Let’s take a look at the 2018 NFL Draft class for all four teams in the AFC North (Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens), giving them each a grade for their selections.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Round 1 pick 28 – Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech
Round 2 pick 28 – James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Round 3 pick 12 – Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Round 3 pick 28 – Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Round 5 pick 11 – Marcus Allen, S, Penn State
Round 5 pick 28 – Jaylen Samuels, RB, North Carolina State
Round 7 pick 28 – Joshua Frazier, DL, Alabama
After falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs, the Steelers are gearing up for one more run at a Super Bowl as QB Ben Roethlisberger’s career near its end. Like Baltimore (more on them soon), Pittsburgh reinforced its roster for now while also planning for the future (although they did not go as far in that regard as the Ravens).
Safety Terrell Edmunds was thought to be a mid-second-round player but Pittsburgh held him in higher regarding, drafting him 28th overall. He is a hybrid safety capable of playing in the box near the line of scrimmage, or he can be a deep centerfielder, providing coverage support to cornerbacks.
Instead of taking Edmunds, Pittsburgh could’ve added Florida DT Taven Bryan or Boston College DE Harold Landry to upgrade its pass rush, Penn State TE Mike Gesicki to add another offensive weapon, or Iowa CB Josh Jackson to nail down the boundaries on defense. Edmunds probably wasn’t the best value the Steelers could have gotten in the first round, but he should be a solid player nonetheless.
Pittsburgh needed a third wide receiver to upgrade their receiving corps after trading Martavis Bryant, and when Washington fell to 60th overall pick, they couldn’t pass up the value. At 5’11” 213 lbs, Washington is built like an RB, and at first sight, you wouldn’t think of him as a deep threat. Yet, over the past three seasons, Washington averaged over 20 yards per reception and caught 33 touchdowns.
His 4.54 40-yard dash was rather disappointing, but there is no denying his ability to get open. With defenses focused on stopping Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Le’Veon Bell, Washington should get a lot of looks from Roethlisberger, who is one of the best deep-ball throwers in football.
While Washington was a good pick on paper, Pittsburgh decided to pass on LSU’s D.J. Chark, who was taken with the very next pick by the Jaguars. Chark is 6’3″ and ran a 4.34 40-yard dash and is just as good or better of a deep threat than Washington. The Steelers obviously had their reasons for choosing Washington, but it’s a pick that could haunt them in a few years.
With the 12th pick of the third round, Pittsburgh chose its likely QB of the future in Mason Rudolph, Washington’s teammate at Oklahoma State. Rudolph had a prolific career in college, throwing for 13,618 yards, 92 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. At 6’5″ 235 lbs, he resembles Roethlisberger physically.
Rudolph thrives when throwing deep like Big Ben, but he struggles with his accuracy at all levels of the field and does not have a great arm. The Steelers are not likely to have a top-5 draft pick in the near future, so Rudolph will be the guy to take over for Roethlisberger at this point.
Chukwuma Okorafor is a tackle prospect with everything you could want from an elite lineman from a physical standpoint, but he did not dominate at Western Michigan. He struggles with technique and doesn’t get consistent leverage, so he will need quite a bit of coaching. Still, Okorafor could become a high-end starter in the NFL.
The Steelers want to remain competitive and they feel as if they can still win a Super Bowl. After all, they nearly advanced to the AFC Championship game in 2017. But, they also realize that their window will close once Roethslisberger retires, and that day is coming soon. GM Kevin Colbert will have to defend his so-called “reaches” until those players start producing on the field.
2(t). Cincinnati Bengals
Round 1 pick 21 – Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
Round 2 pick 22 – Jessie Bates III, FS, Wake Forest
Round 3 pick 13 – Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
Round 3 pick 14(Kansas City) – Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Round 4 pick 12 – Mark Walton, RB, Miami
Round 5 pick 14 – Devontae Harris, CB, Illinois State
Round 5 pick 21 – Andrew Brown, DE, Virgina
Round 5 pick 33 – Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
Round 7 pick 31 – Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo
Round 7 pick 34 – Rod Taylor, OL, Mississippi
Round 7 pick 35 – Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
After moving down from pick 12 to 21 while acquiring LT Cordy Glenn from the Buffalo Bills, the Bengals decided to keep building their offensive line by taking Price from OSU. At the NFL Combine, Price tore his pectoral muscle during the bench press, but that obviously didn’t affect his stock. He will be the anchor of Cincinnati’s line whether he is playing guard or center. The Bengals allowed far too much pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton in 2017, but with the additions of Glenn and Price, that should change.
