AFC North: Steelers make offense much more imposing
Eschewing their most pressing need for the best available talent, the Steelers landed two offensive players, each of whom could have an immediate impact, writes 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:
Best moveT he 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.
Most surprising moveThe 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.''
File it awayAfter 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. 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.
James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com
2008 NFL DRAFT
The 2008 draft lasted 14 hours, 26 minutes. Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long (above), selected by Miami, was the No. 1 overall pick. This year's Mr. Irrelevant -- the last pick in the draft -- is David Vobora, a linebacker from Idaho selected by St. Louis with the 252nd pick.
Round-by-round, team-by-team picks• Round: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
• AFC East: Buffalo | Miami | N. England | NY Jets
• AFC North: Baltimore | Cinc. | Cleve. | Pitt.
• AFC South: Houston | Indy | Jax | Tennessee
• AFC West: Denver | K.C. | Oakland | San Diego
• NFC East: Dallas | NYG | Philadephia | Wash.
• NFC North: Chicago | Detroit | G.B. | Minnesota
• NFC South: Atlanta | Carolina | N.O. | Tampa
• NFC West: Arizona | S.F. | St. Louis | Seattle
Inside Radio City Music Hall• Panoramic views
Commentary/Features• Wickersham: Bears, Ravens take opposite turns
• Williamson: Remembering Heath Benedict
• Yasinskas: Falcons should be patient with Ryan
• Clayton: Six draft trends
• Chadiha: 10 great marriages
• Walker: NFC East draft review
• Sando: NFC West draft review
• Willamson: NFC North draft review
• Yasinskas: NFC South draft review
• Sando: AFC East draft review
• Williamson: AFC West draft review
• Walker: AFC North draft review
• Yasinskas: AFC South draft review
• Clayton: Day 1 winners and losers
• Williamson: Davis couldn't resist McFadden
• Walker: Ravens had to work for Flacco
• Sando: Long addresses Rams' D-line needs
• Chadiha: AFC East hustle continues on draft day
• Yasinskas: Ryan gives Falcons hope, identity
Mel Kiper• Kiper's team-by-team draft grades
• Day 1 good, bad moves: Questionable Titans
News• 2008 breaks previous trade record
• Jets sign NCAA career rushing leader Woodhead
• Lions pick Smith with first pick of second day
• Miami, Long make it official | NFL Local
Video• Green: First-round pick instant analysis
• Complete draft analysis
• One-on-one with Jake Long
• One-on-one with Chris Long
• One-on-one with Matt Ryan
• One-on-one with Darren McFadden
• One-on-one with Glenn Dorsey
• One-on-one with Vernon Gholston
• Ed Werder on Cowboys
• Norv Turner interview
• Fantasy Spin
Audio• Jake Long | Chris Long | Matt Ryan
• Darren McFadden | Vernon Gholston
• Glenn Dorsey | Keith Rivers | Chris Williams
• Lawrence Jackson
SportsNation• Vote: Best first-round pick? | Potential busts?
• Grades: How did your team fare?
Scouts Inc.• Analysis: Round 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
Cheat Sheets: RB | DL | DB | LB | OL | REC | QB
• McShay: Seven-round mock draft
• Revisiting the 2005 draft | 2005 re-draft
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Nike Youth Home Game Jersey Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown #84