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AFC draft: Rating top picks, intriguing players to follow

by | CBS Sports
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Casserly breaks down NFC draft

Looking at how AFC teams fared in the draft, and which prospects bear watching as they develop:

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

First pick: C. J. Spiller

Spiller is a big-play back, which Buffalo does not have. He will be a multi-dimensional player for them, meaning he will play out of the backfield, return kicks and might line up outside as a wide receiver at times. Chan Gailey is a very creative coach and will get the most out of him using him different ways.

The player I will watch the most

Spiller. Only one back under 200 pounds in the past 10 years was drafted in the first round, and that was Chris Johnson. Spiller is not Chris Johnson; most people don't view Spiller as a full-time back. To earn his money, Spiller will have to have a major impact on the game like Johnson does or the Bills will be spending money on two starting backs eventually.

Miami Dolphins

First pick: Jared Odrick

The Dolphins traded down and got the second-round pick back that they sent to Denver, a good move on their part. Odrick is a very good defensive end prospect. He has long arms and a frame to put on more weight. I liked his quickness and his motor when I watched him.

The pick I will watch the most

By trading down, the Dolphins passed on Derrick Morgan and Sergio Kindle and drafted Koa Misi as their outside linebacker prospect. Misi is versatile and could probably project to the inside too. Outside linebacker was a major need for the Dolphins. All three of these players have a risk element to them. They were primarily down players in college. I really liked Misi in the Senior Bowl. Will he have the outside speed to win on the corner? We will see if the Dolphins got the best 3-4 prospect or if they did well enough by trading back and getting two good prospects. I like taking the players they took vs. the one they could have gotten at the 12th pick.

New England Patriots

First pick: Devin McCourty

The Pats filled a need by adding a cornerback in Devin McCourty. I had McCourty rated as a late first-round pick, so the Pats got good value for him. I liked his ability to press, his quick hands and aggressiveness on the press, too. I also thought he played well in zone defense. I thought he showed potential to play man to man, but did not see a lot of that in the tapes I watched. If he looked good in a workout doing man-to-man techniques, I would probably have raised his grade. He needs work on his ball skills.

The pick I will watch the most

I really like Rob Gronkowski. I rated him a late first to an early second-round grade. He has excellent size and showed the ability to block and be effective as a receiver, a rare combination in a college tight end nowadays. I will watch to see if he should have been a first-round pick and what kind of play speed he has.

New York Jets

First pick: Kyle Wilson

Some teams I talked to had Wilson rated as the top cornerback in the draft. If that is the case, the Jets got a steal at the end of the first round. Wilson showed at the Senior Bowl he has all the physical skills to be an effective pro corner. He should be very effective when the Jets use him in press technique. In college he was very good at it.

The player I will watch the most

Second-round pick (61st overall) Vladimir Ducasse. The reason is the jump he has to make in playing levels is always interesting to watch. Ducasse's best position is guard, in my opinion. He has the body structure and strength to be a good one. He needs a lot of technique work, but he has the talent to make it.

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

First pick: Kareem Jackson

Not a surprise that they picked a cornerback after losing Dunta Robinson. Some teams had Jackson rated as their top corner. He was very impressive in tapes that I watched. He was used mostly as a press corner and was very effective at it. He seemed to have a real good sense of playing the ball and keeping a good relationship on the receiver on all routes. I rated him as a first-round pick.

The player I will watch the most

When I watched Ben Tate I thought he would be a perfect fit for the Houston offense. They look for backs who can make that quick cut and go downhill. Tate has breakaway speed and the size to break tackles. This filled a huge hole for the Texans. Will Tate get 1,000 yards? That is what I am going to be watching for.

Jacksonville Jaguars

First pick: Tyson Alualu

The Jags tried to trade down to take Alualu later in the first round but they were not offered a deal that made sense to them. Alualu will be used as a 3 technique. He is very quick and has a high motor. He should help the Jags improve their pass rush, something they must do.

