AFC Team Reports: 2011 draft


AFC East

A.J. Green could be headed to Cincinnati. (Georgia photo)

Buffalo Bills

Despite more pressing needs, GM Buddy Nix said this is the perfect time to draft a quarterback in the first round given the number of signal-callers likely to get picked on Day 1. Nix said he wouldn’t pass up a chance to select someone he thinks will be a franchise quarterback. Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert are considered the elite quarterbacks. It is a virtual certainty the Bills would take Newton at third overall. It’s not so certain they would take Gabbert if Newton is gone, but Nix’s words will be put to the test if that scenario plays out. … If the Bills don’t take a quarterback in Round 1, they will address the defensive front seven. Nix said it’s more important to stop the run than rush the passer, which suggest Alabama DT Marcell Dareus would be the choice if he’s available. But the Bills’ anemic pass rush needs help, too, so Texas A&M OLB Von Miller is an equally strong consideration. … Look for the Bills to draft at least one offensive tackle. It’s possible that will be addressed with a veteran, but with no free-agent period on the horizon, a late-round pick there is likely. – Allen Wilson

Miami Dolphins

At a time when it’s difficult to assess in which direction the Dolphins will go at No. 15 overall, there is at least some reason to believe the team has legitimate interest in QB Ryan Mallett. Four times since the start of the year, GM Jeff Ireland has met with Mallett — including Mallett’s two-day visit to South Florida earlier this month. Ireland concedes the team is obviously interested, but he says the diligence is also the result of wanting to decide for himself about Mallett’s character. “Sometimes when there’s information out there, you want to dispel rumors and get as much information that you can with any player out there,” Ireland said. “That’s why we went through the process. He’s a nice young man, very talented kid, got a bright future.” The impression Mallett made on Ireland could ultimately dictate whether the Dolphins decide he’s their first-round man. – Jeff Darlington

New England Patriots

The Patriots have spent the last few weeks evaluating the high-end quarterbacks, but don’t assume they are set on picking a successor to Tom Brady just yet. Instead, coach Bill Belichick is doing a thorough evaluation of all prospects for when teams attempt to trade up for them at No. 28. In order to make a trade, Belichick must know the value on all sides. … The lack of a rookie wage scale won’t affect whether the Pats make both picks in the first round. Maybe if they had a top-five pick it would, but not at No. 17 and No. 28. Instead, it will only hinge on the value of the pick vs. the value of a trade. … With a dearth of sacks in 2010, the assumption is the Patriots will search for a pass-rushing outside linebacker, but it’s more likely the focus is on a defensive end to draw two blockers and create opportunities for others. – Ian R. Rapoport

New York Jets

Speculation continues to link the Jets as being interested in taking Baylor DT Phil Taylor at No. 30 overall, despite some teams apparently being scared by a problem with the bones in his feet that eventually could cause Taylor significant pain. Sione Pouha, the current starter at nose tackle, is 32. … This could be the year in which the Jets, for a change, trade down rather than trading up. If they think they can get someone they want in the first round later in the early second round, they would be willing to deal for an extra selection. The Jets need to stockpile some depth after having only seven picks in the previous two drafts. … In what could be a rare burst of honesty at this time of the year, GM Mike Tannenbaum indicated the Jets have 8-10 players targeted as likely being available at No. 30. The Jets have drafted only one defensive player in the past two years and need to boost their pass rush and three-man line. – J.P. Pelzman

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

It appears the Ravens will get a chance to select two of the top players to fill two of their top needs. Ideally, the Ravens would prefer to get a pass rusher to play opposite Pro Bowl OLB Terrell Suggs, or a big, strong corner who can perform well in press coverage. Colorado CB Jimmy Smith and Ohio State OLB Cameron Heyward are both expected to be available at No. 26 overall. Smith, though, comes with some character concerns, something the team needs to keep in mind after drafting another prospect with off-field issues, OLB Sergio Kindle, last year. … Expect the Ravens to use one of their nine total picks on a wide receiver. They believe the class is deep and could use some new blood with Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason in the twilight of their careers. … Keep an eye on Florida C Mike Pouncey and Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi. If either somehow slipped to No. 26, the Ravens would select one of them. Pouncey would become the heir apparent to Matt Birk, while Carimi would become an instant starter at left tackle, freeing up Michael Oher to move back to his more comfortable right side. – Mike Preston

