Following are whispers we've been hearing from around the AFC:
• In 2010, Brad Smith had the best kickoff return average of anybody in the NFL with 25 or more returns, averaging 28.6 yards on 50 runbacks. Now, thanks to the league's recent rule change moving the kickoff spot from the 30-yard line to the 35, Smith's value on the free-agent market might have gone down. The Jets were one of 26 teams to vote for the rule change, and they might have done that with the idea of lowering the possible cost for the multidimensional Smith. Even without the threat of kickoffs, the veteran wide receiver still is likely to return to New York when free agency begins.
• Not many people expect the Patriots to keep both their first-round picks (Nos. 17 and 28). The Pats also start the second round with the 33rd overall selection. The 28th appears to be the one for sale, and a report surfaced from the owners meeting in New Orleans that the Chargers could be a suitor. The Patriots have more holes to fill than you would think for a team coming off a 14-2 record, with a young defense and an aging offensive line. However, that shouldn't end the Draft Day tradition of Bill Belichick making a deal and trading an early pick for a future pick.
• If there was any question about OLB Aaron Maybin's place on the Bills entering the offseason, there shouldn't be following the NFL owners meetings. Head coach Chan Gailey said the 2009 first-round pick "hasn't shown it in practice or in games," illustrated by Maybin's zero sacks in two seasons. Gailey clarified the statement by saying "I don't want anybody to think he doesn't work at it," but the conclusion is obvious: Unless Maybin shows he's a much-improved player as soon as the 2011 season starts, he is a candidate to be released in training camp.
• Asked at the NFL owners' meetings in New Orleans if SLB Rey Maualuga could step in at middle linebacker in 2011, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the former USC star would be capable of such a move. "I think Rey is ready to take over however we decide to put things together," Lewis said, according to the team. "I think if he's given that opportunity, I think he'll excel at it. Rey Maualuga can handle it (mentally)." Lewis also indicated Michael Johnson would be a candidate to replace Maualuga on the strong side if Maualuga moves to the middle. Dhani Jones, the team's starting middle linebacker in '10, is slated to be an unrestricted free agent.
• Every AFC team appeared to be represented at Georgia's pro day on March 22, based on PFW's observation. WR A.J. Green and OLB Justin Houston are the Bulldogs' top pro prospects, with Green a likely high first-round pick and Houston potentially drawing interest toward the end of the round. OG-OT Clint Boling, a Senior Bowl invitee, is also well-regarded, receiving a second-round grade from PFW personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki.
• We hear Broncos LB Joe Mays has likely earned a larger role on the team next year. Mays, who was acquired when Denver shipped RB J.J. Arrington to the Eagles prior to the 2010 season, has been a standout on special teams since arriving in Denver. He made 30 tackles in four consecutive starts at an ILB position last season before a knee injury ended his season. He is currently being considered a starter in head coach John Fox's new 4-3 defensive scheme.