Ask Andrea: The AFC North Mailbag
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It's Friday, the weekend is about to start and the Ask Andrea AFC North Mailbag is here to ease you into it. This week, we tackle some year-end predictions, the Browns' tight end situation and more.
Just a note: I am off next week and as such, there will be no Mailbag next Friday. So take the extra week to think of an extra-awesome question for me and I will get to it in two weeks.
How do you ask me about the AFC North? Why, it's simple: Just give me a follow on Twitter. There's a convenient button below that will take care of that for you.
Well, Derek, in the AFC North I think there's no question that if he's healthy and active the entire season, the division's Rookie of the Year will be Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson. Last year at Alabama, he had 1,679 rushing yards, 338 receiving yards, and 24 total touchdowns—four more than the Browns as a team scored in 2011.
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If he's even half as good as he was last season when it comes to scoring, that's 12 more touchdowns for the Browns—and probably more wins as a result. Richardson will hands-down win that honor if he hits the 1,800 or so total yards I project him to have this season.
As for the AFC North's Comeback Player, I like Cincinnati Bengals slot receiver Jordan Shipley. There are still hurdles for him to clear, of course—he's still rehabbing from a torn ACL and there are a number of other receivers on the Bengals' roster gunning for his spot.
So, if Shipley can retain that starting slot job, he's got more than a good shot of making an impact in 2012.
Michael, you're right that the Steelers still have some unanswered questions at linebacker, ones that will certainly be addressed during training camp and the preseason. But it's not hard to make some solid guesses on which will make the 53-man roster.
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The starters are likely to be James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the outside, and Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote on the inside. The backups (and situational players) would then be Jason Worilds, rookie Sean Spence, Stevenson Sylvester and Chris Carter. Of those four, Sylvester will likely get the most playing time.
The third quarterback will probably be Charlie Batch, with Byron Leftwich as Ben Roethlisberger's primary backup. Leftwich has more talent than Batch, thus winning that job, but Batch's veteran presence is still an asset. Jerrod Johnson could hit the practice squad, but it seems more likely he'll be simply a camp body.
I like where you're going here. Yes, Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson will be an unrestricted free agent when the season is up, and though there's still a chance they could end up re-signing him, I think the team is hoping that second-year player Jordan Cameron gives them a reason not to.
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Cameron's stock is rising this offseason despite not showing all that much on-field prowess last season. A college convert from basketball to football, perhaps the Browns are hoping there's a bit of Jimmy Graham to Cameron.
If he does show some real growth, then I think that Cleveland will opt to part ways with Watson after the 2012 season has wrapped. Watson has been productive in his time with the Browns, but he's a concussion risk and Evan Moore has already shown he has the skills to take over the starting tight end job.
Again, this all hinges on Cameron. If he doesn't break out somewhat this year, they may give Watson another year on the roster.
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Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders' role will be slot receiver as long as Mike Wallace's holdout does not extend into the season—and it likely won't. Sanders will be taking over, full time, for Hines Ward and will also be the team's primary punt and kick returner so that Antonio Brown can focus on being a receiver.
Only if Wallace does hold out will Sanders be moved to the outside. He could see some work there, of course, but he'll likely be the inside man.
All of this hinges on Sanders staying healthy. Head coach Mike Tomlin is worried about Sanders' durability, and he played all last season with a foot injury and fluid in his knee—the latter requiring offseason surgery. If he's good to go and lasts through the season, he should have a strong year in the slot.
That's all for this week. Until we meet again, have a lovely weekend, week and Fourth of July holiday (if that's your thing).
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