Cincinnati Bengals

All indications are the Bengals will grab WR A.J. Green with the No. 4 pick unless, by some miracle, QB Cam Newton falls into their lap. With Newton headed to either Carolina or Buffalo, the Bengals will likely select their quarterback in Round 2 or trade up into the late first round with the goal of selecting Jake Locker or Andy Dalton. … The club needs Green because 11-year veteran Chad Ochocinco is among three wideouts entering the final year of their contracts. Green is a quick, sudden, explosive route-runner who will become the No. 1 receiver for the foreseeable future … QB Blaine Gabbert and CB Patrick Peterson will get strong consideration at No. 4. Gabbert has a strong arm and makes accurate throws on the run, but the biggest stumbling block is the learning curve needed to make the transition from a spread offense to the West Coast scheme. Peterson’s size, quickness and ball skills are an intoxicating blend, heightened by his explosiveness as a punt returner. Tipping the scale in Green’s favor is the fact the offense needs the most help. – Chick Ludwig

Cleveland Browns

The Browns really need a defensive lineman but are antsy about spending a No. 6 overall pick on one. Ideally, they would like to trade down, which would serve two purposes. One, they would get an extra pick or two, which the team sorely needs to satisfy the types of players needed by coach Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. Two, they would feel much better about spending a No. 10-20 pick on one of the defensive linemen left than they would about taking an early gamble. GM Tom Heckert likes DT Nick Fairley but there are concerns about how he will handle a big payday. Heckert also would love to have DE/OLB Robert Quinn but is reluctant because there is no 2010 game film of him. If the Browns stay put, the best guess is they would go with CB Patrick Peterson because he is more of a sure thing than Fairley, Quinn and other defensive linemen. Heckert picked CB Joe Haden at No. 6 last year, but he reasons 60 percent of downs are played with a nickel back on the field, and you never have enough good corners. Having two great ones really appeals to him. If Peterson is gone, Alabama WR Julio Jones feels like another safe choice. – Steve Doerschuk

Pittsburgh Steelers

The team will not reach to take a cornerback, nor will it move up to do so, not unless something drastically unexpected happens. They should have a shot at Miami’s Brandon Harris and Texas’ Aaron Williams, but much will depend what other players are on the board, specifically defensive linemen. The Steelers might wait until the second round to take a corner and either go for a defensive linemen or wide receiver on the first round. … There are several coveted defensive linemen within reach at No. 31, including Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward and Baylor’s Phil Taylor. Oregon State’s Stephen Paea fits their scheme at nose tackle, but that’s too early for him. … The Steelers drafted three linebackers in the first five rounds last year and kept two on the roster. That doesn’t mean, however, they won’t take another in the second or third round. UCLA’s Akeem Ayers is of interest because he can play inside and outside, but they would have to move up in the second round to have a shot at him. – Gerry Dulac

AFC South

Houston Texans

This is GM Rick Smith’s fifth draft. He’s never traded up. The Texans need an outside linebacker and a cornerback. It’s not likely they’ll pay a high price to move up to get edge pass rusher Von Miller, who’s expected to be among the first three picks. If CB Patrick Peterson were to slip to the 49ers at No. 7, expect Smith to make an offer. If the Texans stay at No. 11, they could take DE/OLB Aldon Smith over CB Prince Amukamara. Smith, a third-year sophomore, has tremendous pass-rush upside, and in Wade Phillips’ 3-4, he would rarely drop into coverage. Amukamra would be their second consecutive first-rounder used on a corner after taking Kareem Jackson last year. If they take an outside linebacker in the first round, CBs Brandon Harris and Ras-I-Dowling would be second-round considerations. Dowling (6-1, 197) has the kind of size they covet. – John McClain

Indianapolis Colts

The labor situation has produced veteran concerns at several positions. That’s particularly true with free agents at running back (Joseph Addai), the offensive line (LT Charlie Johnson), safety (Melvin Bullitt) and the defensive line (Daniel Muir, Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster). Vice chairman Bill Polian has said the team is operating under the assumption none of those players will return, which could result in the team feeling compelled to pay special attention to those positions. . . . Finding the long-term answer at left tackle should be top priority. The Colts believed they had found Tarik Glenn’s successor after selecting Tony Ugoh in the second round in 2007, but injuries and inconsistency resulted in Ugoh being released prior to last season. Despite holding the 22nd overall pick, the team should have options, including Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod. If Polian opts for an offensive lineman in the first round, it would be a rarity. In his 24 previous drafts, he’s taken only three offensive linemen in the first round. The last was Blake Brockermeyer, selected with the 29th overall pick by the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995. – Mike Chappell