After starting George Iloka at free safety for the past few seasons, the Bengals decided they were ready for an upgrade, and they found one in Bates. He has good ball skills and instincts and has the range to cover sideline to sideline as a deep safety. He should instantly improve an already solid Bengals secondary.
In the third round, Cincinnati restocked its front seven by adding Hubbard and Jefferson. A projected early second round pick, Hubbard is the second Buckeye the Bengals drafted in 2018. He has good size but lacks elite athleticism, which will limit his potential in the NFL. Still, he was an incredible value in the third round and has a good chance to start immediately at DE opposite Carlos Dunlap.
Jefferson is an uber-athletic linebacker with good size but he never dominated in college as he should have. Jefferson lacks the instincts and play recognition ability required of an elite MLB and will need to improve more on the mental side of the game before contributing, but his physical gifts will allow him to remain in the NFL for a long time.
Logan Woodside played QB at in-state Toledo and could become the next A.J. McCarron for the Bengals. Woodside is undersized and has a rather weak arm, but he is smart and accurate, which makes him a perfect developmental option as a backup QB.
Auden Tate will give the Bengals a premier red-zone threat, although his lack of speed may limit him to just that role.
Overall, Cincinnati had a very good draft. They vastly improved their offensive line, upgraded their secondary and front seven, and brought in some players in the later rounds to compete for depth spots. After a disappointing 7-9 season, the Bengals should be back to competing for a playoff berth in 2018.
2(t). Cleveland Browns
Round 1 pick 1 – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Round 1 pick 4(Houston) – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Round 2 pick 1 – Austin Corbett, LT, Nevada
Round 2 pick 3(Houston) – Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Round 3 pick 3(Indianapolis) – Chad Thomas, DE, Miami
Round 4 pick 5(New England) – Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
Round 5 pick 13 – Genard Avery, LB, Memphis
Round 6 pick 1 – Damion Ratley, WR, Texas A&M
Round 6 pick 14 – Simeon Thomas, CB, Louisiana
After accumulating draft capital for the past two seasons, the Cleveland Browns finally used it all. GM John Dorsey kept his decision at QB secret from everyone until Roger Goodell announced Baker Mayfield as the first overall pick. Mayfield posseses the arm strength and accuracy to be a good NFL QB but will have to overcome his lack of size and ideal athletic traits. He will not have the pressure of starting right away, as Tyrod Taylor will (likely) open the season as the starting QB.
In a draft class with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen, the Browns stuck with their gut by selecting Mayfield. Only time will tell if they made the correct decision.
Many expected the Browns to take NC State DE Bradley Chubb with the fourth overall pick in order to create a terrifying pass-rushing duo with Myles Garrett. Chubb was indeed available at #4, but Cleveland passed on him, opting instead to take Ohio State CB Denzel Ward, which was deemed a reach by many analysts. Ward is slightly undersized but he has the speed, physicality, and ball skills to be an elite defensive back in the NFL. The Browns needed a true #1 CB, and they got it with Ward.
After an interesting first round, Cleveland owned the first pick of day two and selected Nevada’s Austin Corbett. Corbett has the versatility to play any position on the offensive line, although the Browns would prefer if he worked out at LT, as they need to replace future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas following his retirement.
Two picks later, the Browns took Georgia RB Nick Chubb. All of a sudden, Cleveland’s backfield appears loaded with Duke Johnson and former San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde joining Chubb. Chubb is a powerful one-cut runner who doesn’t waste time dancing around in the backfield. He lacks high-end athleticism as his torn ACL from his freshman year robbed him of some explosion. Still, he appears to be recovering well as he apparently reached a top speed of 22.3 miles per hour, the fastest of any football player at any level.
After trading down from their third pick of the second round, the Browns took Miami DE Chad Thomas, whose tape and impact never matched his physical traits. Cleveland is hoping NFL coaching can help Thomas unlock his potential and become a monster.
