It was a surprisingly down year in the AFC North despite traditionally being one of the better divisions in the NFL. The Steelers took the division crown this year and made it to the championship game. It comes as no surprise, the Steelers are still in great shape, despite being in Year 3 of trying to restock their defense.
The biggest surprise to come out the AFC North in 2016 was the fall of Cincinnati. The Bengals have jockeyed for power with Pittsburgh and Baltimore for division supremacy with regularity the past few years, but all went wrong last year. Age, injury, and thin depth showed in glaring fashion as they went 6-9.
Baltimore continued to flounder in mediocrity again. After regressing to 5-11 in 2015, they rebounded to a measly 8-8. The team is going through a major generational shift. First was the departures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, then it was Haloti Ngata leaving, now it seems that Terrell Suggs seems to be on his last legs. As the team attempts to keep their hallmark playing style, they’ve been struggling to find the right pieces.
Then of course…there’s the Browns, who nearly went DEFEATED in 2016. Now, I would just like to state: I love the Cleveland Browns. They are one of the greatest, most historic franchises in history. But after the villainous Art Modell absconded with the team to Baltimore the Browns have been a horror show. I believe Hue Jackson is the right man to lead the team, but this mess will take years to clean up.
Baltimore Ravens: B
1.) Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
2.) Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
3.) Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan
3b.) Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
4.) Nico Siragusa, OG, San Diego St.
5.) Jermaine Eluemunor, OT, Texas A&M
6.) Chuck Clark, S, Virginia Tech
The Ravens once again brought in a quality haul, however they are all at positions addressed in the earlier rounds of previous drafts which means the Ravens are missing on picks. Humphrey, gives them a high ceiling, low floor talent who can ease his way into the starting rotation as he develops behind Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr. Bowser, is a classic Ravens edge rusher. A freak athlete, who can fly off the edge. His numbers got better each year. Wormley, effectively replaces Timmy Jernigan, who was dealt to Philly. Wormley, could be a Day One starter at the five-technique. Siragusa and Eluemunor are developmental depth picks.
Best pick: Tim Williams
GM Ozzie Newsome loves taking Alabama players and Williams, is a classic Newsome choice. On talent alone, Williams is a first-round talent, but off-field there were red flags. Taking a flyer on a player of this caliber in Round 3 could pay off considerably.
Cincinnati Bengals: C+
1.) John Ross, WR, Washington
2.) Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
3.) Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas St.
4.) Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
4b.) Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee
4c.) Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
5.) Jake Elliot, K, Memphis
5b.) J.J. Dielman, C, Utah
6.) Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma
6b.) Brandon Wilson, RB, Houston
7.) Mason Schreck, TE, Buffalo
The selection of Mixon is gross and shows that while the NFL may say it takes a position on certain issue, this pick and others show a disturbing level of hypocrisy. This grade comes with the omission of the Mixon pick. Ross, seemed like a reach at No. 9 with his injury history. Yes, he tore up the 40-yard dash and his best season came post injuries, but the issue remains. Willis and Lawson, provide an excellent pair of high upside pass rushers they can mold and rejuvenate their defensive front. Malone, gives a high ceiling playmaker who has the talent to be special, he just has to put it all together. Glasgow, adds much needed depth to the interior of the defensive line. Dielman, has a nasty disposition and starter upside.
Best pick: Jordan Willis
Willis is a player. That simple. He’s not the flashiest edge rusher, but he gets the job done. A tough, aggressive player, Willis got better each year at Kansas State and capped off his senior year with career bests 17.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
Cleveland Browns: B
1.) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
1b.) Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
1c.) David Njoku, TE, Miami
2.) DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
3.) Larry Ogunjobi, DT, North Carolina-Charlotte
4.) Howard Wilson, CB, Houston
5.) Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida St.
6.) Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
7.) Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona St.
7.) Matt Dayes, RB, NC State
See the above issue with Mixon and apply it to Brantley too. This grade omits his selection. The Browns did a tremendous job to kickoff the draft. With their history, there is always the worry that they could screw it up, but they stayed to the board. It was tremendous. Garrett, was a can’t miss top talent and the Browns didn’t miss. Peppers, is the playmaker that new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams needs in the secondary. Williams will take full advantage of Peppers’ aggressive playing style. Moving back into Round 1 for Njoku was smart. A young, freakish athlete, Njoku could become quite the weapon. Kizer, has maybe the best pure arm talent in this year’s class, but some had a problem with his attitude. Coach Hue Jackson will get the best of Kizer to come out and could be a dynamic talent. Ogunjobi, is a quality three-technique to pair with nose Danny Shelton.
Best pick: Zane Gonzalez
Don’t hate on kickers. Gonzalez is a quality prospect, having only missed two field goals last season and only three point-after attempts over his four year career as a Sun Devil. There were four games last season that the Browns lost by at least three points last season. Gonzalez, could pick up that difference.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B+
1.) T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
2.) JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
3.) Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
3b.) John Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
4.) Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
5.) Brian Allen, S, Utah
6.) Colin Holba, LS, Louisville
7.) Keion Adams, OLB, Western Michigan
The Steelers did a great job of sticking to their board and addressing areas of need along the way. Watt is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. He’ll learn a lot behind veteran James Harrison and will be allowed to develop. He has a high ceiling. Smith-Schuser, was a value pick, but could certainly pay off sooner than later. Outside of Antonio Brown, the Steelers haven’t had a real go-to target. Smith-Schuster could fill that void. Sutton, is working his way back from a fractured ankle, but he could be a quality addition. A four year starter for the Volunteers, he excelled in both man and zone coverage. Conner’s, story is tremendous to fight back from cancer to make it to the NFL. He is a bruiser and is the perfect compliment to Le’Veon Bell.
Best pick:: Josh Dobbs
Dobbs has a little bit of Dak Prescott to him. Dobbs, got better from Year 1 to Year 2 as a starter, seeing his accuracy jump from 59.6% to 63% and his touchdowns from 15 to 27. He is still developing, but has the size, arm, and athleticism to suggest he could grow into a starter.