NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

Cleveland Browns

Best pick: DE Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh (2nd round, 5th pick)

Cleveland is transitioning from the 3-4 defense back to a 4-3 this season, and as such they are lacking talent that fits the new system.  Sheard was a solid value at this point.  He’s a good pass rusher with an excellent motor.  He should form a solid end tandem with Matt Roth from Day 1.

Questionable move: NT Phil Taylor, Baylor (1st round, 21st pick)

I liked the trade back with Atlanta to acquire more picks, but selecting Taylor at this pick was somewhat puzzling.  Taylor was being thought of as more of a 3-4 nose tackle and I really didn’t expect a 4-3 team to take him this high.  He’ll be fine in a 4-3 though as he’s actually a better penetrator and playmaker than people give him credit for.  I’m more concerned about his health as there have been widespread reports of a condition that is causing the bones in his feet to grow together.  No one has been able to confirm or dis-confirm this, but it would have been enough to make me pass in round 1.

Third-day gem: OT Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh (5th round, 19th pick)

He’ll probably fit better at guard than tackle, but he’s got starting caliber talent.  He’s a bit of a underacheiver at this point, but maybe putting him on the same line with star LT Joe Thomas will help motivate him.  He’s got a lot of versatility and should be able to help in some capacity.

Overall: Some solid picks sandwiched between some questionable ones.  The Greg Little and Jordan Cameron picks in particular make me scratch my head.  Both will need significant work before they can contribute.  It would have made more sense to me for them to take solid football guys who could help lay the groundwork in a new era of Browns football.

Grade: C+

Baltimore Ravens

Best pick: WR Torrey Smith, Maryland (2nd round, 26th pick)

I think people are labeling him as Darrius Heyward-Bey Part II, but that’s really an unfair comparison.  While his hands are somewhat questionable, they are nowhere close to as bad as DHB’s.  My main concern with Smith is that he is so raw as a route runner.  However, with several established receivers already in Baltimore, he should be able to play a limited role out of the slot while he learns from some solid veterans.  He’s got great speed and good size.  With some seasoning, he could be a star.

Questionable move: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado (1st round, 27th pick)

Love the talent, hate the character.  This is the kind of guy that a lot of teams will remove from their draft board completely.  While he’s had some minor run-ins with the law, I’m almost more concerned about his apparently poor work ethic and me-first attitude.  However, if there’s one locker room that can rein him in, it’s got to be the Ravens with Ray Lewis.

Third-day gem: DE Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State (5th round, 34th pick)

A very solid 5-technique prospect.  He needs to add a few more pounds and probably won’t contribute right away, but he’s got the tools to be a starter down the road.  With NT Terrence Cody, DE Arthur Jones and McPhee, they are doing a good job of grooming defensive linemen for the future.

Overall: I wasn’t crazy about the Jimmy Smith pick for character reasons, but they got some solid corner help, which they needed, and added youth to a receiver core that needed it badly.  I also liked the Jah Reid pick in the 3rd round, he could be a starter opposite Michael Oher.

Grade: B+

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best pick: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State (1st round, 31st pick)

A very solid pick late in the first round.  Heyward probably needs a year to learn, but with Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel ahead of him, he should get that.  He never seemed to play up to his ability in college, but I think a move to the 5-technique spot will really help him.

Questionable move: Not choosing a nose tackle

Pittsburgh continues to tempt fate by not finding a long-term replacement for NT Casey Hampton.  Hampton, who will be 34 when the season starts, is still playing at a high level, but they can’t possibly expect him to play too many more years and there’s not a realistic replacement on the roster.  This defense is predicated on stopping the run and Hampton is a huge part of that.  Pun intended.

Third-day gem: OLB Chris Carter, Fresno State (5th round, 31st pick)

Other 3-4 teams, please feel free to take notes.  This is how you develop the hybrid DE/OLB position at the NFL level.  Instead of taking these types of players high in the draft and forcing them into the lineup early, the Steelers draft one in the lower rounds each year and ease him into a new position.  With Carter and last year’s 2nd round pick Jason Worilds, they are well positioned for the future.

Overall: Just a bunch of very solid football players, all of which happen to fill needs to the Steelers.  This is the kind of “boring” draft that we look back on 5 years later and rave about.

Grade: A-

Cincinnati Bengals

Best pick: WR AJ Green, Georgia (1st round, 4th pick)

Possibly the best talent in the draft.  Some might claim that this is a “typical” Bengals pick, but receiver was a legitimate need with Terrell Owens gone and Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson likely following.  With Green and 2nd year man Jordan Shipley, Carson Palmer has to at least be considering giving it another shot with the Bengals.  Green is a prototypical #1 receiver.  Pointing out any holes in his game would really be nitpicking.

Questionable move: OLB Dontay Moch, Nevada (3rd round, 2nd pick)

Now this is a typical Bengals draft pick.  Moch is a combine star who has shown absolutely nothing on the field.  He’s really more of a pass rusher than a linebacker and I’m not sure where he fits in this defense.  They would have been better off getting some help for other need areas.

Third-day gem: G Clint Boling, Georgia (4th round, 4th pick)

An excellent value at this point.  Most expected Boling to be gone by the end of the third at the latest.  He played tackle in college, and probably could in the pros in a pinch, but his best fit is at guard.  He needs to add some strength, but he’s a great leader with an excellent football IQ.  Should start at some point this season.

Overall: Green was the right pick and while I don’t fully endorse the pick of QB Andy Dalton in the 2nd round, I understand it.  Boling was a good find and S Robert Sands was a solid value in the 5th round.  I’m not crazy about the Moch pick, but a pretty solid draft nonetheless.

Grade: B+

Next up: NFC South

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3 Responses to NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

  1. Scot Budde says:

    If you are still the sports dudes next year, please revisit the draft and your grades (and maybe other analysts’). Love the stuff, ross

    • Ross says:

      We can make that happen. It’s usually best to wait three years to re-grade a draft, but we break all kinds of rules around here anyways.

  2. I just want to mention I am all new to blogging and site-building and certainly savored this page. Most likely I’m likely to bookmark your blog . You definitely come with exceptional posts. Bless you for sharing with us your web site.

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