just what the Packers need," the email read. "Another receiver."

That about covers it. The rich got richer Friday night.

AFC North makes run on WRs

April, 29, 2011
The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers made late second-round picks in rapid succession Friday night.

Baltimore came up first and selected speedy Maryland receiver Torrey Smith at No. 58. It was a solid value pick close to home and a good addition to a veteran group that includes Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.

The run on receivers continued with the Browns selecting North Carolina receiver Greg Little with the next pick at No. 59. It was Cleveland's second pick of the round courtesy of Thursday's blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Little missed all of 2010 via suspension and was the first offensive pick for the Browns, who are trying to get help for young quarterback Colt McCoy.

With the second-to-last pick of the round, the Pittsburgh Steelers broke the streak on receivers by drafting Florida offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert with No. 63 pick. The Steelers needed youth at the position and added much-needed depth there in the second round.

Live again at Browns headquarters

April, 29, 2011
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns were among the biggest movers and shakers in Day 1, and the AFC North blog was at Browns headquarters every step of the way to bring you the latest.

What will the Browns and the rest of the AFC North have in store for Day 2? If Thursday was any indication, expect another wild ride.

Cleveland has two picks in the second round, while Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers each hold one pick in the second and third round. Here is a recap of what all four teams could be looking for.

Check back with the AFC North blog for live updates and constant analysis on all of tonight’s happenings in the NFL draft.

Updating AFC North draft needs

April, 29, 2011
The NFL draft will continue at 6 p.m. ET Friday with the second and third rounds, which will give each AFC North team another opportunity to add talent to its roster.

Here is a preview of what to look for in the division:

Cincinnati Bengals

Picks: No. 35 and No. 66

Updated needs: As we mentioned today, it's no secret the Bengals are desperate for a quarterback. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Cincinnati was even willing to trade up to the final pick of the first round with the Green Bay Packers, presumably to draft TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. Now the Bengals have to see what happens tonight with two teams ahead of them in the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. Via draft or trade, both could be major players in the quarterback sweepstakes, and the Bengals cannot afford to leave this weekend without someone to throw rookie receiver A.J. Green the football. Dalton and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett are the two most NFL-ready quarterbacks remaining. Cincinnati also has various needs on defense, which haven't been addressed. Look for the Bengals to add help on that side of the ball Friday in addition to trying to solve this quarterback quandary.

Cleveland Browns

Picks: No. 37 and No. 59

Updated needs: The Browns have a lot of needs, which is why Cleveland pulled off a shrewd trade with the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for five draft picks over the next two years. The deal gives the Browns two quality picks to use in the second round today. Despite medical issues, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers might be a good value at No. 37. He was a projected top-10 pick until knee questions dropped him out of the first round. The Browns would first have to determine how comfortable they are with Bowers' health before selecting him. Cleveland also is switching to a West Coast offense and wide receiver remains a big concern. There are several top names still on the board at receiver, including Maryland's Torrey Smith, Boise State's Titus Young and Kentucky's Randall Cobb.

Baltimore Ravens

Picks: No. 58 and No. 90

Updated needs: The Ravens took a major character risk in the first round with Jimmy Smith at cornerback. But some gaping holes remain at offensive tackle and outside linebacker. The Ravens passed on good prospects at both positions Thursday. Five offensive tackles were taken in the first round, which could make it tough to find good value later in the draft. Villanova's Benjamin Ijalana and Florida's Marcus Gilbert are among the top-rated tackles left on the board. But after that it gets very thin. In terms of pass-rushers, the Ravens still have several quality targets available in Arizona's Brooks Reed, UCLA's Akeem Ayers and Georgia's Justin Houston. Any of the three could provide good value in the second and third rounds and help Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs get to the quarterback this upcoming season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Picks: No. 63 and No. 95

Updated needs: I would be shocked if the Steelers do not draft a cornerback by the end of today. Pittsburgh felt former Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward was too good to pass up at No. 31. But now the team still has to address its biggest need later in the draft. Fortunately for the Steelers, solid prospects remain at cornerback. Secondary players such as Texas' Aaron Williams, Miami's Brandon Harris and Virginia's Ras-I Dowling are all available. Whether any of these players make it to the bottom of the second round remains to be seen. Pittsburgh might have to trade up to land one of the corners. The Steelers also could use depth at offensive tackles. But as we mentioned with Baltimore, Thursday's run at that position leaves the market pretty thin in the second and third rounds.

The Chicago Bears were at the mercy of 28 other teams Thursday night in their efforts to improve their offensive line. Their best-case scenario was for one of the to offensive tackles to get pushed down the board by a run at quarterbacks, and that's exactly how Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi was available when the Bears' turn arrived.

The Bears wasted little time drafting a player who called himself "the best tackle available" during the February scouting combine. At 6-foot-7 and 314 pounds, he could play either left or right tackle for the Bears but should be an immediate starter regardless. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has experience developing young (and big) linemen, and I would imagine he hit the roof Thursday night when the Bears turned in their card.

