Summer Scramble 2010: AFC North Players to Watch
Coming July 13: AFC North Burning Question, Bold Predictions
Baltimore Ravens -- Anquan Boldin
It seems as if the Baltimore Ravens have been searching for a wide receiver to complement Derrick Mason in their offense for ... well, an eternity. That search appared to end this offseason when they picked up Anquan Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals for a pair of mid-round picks, and then signed him to a three-year, $25 million extension. Going all the way back to 2002, the Ravens have had just two wide receivers catch more than 60 passes in a single season (Mason five times five times and Mark Clayton twice ). Sixty catches is a bad season for Boldin, as he's failed to reach that mark just once in his seven-year career (the 2004 season when he played just 10 games for the Cardinals), and has caught no fewer than 83 balls in four of the past five years. Joe Flacco is entering this third year as an NFL quarterback and has no shortage of weapons at his disposal -- should be good news for a team that was already in the top 10 in scoring a season ago.
Cleveland Browns -- Joe Haden
Pick a category and it's a good bet the Cleveland Browns were in the bottom five of it -- or close to it -- during the 2009 season. Naturally, that includes pass defense, where Cleveland surrendered nearly 250 yards per game, while managing to pick off just 10 passes (only Detroit, Seattle and Tennessee had fewer). Enter No. 7 overall draft pick, cornerback Joe Haden from the University of Florida. The AFC North has a reputation for being a black-and-blue, grind-it-out division. That may have been true a couple of years ago, but the Steelers and Ravens both passed more than they ran last season, while the Bengals still have Chad Ochocinco lurking around. Simply put: You better be able to stop the pass in this division.
Cincinnati Bengals -- Andre Smith
Andre Smith's pre-draft workouts were so infamous they quickly became the stuff of legend, each one worse than the one before. And despite all of his struggles leading up to the 2009 draft, he still managed to go in the first round to the Bengals. After an inauspicious start to his career that included a holdout, injuries and only one start his rookie season, Smith could be a vital player for the reigning division champs. A monster of a run-blocker in college, he should be a welcome addition to an offense that ran the ball more than all but three teams in the league last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers -- Mike Wallace
It was quite the offseason in Pittsburgh, and not in a good way. Ben Roethlisberger won't be available for the first four-to-six weeks due to more off-field problems, starting right tackle Willie Colon is gone for the season due to an Achilles injury and former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes worked his way out of town for a variety of reasons. Good times all around ... if you're a Ravens fan. Holmes' spot might prove to be the easiest of the three major openings on offense to fill. A third-round pick last year out of Mississippi, Wallace emerged as Pittsburgh's go-to deep threat, racking up 14 plays of 20-yards or more, and scoring touchdowns on plays of 47, 60 and 54 yards. With Holmes set to haul in passes from Mark Sanchez in New York, Wallace will be taking on a starting role in Pittsburgh (he was the No. 3 receiver last year). He's built like Holmes (both are listed at about 6-feet, 200 pounds), but Wallace possesses better speed and is a bigger threat vertically -- Holmes, on the other hand, is much better after the catch. No player in the NFL averaged more yards per catch last season than Wallace's 19.3.