2011 NFL Draft: The 21 Prospects Who Scare AFC North Divisional Opponents Most
Preparing for the NFL draft is a never ending process for scouts, GMs and coaches. There are scouts that work 365-days a year to finding that diamond in the rough somewhere in the ranks of college football. All the hours and work put in to each draft board is exhausting.
The work is so exhausting that teams don't even want to think about their opponent's draft boards, but they have to. Every year there will be a player drafted that will ruin at least three other team's hopes of a championship. Sometimes it isn't just about drafting a player that is good for your team, its about drafting a player that could hurt your divisional opponents.
The Ravens, Steelers, Bengals and Browns will all be poking and prodding incoming rookies to see who can fit in to their systems and produce wins. They are also hoping it will directly lead to losses for their divisional rivals.
The list you will read is a list of players that no one inside the division wants another team to select. We will go through the first five rounds and determine the most dangerous player available.
Not every pick will be possible or even likely; certain players will be gone before an AFC North team has the chance to pick them. I will try and keep all the picks within some realm of possibility. Still, in the case one of those players does fall, it could make things very interesting in the AFC North in 2011.
Nick Sero is a writer for TheSportsCannon.com, an online publication specializing in NFL news, previews rumors and analysis as well all of your fantasy sports needs.
Round 1, Pick No. 4: Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
It is no secret that the AFC North had trouble defending the pass in 2010. No team finished in the top-10 of passing yards allowed and the two best defenses in the division (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) sorely need help at the cornerback position. The chances of the Bengals selecting A.J. Green this early are very good, and his long term success in the AFC North is dependent on whehter the AFC North can shore up their pass defense. This year, at least, Green should have favorable mathchups one-on-one versus the AFC North's best cornerbacks.
Round 1, Pick No. 6: Cleveland Browns
Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama
The Browns make it far too easy on their AFC North foes to run the ball, and they also have trouble getting to the quarterback. It is the opinion of many that games are won and lost in the trenches; if that is true than the Browns are going to lose many more games if they don't add skill to their defensive line.
Shaun Rogers was a formidable foe on the defensive line, even if they weren't that great with him, but now Rogers is a free agent and the Browns have only one defensive lineman worth naming (Ahtya Rubin). The Browns need to address the interior and outsides of their line, as their pass rush is very weak, as well. The AFC North's two best teams build around their franchise quarterbacks in the future, and the Browns will have to find a way to stop them (Roethlisberger and Flacco).
Marcell Dareus could go as high as No. 1, let alone No. 6, but if he were to fall, the Browns would be set with a guy that could either go after the quarterback on the outside edge, or stack the middle to stop the run. The Brown's front office is probably saying a prayer right now that everyone ahead of them goes with a quarterback.
Round 1, Pick No.26: Baltimore Ravens
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Ravens had too many injuries in their defensive backfield to make it past their division rivals the Steelers in the 2010 NFL Playoffs. The blown coverages caught up to them, and because of that, the Ravens will try and grab a playmaking cornerback in the first round. There are three corners in the draft that can have an immediate impact, and Jimmy Smith is one of those players.
If Smith had the same personality traits as Prince Amukamara, he could have gone before Prince in the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft. Smith will drop in the first round because of his off field issues, and if the Ravens are lucky enought o grab him, then everyone else in the AFC North will be very unlucky.
The Ravens have their perennial playmakers on the front in Ray Lewis and Terrel Suggs, along with Ed Reed playing deep. Adding Jimmy Smith to protect the middle makes the Ravens' defense even more dangerous. That is a very scary thought racing through the mind of Ben Roethlisberger.
Round 1, Pick No. 31: Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
The Steelers stuck gold with the No. 18 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft by selecting Florida Center Maurkice Pouncey. This year it is rumored that the Steelers will be gunning for Maurkice's brother, Mike, who would play guard for the Steelers in 2011.
It is no secret that the Steelers' biggest area of need for years has been the offensive line. Although there were bright spots to the unit in last year's run to the Super Bowl, the Steelers will need to add depth on the line and make upgrades. Able to wait on a tackle for one more year, thanks to Flozell Adams playing better than expected, the Steelers can go out and draft another stud lineman from Florida.
The Pouncey brothers separated are very, very good offensive lineman. Together they are twice as dangerous. If the Steelers can reduce the pressure put on Ben Roethlisberger while improving running lanes for Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers are poised to take the AFC North crown in back-to-back years.
