Scout Watch: AFC North Contender Starts Early

The football universe is frantic about the start of the 2009 season and NFL organizations have already started planning for the 2010 NFL Draft. Scout.com's Chris Steuber has the latest and confirms the presence of an AFC North team at a college practice.

With NFL training camps in full force and the preseason just starting, it’s never too early to look towards the future, namely the 2010 NFL Draft. The excitement for the upcoming year is obvious around the football universe, and just as the NFL preseason has kicked off, the college season is just getting started. One team that got a head start on their scouting was the Baltimore Ravens who were in attendance at the University of Pittsburgh’s first day of practice on Tuesday, August 11th. The interesting part of the Ravens presence at Pitt on Tuesday is that the Panthers have a highly touted tight end in senior Nate Byham.


The Ravens could use a blocking tight end like Byham.
Elsa/Getty Images

The Ravens have an interesting situation at tight end with veterans Todd Heap and L.J. Smith, along with 2009 fifth round draft pick Davon Drew. After playing in just six games in ’07, Heap rebounded last year by starting in all 16 games. Heap, 28, has endured his share of injuries during his career, and with two years remaining on his contract at a high number, this could be his final year in Baltimore. Another player that’s had his share of injuries is Smith, who is looking to resurrect his career with the Ravens after signing a one year contract during the offseason. Unfortunately for Smith, the injury bug has followed him from Philadelphia to Baltimore, as he’s missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury. Drew has the potential to become a complete tight end, but has to work on his blocking technique and be more consistent as a receiver. All three of these players are known for their receiving ability and not for their blocking; Byham, on the other hand, is one of college football’s best blocking tight ends. 

At 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, Byham possesses outstanding technique as a blocker and excels in running situations. He gets off the line quickly and explodes into the opposition using his hands and balance to his advantage. Byham is still developing as a receiver and has to concentrate mostly on his route running. He has good hands and speed, but has to run crisper routes over the middle to become an offensive force. He hasn’t been utilized much as a receiver in Pitt’s offense during his two years as a starter, and only had 20 receptions for 260 yards and a touchdown last year. But, he has the potential to become a complete tight end and should emerge as a fourth round draft pick next April.

In addition to Byham, the Panthers have more prospects that will catch the eyes of scouts in the coming months. Senior cornerback Aaron Berry is coming off a junior campaign where he registered 41 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, a sack and three interceptions. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Berry is an undersized corner who has good ball skills and is feisty on the outside. He has a nose for the ball and is very instinctive. The Panthers have another undersized defender who plays a big role on defense in the trenches, defensive tackle Mick Williams. At 6-foot-1, 280 pounds, Williams plays with leverage and a high motor, and recorded 25 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

Three underclassmen to watch on Pittsburgh’s roster are defensive end Greg Romeus, offensive tackle Jason Pinkston and safety Dom DeCicco.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: csteuber@scout.com.


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