The AFC North is turning into one of the more competitive divisions in all of football with potentially three playoff teams in 2015 and a third franchise on the rise. The Ravens looked to add some final pieces in the draft while the Browns hoped to plug more holes. Here’s our final analysis on the efforts of all the team’s in the division.
The team most affected by deflategate entered the draft with a need at receiver and filled it selecting Breshad Perriman with the 26th pick. Few receivers in the draft can match Perriman’s physical skills but his game is very inconsistent in all areas. Perriman flashes greatness but often times looks very ordinary. His awesome potential must now be developed by Joe Flacco and the coaching staff. Second round pick Maxx Williams could quickly break into the starting line-up and is another with great upside. He’s not a true deep threat rather a solid pass catcher who will create mismatches with his size and Williams comes with the body type necessary to effectively block on the line of scrimmage. Carl Davis was tremendous value late in round three and offers a back-up for nose tackle Brandon Williams or an eventual replacement for the departed Haloti Ngata. Why did Davis slip? Inconsistent production and game film. Though he tore it up during the Senior Bowl he also disappeared for stretches during his senior season which raised red flags. The team had three selections in round four and started off with another great value pick, Za’Darius Smith. The pass rushing defensive end had a solid two year career at Kentucky then performed reasonably well in pre-draft workouts. I feel he’s best served in a four man front so it will be interesting to see how Smith adapts as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I posted prior to the draft the Ravens were considering two running backs in the fourth round; David Cobb or Buck Allen and they were happy when Allen fell into their laps. The Ravens stated all along they felt Allen was a middle round running back that will produce as a rookie. Few people wrote or spoke about Tray Walker as much as I had in the weeks leading to the draft but I’m still surprised the small school corner went in the fourth frame. Walker has the size, speed and skill to play Sunday football and only needs to polish his technique. Nick Boyle is a great compliment to Maxx Williams and a tremendous blocker at the tight end position. Fifth round pick Robert Myers is a solid developmental prospect whom I expect to make the active roster. Selecting Darren Waller in round six was interesting. Many believe Waller’s future lay at tight end but the three deep at the position is very crowded for the Ravens. Alas he’ll likely stay at receiver and if he realizes his potential, Waller could be dominant at the next level. One UDFA of note is Darryl Baldwin, the offensive tackle from Ohio State. There’s room for competition and depth at both tackle spots and Baldwin could surprise this summer.
Grade B+: It seems every single year the Ravens do a terrific job during the draft, hence the reason they usually run deep into the playoffs. This April was no exception; Perriman will need some time to develop but has incredible upside, Maxx Williams could quickly break into the starting unit while Davis, Smith, Allen and Boyle should all contribute as rookies.
The Bengals had big needs at nose tackle and receiver entering the draft but instead stocked up on offensive tackles and tight ends. If he’s gets back to health and prior playing form Cedric Ogbuehi will be a major steal. The teams first round pick is a tremendous pass protector and gives the Bengals flexibility with Andrew Whitworth moving forward. Flexibility is the best way to describe second round pick Jake Fisher’s game as he can line up at left or right tackle. It’s a good move for a team who may be ready to cut ties with veteran Andre Smith. Tyler Kroft adds a speed element to the teams tight end position and should grow into a dependable number two on the depth chart. Paul Dawson was tremendous value in round three and will compete for playing time next season. I’m not a fan of Josh Shaw but understand why he was selected in the fourth round. He has the size and athleticism to develop into a starter and could see action in nickel packages next season. I’ll be interested to see how Marcus Hardison does in Cincinnati. I like the player and love the potential but struggle to see how he fits in the Bengals defense. In my opinion Hardison is best at tackle or as a two-gap end. C.J. Uzomah was a reach in round five and a player that’s never done anything other than tease and disappoint scouts. Derron Smith could be a find in round six. He lacks classic size, speed and is coming off a sports hernia but is an instinctive football player with a well rounded game. Mario Alford was a solid choice in round seven and his ability to stretch the field vertically or impact games returning kicks is enticing. Two UDFA’s of note include receiver Jake Kumerow who could latch on as a fifth receiver and corner Troy Hill, who’s a much more polished prospect than fourth round pick Josh Shaw.
Grade B: I like the fact the Bengals bypassed need and took best player available with their initial four selections. You can never have enough talent at the offensive tackle position and the team now has choices. Hardison, Smith and Alford could surprise while Shaw has an upside. Not a great collection rather a very efficient effort from the Bengals.