Roethlisberger has a phenomenal record in Ohio as the Steelers' starting quarterback, and the Ravens have had trouble dealing with Roethlisberger's ability to extend the play. If the Steelers could add Pouncey, it would only make Big Ben more dangerous while giving the Steelers more opportunity to run the ball.
Round 2, Pick No. 35: Cincinnati Benglas
Locker could end up being taken in the first 10 picks and not even make it to the second round, but in the case that he does fall this far, the Bengals would have no choice but to pull the trigger on Locker. He certainly won't be able to step in immediately and win games as a rookie, but he Locker has all the tools to become a solid NFL starter, and the Bengals will need a franchise quarterback when/if Carson Palmer retires.
Locker will still have to compete with the Ravens' and Steelers' defenses, and the Browns' pass coverage is ceratinly emerging, but the Benglas will have to find a new quarterback to give the team a chance in the future. Locker represents the best option that could fall in the realm of possibilities for the Bengals second round pick.
Other options include Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton, none of which pose the same threat level as Locker.
Round 2, Pick No. 37: Cleveland Browns
Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina
Carter is actually a bit of a reach at the 37th overall selection, but he helps a linebacker unit that is ageing and near the bottom of the best units in football. Carter really only falls this far because he has had some injury concerns, but his on field production and speed/size combination make him a game changer.
The Browns' defense just makes it far too easy on the opposing AFC North offenses. Since they used their first pick on the defensive line, and a first pick in 2010 on cornerback Joe Haden, the Browns can now add young skill to their linebacking corps.
Carter will have to raise his strength and toughness if he wants to make it in the NFL, but he certainly could start Week 1 for the Browns (if given enough time in the offseason to learn the playbook).
Round 2, Pick No. 58: Baltimore Ravens
Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi St.
The Ravens are having issues finding an offensive identity. They want to have a 2,000 yard back in Ray Rice, but also a 4,500 yard passer in Joe Flacco. The most confusing area on offense for the Ravens, however, is the offensive line. They are only getting older, and have been shuffling around players to positions they don't usually play.
Sherrod has first round talent but could be pushed back in to the second round. If the Ravens have a chance a talent like Sherrod they would certainly go after him. Michael Oher is a stellar right tackle but had some issues in his first full season at left tackle. Oher could still get it done, but the Ravens need to add some skill at tackle, at least to move last season's RT Marshal Yanda back to his position at guard.
Adding Sherrod may not give them an a new starting right tackle this year, but it will set up the Ravens to have a younger and stronger offensive line in the future.
Round 2, Pick No. 63: Pittbsurgh Steelers
Aaron WIlliams, CB/S, Texas
There is some speculation that Williams could be the Steelers' first round draft choice, although they will likely pass on Williams for better value at that spot. Williams won't go high to many other teams because he will be a safety playing cornerback in the NFL.
Williams isn't a bad pickup for the Steelers, however. Williams fits the aggressive mold of the Steelers, while still possessing the speed to not get burned by opposing defenses. The Steelers' cornerbacks live by a "bend but don't break" mentality. They may allow some 7-8 yard catches but will use solid tackling to prevent any yards after the catch.
Williams is a hard hitter that could benefit from the coaching of Dick Labeau and new cornerbacks coach Carnell Lake. The Steelers could add a solid counter part to Ike Taylor, although neither Taylor nor Williams have great hands. The opposing AFC North quarterbacks will be frustrated by the lack of options to throw to, but Steeler fans may be just as aggravated by the number of dropped interceptions.
Round 3, Pick No. 66: Cincinnati Bengals
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
The Bengals need as much offense as they can grab in this draft considering they will be left with little options on that side of the field after free agency is over. Cedric Benson showed some flashes of greatness two years ago, when the Bengals won the division, but Benson vanished in 2010.
The Bengals likely won't have a chance to grab Leshoure, but he possesses great power and quickness and could be a Rashard Mendenhall-type for the Bengals. Grabbing a back with the skills of Leshoure combined with the first two picks listed would give the Bengals three very skilled players at three very important positions on the offense.
The Bengals will be forced to find their running attack again in 2011 as a new quarterback paired with a new offensive coordinator will certainly slow the progression of their passing attack. Leshoure would be a great addition to a team that will need fresh legs to find the endzone.
