Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: draft philosophy.
The Ravens often follow the philosophy of the right player at the right price. Therefore, Baltimore is not afraid to trade up in the draft or trade back if the value is right. As a result, Baltimore traditionally finds great players who were overlooked by other teams. The Ravens also are very good at scouting what I call "football character," which is somewhat different from regular character. Football character is having a certain toughness, confidence and an edge to fit into Baltimore's locker room full of strong personalities. The Ravens play with a certain attitude and swagger, particularly on defense, and it's not for everyone.
Explaining the Bengals' draft philosophy can be tricky. Their approach is conservative. Rarely do you see a lot of wheeling and dealing coming from Cincinnati's draft room. The last time the Bengals pulled off a significant, draft-day trade in the first round was in 2004, when the St. Louis Rams moved up to draft tailback Steven Jackson and Cincinnati took Chris Perry. So expect Cincinnati to stay put this year at No. 4. But when it is time for the Bengals to pick players, they are not afraid to take character risks in exchange for talent. Sometimes it works out (Carlos Dunlap) for Cincinnati and sometimes it doesn't (Andre Smith).
You didn't know what to expect from the Browns last year in the first draft under president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. But the pair did a solid job working together for the first time. Cleveland landed solid rookies such as cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy in the first three rounds. All three were starters by midseason. If any trend could be read from just one year, it's that the Browns will continue to attack their biggest needs. Last year the secondary and quarterback positions were thin after the new regime cleaned house, cutting quarterback Derek Anderson and trading Brady Quinn. This year the biggest needs are defensive line and wide receiver, which Holmgren and Heckert will surely address in this draft.
Philosophically, the Steelers are great at projecting two and three years ahead. For example, they will draft tailback Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, despite the fact Willie Parker rushed for 1,316 yards the previous year in 2007. Three seasons later, Mendenhall is a star in Pittsburgh and Parker has hit a wall. Or they will draft linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, even if they don't need them right away. The Steelers are willing to groom players for a couple of seasons before they become productive. Defensive end Ziggy Hood, a first-round pick in 2009, is another good example. Usually Pittsburgh can afford the luxury of taking the best available players. But this year the team has well-defined needs, such as cornerback and the offensive line.