Thursday, April 30, 2009

Optimist/Pessimist: AFC North Draft Class


Pittsburgh Steelers:

OPTIMIST
How bad was the Steelers’ offensive line? So bad that they won the Super Bowl on the strength of their passing attack and a run game that was just as brutal as anything else in the league. Yeah, real bad. So it’s really not a huge surprise that the team opted to make their formidable 3-4 defense even better by taking a nasty DT in the first round. They still managed to pick up a guard in the third, and even added a speedy potential replacement for Nate Washington in WR Mike Wallace. By increasing the intensity in the trenches and slyly filling offseason holes, the Steelers put themselves in a position to once again be the team to beat next season.

PESSIMIST
How bad was the Steelers’ offensive line? So bad that if the Eagles had bothered to show up in the first half of the NFC Championship, Pittsburgh would have had to face for a second time a defensive unit that put up nine sacks and completely dominated their regular season matchup. Instead, they caught a break against a chippy but unimpressive Cardinals defense. The fact of the matter is that a quarterback can only take so many 250+ pound men crashing down on him before his physical gifts start to diminish rapidly, and for a QB like Big Ben, that could be the beginning of a rapid end for an offense that depends on his arm more than anyone admits.

Cleveland Browns:

OPTIMIST
I hate Eric Mangini, but the fact of the matter is that he helped put together some solid drafts in NewYork, and there’s no reason to doubt that he knew what he and GM George Kokinis were doing when they traded down for the sake of stockpiling draft picks. Considering how often NFL teams miss with big, splashy picks, his decision to avoid high salary selections in favor of a versatile offensive lineman and hording defensive rookies is, if not sexy, certainly prudent, and exactly the kind of stable leadership to get a team that was much more talented than last year’s debacle would indicate back on track.

PESSIMIST
There’s a reason I called the Browns trading away the #5 pick of the draft: Eric Mangini is the guy to get a team fighting in the middle of the pack, and nothing more. With options at much needed defensive positions, the cowardly lion of football coaches opted to let other teams make his decision for him not once, but twice. The payoff for all of this maneuvering? Two slow-footed wide receivers (if this team trades Braylon Edwards, I give up on a Browns resurgence) and some maybe/maybe-not defensive players. Fine, they got a center, but they’re likely going to move him to guard, and there were plenty of those to be found in this draft. Churning and churning doesn’t mean that a front office is doing a good job, just that they want to keep their job a little longer than their last one.

Baltimore Ravens:

OPTIMIST
It is stunning to me that OT Michael Oher lasted this long. How many teams have to go from the bottom to near the top in one season before teams realize exactly how important the position is to an offense? Every coach needs a copy of The Blind Side, a story of which Oher was the protagonist, by the way. Oher has the potential to develop into the next Jonathan Ogden, and considering talent that Joe Flacco showed behind an average line, the team has to be thrilled with that prospect. Oh, and any team that took my personal low round obsession RB Cedric Peerman was going to get high marks. The most physically impressive RB in the draft, Peerman fits perfectly into Cam Cameron’s offensive schemes thanks to his ability to catch passes and run between the tackles, and could work his way to the top of an already impressive platoon.

PESSIMIST
Man this is a boom/bust class. OLB Paul Kruger shows an admirable motor in pursuit of the ball, but needs to improve his physicality if he’s going to be effective. CB Lardarius Webb is a speedy ball hawk, but he needs to have top-notch vision and anticipation to make up for being undersized in a league that is becoming overrun with big bodies at WR. Peerman needs to develop at least some ability to get to the outside for yardage if his game is going to be what it should be. Even Oher needs to prove his ability to assimilate the complexities of a pro offense. Much like the Flacco pick, I admire the risk, but that’s a whole lot of “needs to” statements for one team’s draft haul.

Cincinnati Bengals:

OPTIMIST
There is no denying that despite an atrocious combine showing and an equally bad pro day, Andre Smith was far and away the most dominant offensive lineman in college football on the field. Last time I checked, that’s where the physical skills really matter. Smith drives players well off their mark and with coaching could become a devastating pass blocker given his quick reaction time. If the team is really committed to the Carson Palmer era, this was the right move. Furthermore, the addition of LB Rey Maualuga to a linebacking corps that already saw great improvement with Keith Rivers last year could give Marvin Lewis LB corps reminiscent of his days in Baltimore.

PESSIMST
You know how else he’ll remind Lewis of his Bodymore days? He’s already been arrested for misdemeanor battery. Oh, and calling Andre Smith’s workouts “atrocious” is like calling water boarding “inconvenient.” Smith looked like he should waddle his way from the combine to the set of “The Biggest Loser.” How on earth do the Bengals not get that although good chemistry alone is never going to win championships, bad chemistry can tear a team apart before the talent by which it’s justified emerges? We’ll all know the real deal when, halfway through the season, Chad Ochocinco makes Smith cry by making weight jokes on “PTI.”

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