Round 3, Pick No. 70: Cleveland Browns
Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
At 6'5" and 230 pounds, Baldwin is one of the largest receiving threats in the crop of wide receivers. His size doesn't slow him down, however and he is one of the best receivers as far as going up and getting the ball when it is in the air. He has some character concerns that could affect the progression of Colt McCoy and their relationship, but Baldwin will give the Browns the closest thing to a No. 1 receiver they have had since Braylon Edwards.
With the exception of Steelers' cornerback Ike Taylor, Baldwin would give the Browns a height advantage over every opposing AFC North starting cornerback by at least five inches. No team in the AFC North was very good against the pass and Baldwin could end up doing very well for himself in Cleveland as deep threat in Cleveland.
Of course, the Browns will have to find time for Colt McCoy if they want to be able to hit Baldwin deep, but this is a good start.
Round 3, Pick No. 90: Baltimore Ravens
Jerrl Jernigan, WR, Troy
The Ravens have two very good possession receivers in Derek Mason and Anquan Boldin. Likely they will lose T.J. Houshmandzadeh to free agency and Donte' Stallworth didn't do much to stretch the filed in Baltimore.
The Ravens need to find a deep threat compliment to their sure handed possession receivers and Jernigan is a great pick in the third round. Jernigan brings top end speed that would be rivaled by only Mike Wallace in the AFC North.
Jernigan isn't the biggest receiver, so he won't break too many tackles after the catch, but that won't have to be his job in Baltimore. Jernigan is the best option for the Ravens here, although there is much speculation that Jernigan will be gone much earlier than the Ravens pick at No. 90 overall.
Round 3, Pick No. 95: Pittsburgh Steelers
Austin Pettis, WR, Boise St.
The Steelers are looking for their next possession receiver to replace Hines Ward. Austin Pettis has been rumored to be the Steelers' top choice because of his steady hands and his production. The Steelers taking a receiver this high could make some Steeler fans scratch their heads. Last year the Steelers saw solid production form rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.
Sanders is guaranteed a roster spot for some time to come, while Brown is still a work in progress to the coaching staff. The Steelers will need to find a red zone target as reliable as Hines Ward, however. Pettis is a third or fourth round pick, but his collegiate production is rivaled by the top receivers in the draft.
Another idea here could be Kenrick Ellis or Morgan St. The 350 pound defensive tackle draws similarities to NT Casey Hampton and could get some looks by the Steelers to be Hampton's future replacement. Ellis' track record is probably the worst of any rookie in the draft, however, and because of that won't be in consideration for the Steelers.
Round 4, Pick No. 101: Cincinnati Bengals
Ahmad Black, S, Florida
The Bengals, like every AFC North team, needs better coverage from their secondary, and will need some fresh legs at safety to do that. The Bengals have solid names in Roy Williams and Reggie Nelson but both are past their primes and it is time for the Bengals to find some future play makers at safety.
Roy Williams will be in his 10th year and has seen his production drop since his best years in Dallas. Now Williams is known mostly for the penalty created for him, and less for his hard hitting and stellar defense. The Bengals could have the chance to take the second best strong safety candidate in the draft with Black.
Black's speed and size aren't what most NFL teams look for when drafting a strong safety, but his college stats don't lie. Black was a very productive safety with great intelligence and a great motor. Black will likely make a name for himself on any team he ends up playing for, but the Bengals need him the most and get great value if they can steal him in the fourth round.
Round 4, Pick No. 102: Cleveland Browns
John Moffitt, OG, Wisconsin
The Browns need help all over their offensive line, especially the right side. Moffit was a very good offensive guard for the Badgers and was a favorite in the stands and the locker room. The Browns could use a guy to get the fans back in to Cleveland football, but even more could use a guy with Moffitt's size to work the interior of their line.
Moffitt is average in both his run blocking and pass blocking, but his production as a starter is what has moved him up the boards of many NFL scouts. Moffitt gets under the skin of the opposing defenses better than most as his motor never stops running. Moffit at the least adds decent depth to the Browns offensive line.
Round 4, Pick #123: Baltimore Ravens
Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma
The Ravens two best defensive players, arguably anyway, are both nearing the ends of their career. I'm talking about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed of course. Reed is closer to the end of his career than Lewis, however. The Ravens will get at least one more year of solid play from Ed Reed before impedning retirement or a neck injury catch up to him,
This gives them time to draft a future free safety now and possibly have a solid starter in 2012.