The pick I will watch the most

In the third round, they took a player many teams I talked to had second-round grades on, defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith. He will also play the 3 technique. He has very good quickness. He was double-teamed a lot this year and had better tape in 2008. He plays best as a penetrating tackle, which is how they are going to use him. We will see if Jacksonville got a second-round player in the third round.

Indianapolis Colts

First pick: Jerry Hughes

Hughes is exactly the type of pass rusher Indy likes. He has good up-field speed and can threaten the outside. The Colts do not worry about size so much as they do speed from the defensive end position. Hughes will be very effective in their scheme. The Colts defense really suffers when it loses either Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis. This is the first time since the Colts have had Mathis and Freeney that they have a legitimate backup.

The pick I will look at the most

The Colts have a way of finding players late in the draft or as college free agents that end up playing for them. That is why I am going to be interested in which one if not more of their seventh-round picks might emerge: CB Ray Fischer, LB Karvell Conner and DE Ricardo Mathews.

Tennessee Titans

First pick: Derrick Morgan

It seemed the Titans had focused on defensive end as their priority in the first round. The top three defensive ends were distinctly different players. Morgan was generally considered the most complete, meaning he was the most ready to play the run and rush the passer right now. With Brandon Graham and Jason Pierre-Paul gone we don't know if this is the guy they wanted or just ended up with at 16th overall. Morgan is not a big burst guy up the field, but he does make some quick moves on the outside to win at times.

The pick I will watch the most

Second-round pick receiver Damian Williams. What I want to concentrate on with him is his ability to get deep and separate on short to intermediate routes. He runs good routes and has good hands, but how consistently he can get open in the NFL is my question.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

First pick: Sergio Kindle

Kindle was the consensus top-rated outside linebacker for a 3-4 team in this draft, so if that is the case, the Ravens got a first-round pick in the second round. I rated Kindle in the first round too. I thought he had good rush skills and also the ability to play the run.

The pick I will watch the most

Terrance Cody. He had weight problems in college. Will they continue in the NFL? Will he eat himself out of the league? He will only be a part-time player I presume. He will be a load against the run though. You can't move him off the line. He does also get some push on the pocket, but in college he was taken out on passing downs. What will his stamina be like?

Cincinnati Bengals

First pick: Jermaine Gresham

Gresham was the top tight end in this draft and fills a big need for the Bengals. He has Pro Bowl potential. He missed last season because of a knee injury but was healthy this spring for his workouts. He has good size. As a receiver he can run, get open and catch the ball. He shows the potential to be a good blocker. Like all college tight ends, he just needs work on it. How long it takes him to learn the Bengals' system will determine how effective he is as a rookie.

The pick I will watch the most

Jordan Shipley could have an immediate impact as a punt returner and a slot receiver. The Bengals offense is most effective when Carson Palmer has three wide receivers to target. When you add Gresham into the mix, the Bengals passing attack just got dramatically better. Shipley is not a big speed guy but he is quick and can get separation vs. one-on-one coverage. Let's see if these two weapons get the passing game back being the threat it used to be.

Cleveland Browns

First pick: Joe Haden

Haden was the consensus top-rated cornerback in this draft. In the Florida tapes I watched he played very well. He played mostly zone defense and press coverage. He was instinctive and showed a good short burst to close on the ball. What I did not see him do was cover man to man much in off cover. This would have to be evaluated in a workout. I talked to people who were at his Florida workout and they said he showed the skills to play in off man coverage.

The pick I will watch the most

I want to see how Colt McCoy does in the pros. In college I liked his decision making and anticipation, but I questioned his arm strength and pure accuracy to be a successful pro quarterback. Those will be things I will watch for this preseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers

First pick: Maurkice Pouncey

He was the best center in this draft and some viewed him as the best guard prospect. I rated him the best center and the second-best guard. I like his ability to wall and position block at the line of scrimmage. I thought he had a good base in pass protection and good enough feet for a center or guard. I did not rate him ahead of the top centers and guards in last year's draft. I thought he had trouble with big bodies on the edge like Dan Williams. He also did not posses that top quickness you like in an elite center. That being said I think he is a solid prospect who can play two positions and will have a successful career in the NFL.

