The NFL combine was in full throttle over the weekend. Here are some things we picked up as it pertains to the AFC North:
Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey confirmed my initial thoughts entering the combine. Pouncey showed the same quickness, good feet and athleticism this weekend that he showed all season for the Gators. But something under the radar I was impressed with was Pouncey's natural enthusiasm. Not only did Pouncey look good in drills, but he was genuinely enjoying himself more than most prospects. Getting to know Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey last season, the twin brother also has an upbeat mentality and is enthusiastic about football. Small things like that count in my book. I'm not surprised at all that both the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have shown interest in Mike Pouncey. Those are two teams that not only look for talented players, but those who genuinely love the game.
The quarterbacks can really run this year. I don't know how many of them can throw at the NFL level, which is a major concern, but extending plays with their feet won't be an issue for this year's class. Top quarterback prospects like Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Auburn's Cam Newton and Washington's Jake Locker all looked very athletic, and so did lower-profile quarterbacks such as Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. The Cincinnati Bengals are the only AFC North team in the market for a quarterback potentially in the first two rounds after starter Carson Palmer demanded to be traded and threatened to retire.
Speaking of quarterbacks, I think Arkansas' Ryan Mallett likely cemented his place outside of the first round, which might be a good thing for the Bengals. He threw the ball very well and has a cannon for an arm. But he also skipped some combine drills and has off-the-field concerns. When asked to clarify his issues at the combine, Mallet was defensive with the media, which was not the right way to handle it. Mallet said he would do so with teams and not with the public. Teams likely know those issues by now and at some point they may leak to the media anyway. But the Bengals have a track record of drafting talented players who fall down the draft board because of character issues. So Mallet could be a target for them in the second round. With Gabbert not throwing, Mallet was the best pure passer this weekend, in my opinion.
I still like the top two receivers in the draft: Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones. I'm convinced you can't go wrong with either player. Jones probably closed the gap on Green in the combine with this freakish athleticism. Jones' 40 time (4.39) and measurables were a little better than Green's (4.48), who remains more polished. Jones needs to work on his consistency catching the football. "The gauntlet" drill exposed him a bit and that could be the difference. I also liked Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb, who ran a 4.45, stood out in his workouts. The Browns, Bengals and Ravens could all look for receivers in the first or second rounds.
The Ravens' strong interest in Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews is interesting. For all the great things general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff have done with the Ravens, they have yet to find a successor to middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who turns 36 in May. But it looks like Baltimore is putting a strong effort into finding that player in this year's draft. Matthews is getting a lot of attention because of the success of brother, Clay, with the Green Bay Packers. But Casey is projected to be a third-rounder.