Cleveland then traded up slightly in order to secure Callaway, who, without his plentiful off-field issues, could have been the first wide receiver taken this year. Even after trading for Jarvis Landry, the Browns still needed another WR. If Callaway can stay clean, he could end up being one of the draft’s bigger steals.
Even though he was a fifth-round pick, Avery could challenge Pro-Bowler MLB Joe Schobert for the starting position, and at worst he will be a big rotational player for Cleveland’s defense.
The Browns needed to knock this draft out of the park, and if Mayfield becomes the franchise QB Dorsey and co. believe he can, they will have done just that. Ward and Chubb should be major contributors right away, and the rest of the picks added depth and potential at positions of need. Cleveland may finally be onto something.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Round 1 pick 25(Tennessee) – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Round 1 pick 32(Philadelphia) – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Round 3 pick 19 – Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
Round 3 pick 22(Kansas City) – Mark Andews, TE, Oklahoma
Round 4 pick 18 – Anthony Averett, CB, Alabama
Round 4 pick 22 – Kenny Young, LB, UCLA
Round 4 pick 32(Philadelphia) – Jaleel Scott, WR, New Mexico State
Round 5 pick 25 – Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
Round 6 pick 16 – DeShon Elliot, S, Texas
Round 6 pick 38 – Greg Senat, OT, Wagner
Round 6 pick 41 – Bradley Bozeman, C, Alabama
Round 7 pick 20 – Zach Dier, DL, Ferris State
Legendary GM Ozzie Newsome was the architect of the Ravens’ two Super Bowl teams, and he just completed his final draft with the organization. A pretty good send-off as he solidified his legacy, improving the team for the next few seasons while securing their future franchise QB.
Veteran Ben Watson left for the New Orleans Saints and former second-round pick Maxx Williams has not lived up to expectations, so Baltimore decided to address the tight end position by selecting South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst. Hurst a is big, athletic player who is essentially a wide receiver playing in-line. He will turn 25 years old before the season starts, but the Ravens were okay with that. He will improve a sorry receiving corps and could end up as the leading receiver for the Ravens in 2018.
In a surprise move, the Ravens traded up to the final pick of the first round and took Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. Joe Flacco is 33, under-performing, and on an albatross of a contract, so Baltimore was wise to come up with a contingency plan.
Jackson is one of the most electrifying players to enter the NFL in recent years. His game is reminiscent of a young Mike Vick; he has a cannon arm, a quick release, and is able to turn a surefire sack into a touchdown run. Where Jackson struggles is making NFL-style reads and progressions as well as displaying consistent accuracy, especially downfield. Jackson needs quite a bit of development, but he couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in as a rookie.
A historically bad Combine performance tanked Orlando Brown Jr.’s stock from likely first-round to mid-third-round, where the Ravens took him. They have Ronnie Stanley at LT and James Hurst at RT, so Brown will need to compete for playing time. At 6’8″ 345 lbs, Brown is an absolute mammoth of a lineman who is able to move defenders with ease while being nearly impossible to beat with power moves.
But, his size is also a negative; he is quite slow and can be beaten around the edge by quicker pass rushers. He also is not a good bender, which will limit his ability to create leverage. There are also rumblings of motivation issues, which are concerning. If Brown can keep his weight down and improve his footwork, he could become an elite right tackle in the NFL.
Another tight end, Andrews was one of Baker Mayfield’s favorite targets at Oklahoma. He is a reliable red zone target who can make tough catches in the smallest of windows. Lamar Jackson excelled at throwing passes down the seam in college, so having both Hurst and Andrews as future targets for him was a very smart move.
Averett is Newsome’s token Alabama player and is a good add in the 4th. The Baltimore secondary is decent, but Averett will be a fantastic depth player who could end up starting in the slot.
Scott and Lasley are part of an effort to reshape the Ravens’ WR room, which has been one of the worst in the NFL for the past five years. They should both make the team and see quite a bit of playing time.
Baltimore managed to upgrade their team and get their QB of the future, all while not giving up any high future picks. Newsome ended his Hall of Fame executive career in a way that will keep the Ravens relevant now, and give them a chance to be great in the near future.
Once hailed as the best division in the NFL, the AFC North struggled mightily in 2017. After the draft, it should be much more competitive as Baltimore, Cincinnati, and possibly even Cleveland could give the Steelers reason to worry at times.