With the NFL draft in our rear-view mirrors, I've gotten quite the mixed bag of questions for this week's AFC North Mailbag. Four questions came my way today, concerning a pair of draft picks and some positional battles that are playing out around the division.
If you have a question you'd like to ask for the Mailbag, be sure to follow me on Twitter (using the convenient button at the bottom of this column) for the next call for submissions.
It's quite possible the Baltimore Ravens may look for a veteran running back to be their change-of-pace player at the position this year, and Cedric Benson would likely be had at a reasonable price.
But Williams was almost a desperation addition last season—the Ravens lacked a suitable No. 2 for Ray Rice, and time was at a premium considering the whirlwind of free-agent activity that went on as soon as the lockout was lifted.
I think the Ravens will be satisfied having Bernard Pierce as Rice's dedicated backup this year and as someone who can spell him. Though I don't think it's out of the question that they bring on a veteran back—and that Benson could be that guy—I think it's unlikely unless something changes on the roster and financially over the summer.
I love both of these picks, Zach. The Cincinnati Bengals had one impact-making tight end on the roster last season, Jermaine Gresham, and desperately needed both to add another tight end and a receiving target for quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bengals certainly get both out of Orson Charles. Charles has a few character-related red flags, but those don't matter all that much when it comes to what he can do on the football field.
With both he, Gresham and A.J. Green on the field at the same time (maybe with a little Mohamed Sanu or Marvin Jones thrown in as well), that could be a very dangerous passing offense. It was a smart move and the perfect fourth-round pick.
Hybrid running back/wide receiver Chris Rainey is the kind of player the Pittsburgh Steelers generally don't draft. He's small and fast, yes, but rarely do they want a running back who can't contribute in pass blocking.
However, he fits the mold when it comes to new Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley generally prefers his running back corps to be balanced and varied, and prior to the draft, Pittsburgh had a crew of backs that all fit a similar profile—bruising, good on third downs, solid blockers but not burners by any means.
Rainey may even be faster than Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, which really says something. He's a Dexter McCluster-type of player, and clearly Haley was enamored with that skill set considering he coached McCluster in Kansas City.
In many ways, the Steelers offense will look unchanged from the Bruce Arians days; in others, it will seem very different. The drafting of Rainey represents the latter, and from my perspective, gives the Steelers a dimension that they both lacked and needed.
I think the Ravens could bring on a veteran free-agent linebacker to compete for the two open roster spots, as long as the price is right.
It would have been less of a likelihood if all they were looking to do was fill the inside spot left vacant by the free-agency departure of Jarret Johnson, but now that they also need to replace outside backer Terrell Suggs, more competition at camp may be necessary.
The Ravens do have enough talent currently on the roster to compete for the two open spots. Paul Kruger may be a lock to take the inside position and Pernell McPhee the outside, but depending on what they see out of Courtney Upshaw, he could end up with one of the two jobs.
The thinking seems to be that the Ravens drafted Upshaw to take Johnson's spot—either this year or the next—but with the Suggs injury, more talk has been raised of him moving to the outside, where he played at Alabama.
McPhee is an interesting option at outside backer. He generally plays at defensive end—but that's a role Suggs also played, nearly half of the time, and McPhee was impressive in 2011, with six sacks, a forced fumble and 16 solo tackles during his limited time on the field.
The chances are far greater now that Upshaw gets the starting nod than they were a week ago, considering there's now one more job opening in the front seven.
I think the battle may wage on beyond camp, with all three of Kruger, Upshaw and McPhee being rotated in and out of the two positions. There's also a chance Sergio Kindle will be ready to play as well.
So only if the depth, readiness and talent aren't to the Ravens' liking will they add a veteran free agent into the mix for 2012.
The general opinion is that, barring a full and timely recovery of Rashard Mendenhall and his ACL, that Isaac Redman will be seeing the bulk of the Steelers' carries this year, and I am prone to agree. However, I think that the back to spell him and to be the change-of-pace won't be Baron Batch, John Clay or Jonathan Dwyer—I think it will be the rookie, Chris Rainey.
Batch, Clay, Dwyer and Redman all have similar profiles. They're bruising, they're big, they have good but not impressive speed. Rainey is the opposite of that, and considering how Todd Haley tends to approach the run game, he'd likely get the second-most carries.
There's also the possibility that the Steelers adopt a committee approach, and go with the hot hand between the four backs who are not Rainey, and again, spelling that player with Rainey.
But if they have a true, No. 1 tailback this year, I foresee that being Redman. But keep an eye on Rainey—I see him being used fairly heavily as both a running back and wide receiver, and he may wind up with more and more carries if he proves capable of eating large chunks of yardage with that speed of his.
That's all for this week. Keep your eye on Twitter if you'd like to submit a question next week.
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