The Browns had a bunch of needs entering the draft and a ton of picks at their disposal to fill those needs. Many of the needs were on the offensive side of the ball and the team tried to package picks prior to the start of the draft and move up for Marcus Mariota. When that never came to fruition they went back to the draft board. With the 12th pick they chose nose tackle Danny Shelton, who should be a playmaking version of the departed Ahtyba Rubin. I’m not as high on Shelton as many others and felt Cleveland would’ve been better off with receiver DeVante Parker but regardless, Shelton brings great intensity to the defensive line and offers an upside. At the bottom of round one the team selected Cameron Erving, who’s listed as a center. My belief is Erving will compete for the starting right tackle spot as Cleveland has been looking for an upgrade over Mitchell Schwartz the past two years. And if Erving continues to develop there’s no reason to believe he won’t win the job. Pass rusher Nate Orchard was an interesting choice in round two considering the teams depth chart. I expect Orchard to line up on passing downs as the team develops him to take over for Paul Kruger. Cleveland got great value with both third round picks. I firmly believe Duke Johnson was top 45 worthy as he’s a complete ball carrier that can develop into a feature runner. He’ll ease into what is a crowed running back unit in Cleveland but will produce as a rookie. Xavier Cooper was drafted later than his grade warranted and should develop into an outstanding 3-4 end. The Browns finally took a receiver with the first of two picks in the fourth round, selecting Vince Mayle. The Washington State senior is a terrific underneath pass catcher with excellent size. He’ll offer reliable hands for whomever plays quarterback for Cleveland this season. Ibraheim Campbell is a devastating run defender at safety with underrated cover skills. He should line up as a dime back/special teams player this season and potentially develop into the incumbent under Donte Whitner. Charles Gaines offers solid ball skills and should compete for the fourth cornerback spot while Malcolm Johnson offers a change of pace at the tight end/H-back spot. Johnson had an ordinary career at Mississippi State but wowed teams with his pro-day performance. Cleveland went back-to-back Trojans in the late rounds. At the top of his game Randall Telfer has the skills to make a roster as a third tight end. He’s an adequate pass catcher but a terrific blocker. Then again his commitment and intensity was questioned throughout the pre-draft process. Hayes Pullard is a terrific football player but comes up short in the areas of size/speed. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could be a steal if he gets healthy and regains prior playing form. I could see the Browns stashing him on IR for the year then easing him back onto the field in 2016. I was glad to see the Browns sign De’ante Saunders after the draft. The Tennessee State product has terrific ball skills and can also lend a helping hand returning kicks.
Grade B+: Of the Browns dozen selections I count two immediate starters, five additional selections who will contribute as rookies and good “down the road” prospects.
Moving towards the draft the belief was Pittsburgh would spend most of their picks on the defensive side of the ball and that proved to be true. The untimely retirement of Jason Worilds coupled with Jarvis Jones’ inability to establish himself meant the team needed to add a pass rusher and they hope Bud Dupree fills the role. I’m big on Dupree and love his athleticism as well as the suddenness he plays with but there is a lot of cynicism about him in front offices. On several occasions NFL people compared Dupree to Aaron Curry to me, claiming Dupree is a good athlete but not a great football player. I’m predicting they’re wrong as are the Steelers. Though I like Senquez Golson and understand he fills a need for Pittsburgh, round two was a bit early for his services. He’s feisty and fast but short (5-feet/8.5-inches) which will create mismatch problems. Though I never bought into the first round hype for receiver Sammie Coates, he was good value in round three. He’ll partner well with Martavis Bryant to give Ben Roethlisberger another big bodied target. Doran Grant was a solid fourth round choice. At the very least he should line-up in dime packages next season and has starters potential down the road. Down the road is the best way to describe Jesse James as he’s a massive tight end with rare athleticism but someone who must consistently translate those skills into football production. It would also be nice to see James develop a nasty attitude. Though I like the player I scratch my head to see how sixth round pick Laterrius Walton fits the Steelers scheme. He’s an intense lineman who plays with great quickness but shows little in the way of strength at the point. I felt Walton was much better situated as a three technique tackle rather than a 3-4 end. I have similar feelings on Anthony Chickillo, the teams other pick in round 6; better fit as a 4-3 end rather than outside linebacker in a 3-4. Chickillo’s intensity is infectious and he’ll bring potential on coverage units. Gerod Holliman was a good choice in the last round. I’m not a fan of his game but taking a player who recorded 14 interceptions in the final frame is worth a roll of the dice. The signings of Kevin Whimpey and Cameron Clear after the draft could help the Steelers in short yardage situations as both are nasty, powerful maulers.
Grade C+: I’m a fan of Dupree and expect him to succeed but there are no guarantees. If he plays to his potential the Steelers hit a home run in the draft. And while Coates and Grant were solid choices there’s a lot of risk in this collection of players from the standpoint of poor fits for the system or prospects that may need a bit of time before they are NFL ready.