AFC NORTH DRAFT GRADES
After going through the AFC East, we now move down the bracket a single spot and pull out the grade book and red pen and mark up the AFC North’s NFL Draft papers.
The AFC’s Super Bowl representative came from this division and, as such, can’t be expected to do too well in the grading category. After all, when you pick at the bottom of every round, barring trades, there’s only so many elite players you can target.
Add to that the fact that another AFC North team traded away all its primary picks for a new quarterback and we have a division that will need to grade on a curve. And I, being the toughest Draft Grading Professor out there, refuse to do that.
As a reminder, here are the ground rules I use to approach each team’s preliminary grade;
1. No team sans a first round pick can get an “A.” A team can absolutely kill the draft without a first rounder as the Los Angeles Rams have done routinely since Sean McVay has entered the building. They have not possessed a single first rounder in his tenure, but have made the Super Bowl twice and won it once. But, the final draft grades don’t come out for at least three years. These grades are all based on what we know and can see today.
2. The Draft Grade I will deliver here (and not three years in the imaginary future. I mean, who knows what kind of planet we’ll inhabit and global pandemics we will be attempting to live through at that point) will primarily be based on who a team selects in Rounds 1-3. Those rounds should all be starters or potential starters. Anyone that takes the field regularly after that is considered a steal.
Selections: No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, Safety. Notre Dame — No. 25: Tyler Linderbaum, Center, Iowa — No. 45: David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan — No. 76: Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut — No. 110: Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota — No. 119: Jalyn Armour- Davis, Alabama — No. 128: Charlie Kotar, TE, Iowa State — No. 130: Joran Stout, Punter, Penn State — No. 139: Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina — No. 141: Damarion Williams, CB, Houston — No. 196: Tyler Badie, RB, Missouri
The Ravens are consistently one of the best teams in the league at this whole draft process which is why they’ve been continually good over the last two decades and won a couple of Super Bowls.
Thanks to trading away Marquise Brown to the suddenly wide receiver needy Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore had two first round picks and used them both on day one starters. They took the best safety in the draft, then took one of the best interior offensive lineman. With the Pop Warner offense that Greg Roman runs, a premier center will have much better value to the Ravens than a top flight wide receiver who actually wants to catch the football and make plays. Roman has no place for a guy like that on his depth chart.
Picking up Ojabo, a double digit sack producer for Michigan in Round Two all but seals the deal for Baltimore, but they cruised through the rest of the amateur player selection meeting, primarily targeting guys who produced for Power Five schools. It’s crazy how often that strategy works out.
Selections: No. 31: Daxton Hill, Safety, Michigan — No. 60: Cam Taylor Britt, CB, Nebraska — No. 95: Zachary Carter, DE, Florida — No. 136: Cordell Volson, OG, North Dakota State — No. 166: Tycen Anderson, Safety, Toledo — No. 252: Jeffrey Gunter, Edge, Coastal Carolina
Cincinnati came in the draft with pretty much zero needs after robbing the free agent market of three of its best offensive linemen. Because of that, they could sit back and take the best players available on their boards and maybe take care of some future contract problems in the process.
Daxton Hill is listed as a safety, but he’ll play more of a star position, I’d think. Something like Tyrann Mathieu did with the Kansas City Chiefs. He should be a day one starter in that position and give the team some breathing room if they can’t re-sign both their starting safeties over the next couple of seasons. Cam Taylor Britt has put up consistent solid performances against a Big Ten Schedule and had the best year of his life in 2021. Zachary Carter had 7.5 sacks in the SEC and put up better numbers on the year than George Karlaftis, a guy taken in the first round.
Selections: No. 20: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh — No. 52: George Pickens, WR, Georgia —No. 84: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M — No. 138: Calvin Austin, WR, Memphis — No. 208: Conner Heyward, TE, Michigan State — No, 225: Mark Robinson, LB, Mississippi — No.241: Chris Oladokun, QB, South Dakota State
When your second round pick is significantly better than your first rounder, it’s going to affect your grade. Pickett might have been the best QB out of this draft class. I don’t know. What I do know is that Charles Davis reported that a GM told him that not a single QB in the draft had better than a third round grade on his board. How the rest of the guys “fell” probably backs that up with most of the league’s draft rooms.
Pickett was the hometown guy and ordained to go the Steelers from the start. If Pickens hadn’t been hurt last year, he would not have been there in the second so that’s a solid pick.
There seems to be some thought out there that Pickett will come in and beat out Mitchell Trubisky. It’s not going to happen. The “competition” will not be close. If Pickett turns out to be the guy, it’ll be two years from now when he gets the shot.
Selected: No. 68: Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State — No. 78: Alex Wright, DE, UAB — No. 99: David Bell, WR, Purdue — No. 108: Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma — No. 124: Cade York, Kicker, LSU — No. 156: Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati — No. 202: Mike Woods, WR, Oklahoma —No. 223: Isaiah Thomas, Edge, Oklahoma —No. 246: Dawson Deaton, Center. Texas Tech
In spite of trading a ton of draft capital for Deshaun Watson, Cleveland still managed to keep three third round picks. With two of them, I think they might have found potential starters. I like Emerson at corner, who flourished in the SEC and David Bell is probably a sneaky potential No. 2 receiver. His college production in the Big Ten was huge. It’s Alex Wright I don’t like. If you play in Conference USA and only manage 7.5 sacks in your best season, you don’t look like a Day Two pick to me.
Cade York will probably be the Browns’ kicker this season and if he’s NFL caliber at all, he’s worth the pick. Kickers are seriously undervalued until you don’t have one.
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