NFL Nation: University of Virginia
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
ESPN.com held its first annual Blog Network NFL draft this week. The results were posted on Wednesday, and you can find all the results here.
But fear not, AFC North fans. Your division had the best general manager in the business.
We landed the top-rated offensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, the top pass-rusher for the Cleveland Browns, one of the top receivers and a local product for the Baltimore Ravens and the best center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here is how it all broke down:
Pick No. 5: Brian Orakpo, DE/LB, Texas
Why: After sending smoke screens in every direction possible, this is the guy we really wanted in Cleveland. We are smart enough to know that the AFC North is about defense first and having players who can pressure the quarterback. Orakpo is the best at that in this draft. Plus, he will make fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley a better player, so we feel like we're getting two players in this deal. We're glad Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree was taken one spot higher, because we never wanted to take him this high and the fact that he was off the board will keep the media off our backs.
Pick No. 6: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Why: We are still a little shocked by this one. Going in we didn't feel drafting Smith was a possibility for Cincinnati, but it shows how unpredictable draft day can be. Smith was the top player on our board for the Bengals, both because of need and talent. To land this left tackle at No. 6 was a great achievement. We thought Virginia's Eugene Monroe had a chance to fall at this spot. But NFC West GM Mike Sando must be down on Smith, because he passed him over twice with the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 and the Seattle Seahawks at No. 4. Because of Sando, Smith just told our coaching staff he's arriving in Cincinnati with a chip on his shoulder, which is what we like to hear.
Pick No. 26: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Why: Right around pick 20, we got a little nervous. We contacted all blogger GMs saying we wanted to trade up from No. 26, and I had $20 in my pocket to do it. NFC East GM Matt Mosley laughed out loud and took Ohio State tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells with the No. 21 pick for the Philadelphia Eagles. True story. But with USC linebacker Rey Maualuga off the board, the only player we really coveted at this point was Heyward-Bey. Luckily he got past teams like the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins. Their loss is Baltimore's gain.
Pick No. 32: Alex Mack, C, California
Why: Things panned out just as expected for Pittsburgh. Every top center was available with the final pick in the first round, so we took the highest one on our draft board in Mack. He will help improve our running game and should give us some options up front to move players around. Or we can simply let Mack learn the system before taking over permanently at center in 2010, when starter Justin Hartwig becomes a free agent.
Overall, we hope AFC North readers are happy with their picks. Let's see if the real NFL draft turns out just as well this weekend.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North:
- At least one writer, Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun, believes the Ravens should pass on Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin.
Morning take: On Friday we listed the pros and cons of trading for Boldin and it came out about even. Decisions like these are why Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome gets paid the big bucks.
- Multiple sources tell ESPN.com that Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson did not have offseason knee surgery, contrary to prior reports.
Morning take: I'm not sure why the Browns were so evasive about this. But it's good to finally get to the root and put the issue to bed.
- Scott Brown of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has the official visit count for the Steelers. The breakdown is eight offensive linemen, eight cornerbacks, five defensive linemen and four receivers.
Morning take: That sounds right in line with their areas of need.
- Geoff Hobson of the Cincinnati Bengals' team Web site does a final mock draft leading up to next week's NFL draft.
Morning take: Once again Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe were taken off the board before No. 6. Is this a sign of things to come?
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Team needs: Offensive tackle, center, pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker
|Paul Jasienski/Getty Images|
|An offensive tackle such as Eugene Monroe would provide an upgrade for the Bengals at a critical position.|
Dream scenario: Unless five teams in front of Cincinnati have brain cramps, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith -- arguably the top player in the draft -- will not be available when the Bengals use their sixth overall pick. Smith would be perfect for Cincinnati as he would fill the team's biggest need at left tackle and provide tremendous value at No. 6. University of Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe would be another solid pick who may be off the board. Injuries have caught up to former Cincinnati first-round pick Levi Jones, so much so that he is no longer a dependable blindside protector for quarterback Carson Palmer, who's suffered two season-ending injuries (knee, elbow) the past four seasons.
Plan B: With Cincinnati possibly in a poor spot to secure one of the draft's two best tackles, the Bengals' focus could shift to taking the best defensive player along the front seven. Cincinnati has drafted a defensive player in the first round the past four years. The result is a sneaky good unit which steadily improved last season and finished No. 12 in total defense, despite little help from the offense. A player such as Texas defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo could be a good addition. The Bengals could still address the tackle position as a Plan B if they are desperate enough. They can take a risk on Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, whose stock has taken a hit this offseason, or reach for Mississippi tackle Michael Oher, who is widely considered a mid first-round prospect. The recent flirtations with running backs and receivers the past couple of weeks appear to be more smoke screens than substance. Those positions are likely targets in the second and middle rounds.
Scouts Inc.'s take: "The offensive line certainly needs work, and a major weakness of this team that sometimes goes unidentified is the center position. In their division, the Bengals play six games against Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton and Haloti Ngata. They were trying to get by with Eric Ghiaciuc, who is 280 pounds and he just gets manhandled. They had no inside running attack against those three divisional teams because they couldn't handle the 3-4 nose tackles. That's a huge disadvantage. But in the first round I think they can go a lot of different ways. I like their defense. I don't think their defense is as bad off as it usually is. But, boy, do they need a pass-rusher. They need a difference-maker, and Orakpo makes a lot of sense for them to rotate in with the defensive ends they already have." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: With a miniature scouting department, the Bengals' coaches are responsible for a significant chunk of talent evaluation. That gives head coach Marvin Lewis' staff a decent amount of input. But the final call on all major decisions usually must go through the ownership level with the Mike Brown family.
Now On the Clock: Cleveland Browns, April 13.