With Carimi on board, the Bears at least have a starting point in assembling their starting lineup. They can plug him in at one spot and then begin adjusting the rest of their players accordingly. The early guess is that he will start his career at right tackle, but that's only if the Bears feel comfortable with one of their incumbents -- Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams or J'Marcus Webb -- playing left tackle.

But if you're a Bears fan who watched your team give up a sack every 9.9 dropbacks last season, by far the highest rate in the NFL, you're feeling pretty good right now.

Earlier: Carimi falls to the Bears in our Blog Network mock draft.

Quick Take: Packers at Falcons

January, 9, 2011
Three things to know about Saturday night's Green Bay Packers-Atlanta Falcons divisional-round playoff game at the Georgia Dome:

1. The Packers have been eagerly looking forward to a postseason rematch with the Falcons after a close and highly entertaining game in Week 12. In that Nov. 28 contest at the Georgia Dome, the Packers drove 90 yards on 16 plays for a game-tying touchdown with 56 seconds remaining. But the Falcons won on Matt Bryant's 47-yard field goal after a long kickoff return and a face-mask penalty put them about 20 yards from field goal range. "We thought we left a lot out there on the field in that game," cornerback Charles Woodson said Sunday. "There was some stops that we could have made all throughout that game defensively that we didn't make the stop on. ... We felt like we left some football out there on the field. This time that won't happen."

2. The Packers are in a groove. Green Bay will have a short week of preparation, while the Falcons will have had two weeks off by game time. But the Packers wouldn't have it any other way. The way they see it, Sunday evening's victory was their third consecutive playoff win. In truth, they went into postseason mentality in Week 16, knowing they could guarantee an actual postseason berth by victories in their final two regular-season games. Defeating the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in successive weeks seemed to have them in the appropriate mindset Sunday and moving forward. "No doubt about it," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. Said cornerback Tramon Williams: "I'm not sure if anyone wants to play us right now."

3. Two of the savviest young field generals in the NFL will square off in this game. Rodgers produced a 122.5 passer rating Sunday in winning his first playoff game. Meanwhile, the Falcons' Matt Ryan has lost only twice at the Georgia Dome in his three-year career. It could be the first of many postseason battles between these two quarterbacks.

With Luck, Bills on clock for No. 1 pick in '10

April, 28, 2010
Andrew Luck Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesWill quarterback Andrew Luck follow in Sam Bradford's shoes to become the next No. 1 overall pick?
I have good news and bad news for Buffalo Bills fans.

And I have good/bad news for everybody else.

First, for my Bills readers:

ESPN analyst Todd McShay put together a mock draft for 2011 and has the Bills taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck Insider. Problem is, the Bills select first overall, the spot reserved for the team with the league's worst 2010 record.

The good/bad news for everybody else: People already are putting together mock drafts for 2011.

McShay writes about Luck:
Only a third-year sophomore this fall but coach Jim Harbaugh has Luck on the fast track mechanically and mentally. Luck has prototypical size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and is an underrated athlete. More importantly, he has a smooth over-the-top delivery, a strong arm and great touch as a passer. Better decisions while gaining more game experience could put Luck in position to become the top player taken in the draft -- either in 2011 or 2012. columnist Ivan Maisel takes a look at how Luck is emerging into a star college quarterback. Maisel writes, "Luck already is rated as the first pick of the 2011 draft. You don't need Todd McShay to tell you that. Any agent worth his platinum Rolex Yacht-Master can see it."

Let's not get too carried away, though, Bills fans. As inexact of a science as mock drafts are, they're virtually impossible to forecast a year out. McShay has to project who's stock will be hot, what positions NFL teams will need, which underclassmen will enter the draft or return for their senior seasons while hoping against a major injury or failed drug test.

[+] Enlarge
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBrian Brohm was tabbed as the top prospect in an early 2007 mock draft. He was drafted at No. 56 in 2008.
Also to keep in mind, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper projected in a preseason mock Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm would be the first overall selection in the 2008 draft. Brohm was the 56th pick and didn't make the Green Bay Packers' final roster. He was the Bills' third-string quarterback last year.

Still, mock drafts are fun to talk about, and I don't want you to go through withdrawal.

McShay used a draft order based on Scouts Inc. power rankings from Jeremy Green and Matt Williamson. It looks like a decent year for the AFC East.

McShay has the New England Patriots selecting Georgia receiver A.J. Green seventh overall with the pick they acquired from the Oakland Raiders for Richard Seymour. In the Patriots' assigned 22nd slot, they add Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas.

With the 18th pick, the Miami Dolphins select Oklahoma edge-rusher Jeremy Beal.

The New York Jets take Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick with the 29th pick, indicating they will reach the AFC Championship game again but won't punch their Super Bowl ticket.

No lie: Scouting the 2011 draft

April, 26, 2010
Oh yeah. We've heard you loud and clear: You must know the top prospects for the 2011 draft RIGHT NOW.

You ask and we deliver, even if you didn't really ask. In the video below, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah offers his top-five prospects for 2011. He suggests that four quarterbacks could go in the top-15 overall and names two -- Stanford's Andrew Luck and Washington's Jake Locker -- as his top two prospects overall.



Thursday, 11/27
Sunday, 11/30
Monday, 12/1