AFC North: Steelers make offense much more imposing
By James Walker
The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football, and its talent pool became deeper this weekend with the influx of drafted players such as Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers (No. 8), Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall and new Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (No. 18).
Here is a breakdown of this weekend's draft within the AFC North:
The best move was actually two moves made by the Pittsburgh Steelers. General manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin ignored the team's most glaring need -- offensive line -- on Day 1 and opted to go with the best available players. Those two players were Illinois' Mendenhall at No. 23 and Texas receiver Limas Sweed at No. 53. Both players graded out as first-round talents in most projections, meaning Pittsburgh got tremendous value for its picks.
The Steelers didn't necessarily need a tailback or a receiver. But pairing Mendenhall with Willie Parker and adding Sweed to the receiving duo of Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes will make defensive coordinators around the league cringe this season.
The Cincinnati Bengals are already taking heat in the Queen City for their second-round selection of Coastal Carolina receiver Jerome Simpson. The Bengals desperately needed a receiver. The team released Chris Henry, and starter Chad Johnson's status with the team is in limbo.
But the selection of Simpson at No. 46 came when other big names such as Sweed, Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly and California's DeSean Jackson were still available.
Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said Simpson's athletic ability and measurables are right up there with the big-school receivers. He also said character played a major role in drafting Simpson, and that's a factor the team can ill-afford to take risks on at this point.
"There are things that don't become public knowledge about individuals, whether it's background or injury,'' Bratkowski said. "It doesn't get publicized. What we have here is a guy who's a top-notch young man. He's very healthy, and he has a big upside to him."
Simpson will make the Bengals look either very good or very bad with this pick. He will have a lot of pressure -- perhaps more than he deserves -- entering training camp because of his small-school status and the expected circus involving Johnson.
Most surprising move
The Baltimore Ravens were the most active team this weekend, beginning with two shrewd Day 1 trades that involved a total of nine draft picks switching teams. The Ravens ultimately landed Delaware's Flacco, who was the second-rated quarterback on their board behind Matt Ryan.
Baltimore attempted to trade up to No. 2 with the St. Louis Rams in order to land Ryan, but the asking price was too high. So when Atlanta took Ryan at No. 3, the Ravens quickly went to Plan B.
Baltimore first traded down with the Jacksonville Jaguars to gain the No. 26 pick, two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder. General manager Ozzie Newsome then worked out a deal with the Houston Texans to gain the No. 18 pick to nab Flacco, while sending its No. 26 pick, a third-round pick and a sixth-rounder to Houston.
It was a good yet surprising series of moves by the Ravens, who were organized enough to pull it all off.
"We had a game plan,'' Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta told reporters in Baltimore. "We thought about this scenario for a long time. Joe was a player that we've had a chance to spend a lot of time around.''
Baltimore also took Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski in the third round, a move that was somewhat surprising considering the team has a pair of stud safeties in Ed Reed and Dawan Landry.
File it away
After waiting four rounds to take their first player, the Cleveland Browns may have landed a late gem in UNLV linebacker Beau Bell. Bell is active, posting 126 tackles and four interceptions last year. But his size -- 6-foot-1, 239 pounds -- is a question if he plays inside in a 3-4 scheme.
Another sleeper to watch in Cincinnati is fourth-round pick Andre Caldwell out of Florida. The receiver has blazing speed and could help contribute immediately as a kickoff returner. The Bengals' selection of two receivers in the first four rounds shows that the position is an obvious area of concern.