Round 4, Pick No. 128: Pittsburgh Steelers
Lawrence Guy, DE/DT, Arizona St.
Guy is considered one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in this year's draft. The Steelers will need to add quality depth to an aging defensive line. They had great production out of former first round pick Ziggy Hood last season, just ask Joe Flacco, but will need to add another young athlete to a defensive line unit with only one player under 30.
Guy is very good against the run, which you have to be if you want to be a Steeler defender. Guy will have to work on his pass rush, however. Many think that the Steelers' pass rush is solely generated by the linebackers in their 3-4 scheme, when in reality they are reliant on pressure from their defensive ends.
For example, the Steelers are statistically better across the board with Aaron Smith at defensive end than when he isn't. Many don't realize this, but for weeks after his season ending injury in 2010 Smith still led the team with quarterback pressures. The Steelers need to keep solid pressure on third downs when they drop their linebackers back in coverage. Guy will have his work cut out for him, but it took a year for Ziggy Hood to emerge and they still have Brett Keisel anchoring the other side of the line.
Round 5, Pick No. 134: Cincinnati Bengals
Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn St.
The Bengals have needs all over the offensive line, but will just have too many needs to fill to take an elite offensive lineman. Wisniewski is a hard working center that is the second best of a short list in this year's draft.
The knock on Wisniewski is his durability which was really only an issue in the later parts of his college career. Wisniewski has NFL pedigree, NFL intelligence and NFL size. He is only average as a blocker, however. Still the Bengals will need all new lineman over the coming years so taking a center with this much upside to pair with your new rookie quarterback is a good way to build towards the future.
Round 5, Pick No. 137: Cleveland Browns
Casey Mathews, ILB, Oregon
Much of the fear AFC North team's will have depends on the chances that Casey turns out to be another Clay. The younger Matthews overcame being very undersized at his position to be one of the more productive inside linebackers in the PAC-10. Much like Mike Pouncey there is a chance that Casey will go higher than expected because of the success of his current NFL Star family member.
Matthews is a very good tackler but will undoubtedly need to bulk up if he wants to shed NFL lineman when trying to get to the ball carrier. Matthews' intelligence is his greatest attribute and could end up calling the plays for the Browns' defense.
Round 5, Pick No. 162: Pittsburgh Steelers
Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland
The Steelers have a very good running back in Rashard Mendenhall and a decent power compliment in Isaac Redman. The team lacks a home run threat in the backfield when it comes to speed, however.
Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott is one of the fastest backs in the draft and could be a game changer for the Steelers because of it. Scott had some injury concerns in college that could actually make him drop even further than this spot, but his speed and and agility are shades of Chris Johnson.
The biggest impact Scott will have will be in the passing game however. Scott was very good as a receiver out of the backfield as a Terrapin, and he should replace Mewelde Moore as the third down back for the Steelers.
Round 5, Pick No. 164: Baltimore Ravens
Ross Homan, OLB, Ohio St.
Homan was an unsung hero for the Buckeyes. His college production was very good despite being a shorter outside linebacker yet Homan finds himself near the end of the draft.
Homan was very good at recognizing the play developing in front of him and is a sure tackler against the run. The Ravens will need him to develop as a stronger pass rusher if they wan't to free Terrell Suggs up at the other end of he defense.
Homan represents a big, strong addition at outside linebacker. Sergio Kindle was supposed to be that guy last year, but a skull fracture ended his season before it began. Kindle could always bounce back, but the Ravens will need to find another option in this year's draft.
Round 5, Pick No. 165: Baltimore Ravens
Demarcus Van Dyke, CB, Miami
I know I said I was only going to list the first five prospects for each team, but the Ravens have back-to-back selections at the end of the fifth round, so we might as well determine their next pick...
Van Dyke has met with the Ravens and both sides left the meeting with nothing but good things to say, so this could actually be the pick at No. 165. Van Dyke is a solid corner that is overshadowed by his Hurricane counterpart Brandon Harris.
Van Dyke will provide a decent addition at corner to a defense that should lose too many corners via free agency. Van Dyke possesses great height and speed and has very good ball skills. The knock on Van Dyke is his production as he was usually targeted by opposing quarterbacks trying to stay away from Brandon Harris. Van Dyke could use a year to study the playbook but his ability to come up with the interception will make the Ravens defense king of turnovers again.