Jacksonville Jaguars

One of GM Gene Smith’s big challenges will be when to pull the trigger on a quarterback, a position the Jaguars haven’t selected since Byron Leftwich in 2003. The problem is, where the Jaguars are picking early (No. 16 overall) isn’t ideal with so much to upgrade on defense. The greater value lies in taking a pass-rushing end such as Aldon Smith, Ryan Kerrigan or Cameron Jordan. But if they wait until midway through the second round (No. 49) to grab a QB, everyone in the second-tier group — Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick — might already be drafted. … Incumbent QB David Garrard threw a franchise-record 23 TD passes and the team had the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense last season, but he could use extra weapons. The team has lacked a major receiving threat since Jimmy Smith retired in ’06 and the interior line, where C Brad Meester is near the end at 34 and could use added depth. The team likely will grab a receiver or offensive lineman in the late rounds because a vastly improved defense helps Garrard more than anything else. –- Gene Frenette

Tennessee Titans

With QBs Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert expected to be off the board at No. 8 overall, Auburn DT Nick Fairley becomes the most likely option if available. The Titans know Fairley well, as defensive line coach Tracy Rocker tutored him at Auburn. One thing that could keep that from happening: the fear of losing out on the next wave of QB prospects, Jake Locker in particular. The Titans aren’t scheduled to pick again until No. 39 in Round 2 … Despite the recent arrest of WR Kenny Britt, the Titans likely won’t address receiver until the later rounds. … The Titans want to get bigger at linebacker, and are intrigued by Washington’s Mason Foster. Foster is versatile, and he could make an immediate impact on a team that struggled at the position a year ago. –Jim Wyatt

AFC West

Denver Broncos

The noise out of Carolina is getting louder that QB Cam Newton will be the No. 1 pick, thus setting up the optimal scenario for a Denver team starved to add a defensive difference-maker. The current favorite to be taken No. 2 overall appears to be Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, which would be a perfect marriage of need and talent worthy of that high pick. The Broncos are especially thin in the middle of a defensive front that is transitioning from a 3-4 to 4-3 base under coach John Fox. Denver finished No. 31 against the run last year (154.6 yards per game allowed) and Dareus’ ability to occupy blockers as arguably the top interior power player would be the first of many building blocks Denver will add in this draft. … The Broncos continue to poke around the draft’s top QBs, with Newton visiting team headquarters this past week. The justification for the moves publicly continues to be thoroughness, and it still appears unlikely the team would go in that direction with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton on board. But the modus operandi also is sending signals the team isn’t completely comfortable it already has a franchise quarterback. – Lee Rasizer

Kansas City Chiefs

Defensive-heavy drafts in recent years have given the Chiefs several good young players on that side of the ball. It’s a different story on offense, where they are thin at wide receiver and several spots along the offensive line. At least five of their eight picks should be used on offensive players. … Wide receiver is the biggest need but no one of value at that position may be available to the Chiefs at No. 21 overall. If the team doesn’t trade down, look for it to select a receiver (Miami’s Leonard Hankerson is an option) in Round 2. … The Chiefs could be in the market for a developmental quarterback but won’t reach to take one. Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi would seem to be a good fit, but it’s unlikely given their other needs they would take him in the first three rounds. – Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders worked out Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick earlier this month, even though they are without a first-round pick and have two established quarterbacks on their roster. Coach Hue Jackson realizes that Jason Campbell and Kyle Boller turn 30 this season and aren’t signed beyond 2011 and that it’s high time for the Raiders to develop a long-term franchise quarterback. As a result, team is contemplating selecting Kaepernick, or another of the many highly regarded quarterbacks in this year’s class, even if it entails trading up in the second round or into the first round. Florida State QB Christian Ponder also has flashed on the Raiders’ radar. … As usual, the Raiders are taking a close look at the draft’s fastest prospects, regardless of position. Among those in that category are Eastern Washington RB Taiwan Jones and Hawaii S Mana Silva, players who posted impressive times in the 40-yard dash. –Steve Corkran

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers seem content with the 18th overall pick because there is such an abundance of top talent at positions of need — defensive end and outside linebacker. However, the two teams that pick directly in front of them (Jacksonville and New England) are also targeting both positions. Should Dallas go end at No. 9, the Chargers could be enticed to jump up and assure they get J.J. Watt or Ryan Kerrigan. … Defense is the overwhelming draft priority, and depending on if there is a run on pass rushers, the Chargers could be enticed to package one of their four second-day picks and a future first-rounder to move up for a second first-round pick … Along with addressing the defensive front seven, they will turn to wide receiver and cornerback and possibly inside linebacker or offensive tackle on Day 2.

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