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AFC North Draft Recap
The AFC North presented an interesting lack of balance, with three of their four teams selecting well into the 20’s and just one making a pick early in the first round. However, the Bengals, Browns, Ravens, and Steelers were all able to add a plethora of players in the hopes to contend and win the division in 2021.
Here is a brief recap of what all four teams did in the NFL draft.
Cincinnati was the lone team who missed the playoffs in 2020, but definitely flashed signs of promise, thanks mainly to last year’s top pick Joe Burrow. So this year, the Bengals used their first round pick on LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, a former teammate of Burrow, in the hopes the two will form a bond that elevates their offense to the next level.
Opting to go with the receiver on Day 1, the Bengals finally addressed the offensive line on Friday with the selection of Clemson offensive tackle Jackson Carman. Cincinnati traded down in the round and acquired two fourth round picks before taking Carman, who should compete for one of the starting guard spots right away. They also took three edge rushers over the course of the draft, headlined by Texas’ Joseph Ossai in the third round.
Overall, the Bengals’ draft received mixed reviews. Chase is expected to be a very good player, while Ossai was a nice value pick. However, the lack of any real o-line improvements, even with Carman, as well as the selection of a kicker in Round 5, left some wondering if Cincy maximized their opportunities.
Picking well into the 20’s, a rarity for the Browns in the last 20 years, Cleveland had a number of options they could have gone in the first round. Ultimately, they decided on Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II, who fills a need in Cleveland’s re-tooled secondary and might be an option to start for them right away.
With cornerback out of the way early, the Browns got a great value in the second round with Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Owusu-Koramoah was a possibility at 26, so Cleveland getting him at 52nd overall was one of the steals of the entire draft. Additionally, the team added speedy Auburn wideout Anthony Schwartz and a depth piece for the o-line in Cincinnati tackle James Hudson.
Between Newsome and Owusu-Koramoah, as well as some of the later players selected, experts almost universally praised the Browns’ draft. They were able to address their needs at corner and linebacker and got good value for both. However, the lack of an edge rusher would be the biggest strike against Cleveland coming out of the draft.
After sending franchise tackle Orlando Brown to the Chiefs a few days before the draft, the Ravens were armed with two first round picks at 27 and 31. With those picks, they filled serious needs with Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State edge-rusher Jayson Oweh. While Bateman should immediately add to a receiving corps in need of some play-makers, Oweh is a pure upside pick that the team is hoping to get a lot more out of.
Baltimore was once again able to find value in a couple of spots later on. Late in the third round, the Ravens selected Georgia guard Ben Cleveland, adding depth on a line who prides themselves in run-blocking. One interesting selection was late in Round 4, where Oklahoma State wideout Tylan Wallace fell a little bit further than expected and was added to Baltimore in the hopes that he is healthy and can be productive.
It seems like Baltimore always comes out of the draft as winners, and this year was no exception. Bateman is a perfect fit for the Ravens, and Cleveland was a nice value at the end of Day 2. While some are worried about Oweh, who didn’t have a sack last season at Penn State, the potential was enough for them to take a chance on him.
After a disappointing loss to the Browns in the AFC Wild Card round, the Steelers decided to add some juice to their offense in the form of Alabama running back Najee Harris. Taking a running back in the first round is always controversial to a degree these days, but with James Conner gone Harris projects to be the lead back in Pittsburgh’s backfield right away.
Pittsburgh continued with their offensive theme immediately following Harris. The Steelers used their second round pick on Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth, considered the best tight end in the class after Kyle Pitts, and then grabbed their future starting center in Illinois’ Kendrick Green. Pittsburgh would go mostly defense for the remainder of the draft, with their most-notable value pick being Miami (FL) edge-rusher Quincy Roche in the sixth round.
Unlike the Browns and Ravens, experts were a little more mixed on Pittsburgh’s draft class. So much will depend on Harris becoming an every-down star in the backfield, while the selections of Freiermuth and Green may not be impactful in 2021. Only a couple of the nine picks the Steelers made were considered good value, putting more pressure on the veterans in place to keep their title window open.
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