The pick I will watch the most

I want to see how the two outside linebacker prospects do: Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson. In a league that has almost half of the teams playing the 3-4 defense, the Steelers are smart to try to stay one step ahead of the opposition. They have good starters now in James Harrison and Lemar Woodley, but they are right in thinking ahead to the future to give them a replacement for Harrison and an alternative to Woodley for when he gets to free agency. The reason I want to focus on these two players is they were defensive ends in college, so this is a conversion to a new position, and we will see them do things in camp they will not have had much experience at.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

First picks: Demaryius Thomas, Tim Tebow

Tebow was the most controversial pick in the first round. Some believe it was Tyson Alualu going 10th to Jacksonville, but in my mind he was rated a late first to second by the teams I talked to. Tebow's ranking was all over the place, with the third being the average. That being said, Tebow has a number of things he needs to improve, among them accuracy, mechanics and the ability to make quick decisions in a pro offense. In the games I watched, Tebow was deficient in those areas. I did not rate him a first-round pick.

Thomas was injured in the offseason and was not able to run a 40-yard dash or run a route tree this spring. That may or may not be significant. In the Georgia Tech offense you did not get to see Thomas run a lot of routes. The consensus grades on him even without working out and the limited route tree were late first to early second round. I would have needed to see more from him to put him in the first round. He seemed to me to have trouble making cuts and was not a quick guy off the ball in the games I watched. But if those scouts who saw him live in the fall saw those things, I could agree with their grade of a late first to early second round.

The player I will watch the most

Obviously Tebow, to see if he can improve on the things I saw on tape. The other player I want to watch closely is receiver Eric Decker. He is coming off a major foot injury and will not be able to run until June but will be ready for camp. He was in a pro-style offense and I liked what I saw from him. He had good hands and ran crisp routes. I want to see how he separates from defenders in the pros. I felt he could do it, but that will determine his success. His route separation is what I am going to concentrate on.

Kansas City Chiefs

First pick: Eric Berry

He might have been the best player I saw in this year's draft. He had very good instincts against the run and pass. Tennessee moved him all around the secondary from safety to blitzing safety to corner covering the slot. I also thought he was a good tackler. He was a better prospect than Sean Taylor.

The pick I will watch the most

Dexter McCluster, and how they use him. The Chiefs will probably use him out of the backfield and in the slot. When I watched him I kept trying to compare him to Wes Welker. So when McCluster is in the slot, will he be as good as Welker? That is my question. He doesn't weigh as much as Welker but he certainly is as quick and he is faster.

Oakland Raiders

First pick: Rolando McClain

He was the unanimous pick as the best middle linebacker. He has the size you want and seemed to have a good feel for the game both against the run and pass. He was an enigma while watching tape. I would have liked him to be more aggressive in taking on blocks and I am not sure of his range. When I talked to somebody familiar with his style of play they said he was just playing the defense the way he was instructed to play. I want to see if that is the case or not. If it is, then he should be more of a factor in the pros than in the three games I saw him last fall.

The pick I will watch the most

Tackle Jared Veldheer, drafted in the third round. He is 6-feet-8, 312 pounds. I liked his balance, body control and feet. He needs a lot of technique work. Many times in college he would wrestle the defender to the ground instead of blocking him with good technique. This is something he will not be able to do in the pros. I want to see how he adapts to the pro game.

San Diego Chargers

First pick: Ryan Mathews

Mathews was the best big back in the draft. A number of teams who wanted a back would have chosen him over Spiller because he was an every-down back. This is just what the Chargers needed and why they were so aggressive in trading up to get him. The San Diego offense needed a big back to control the ball, run short yardage and help with play-action passing. If Mathews stays healthy, I expect him to be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The pick I will watch the most

I want to follow the progress of nose tackle Cam Thomas, chosen in the fifth round. The Chargers really felt the loss of Jamaal Williams at that position and were easier to run on in his absence. I want to see if Thomas can win the starting nose tackle job and help the Chargers improve their run defense.

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