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NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

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Grading an NFL Draft immediately after it occurs is akin to giving your compliments to the chef based on the menu. It will take at least three years before we can truly assess how the 32 NFL teams fared over the three-day event. But waiting is no fun, so let’s take a take at which teams appear to have done the best job of filling needs and building for the future.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: Few teams plug holes better than the Ravens, who landed a remarkably similar vertical threat in Breshad Perriman as departed speedster Torrey Smith at No. 26 overall. Like Smith, who left for big money in San Francisco, Perriman will occasionally drop an easy pass but his extraordinary speed is an ideal match for an offense built around Joe Flacco’s big arm. Similarly, the Ravens nabbed the draft’s best tight end in Maxx Williams and wisely doubled down on the position with Nick Boyle late. Filling other holes left by free agent defections happened in the middle rounds with stout defenders Carl Davis and Za’Darius Smith. Cornerback Tray Walker could surprise as a developmental press corner. The real steal, however, could be running back Buck Allen, who could take snaps from Justin Forsett as a rookie. Just another ho-hum brilliant draft in Baltimore.

Grade: A

Cincinnati Bengals: Like the Ravens, the Bengals do a nice job of using the draft as it is intended – to develop young talent to fill holes left by free agent defections. Tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are each entering the final year of their respective contracts, which gives the club time to let Cedric Ogbuehi – a top 10 talent – heal from the torn ACL that ended his 2014 season prematurely. The Bengals assured that tackle wouldn’t be an issue with Jake Fisher in the second round, a prospect many clubs viewed as a first round talent. Linebacker Paul Dawson could prove the next version of Vontaze Burfict – a future starter who slid due to poor workouts and off-field issues. Watch out for hard-hitting defensive back Josh Shaw and up-and-coming defensive lineman Marcus Hardison to surprise as middle round picks.

Grade: B

Cleveland Browns

Given all of the talk about a colossal trade up for Marcus Mariota, the Browns standing pat and building along the line of scrimmage might be the kind of ripple rather than splash the franchise needed. Danny Shelton is the best run-stuffer in this draft, which was the No. 1 need for the Browns considering that the club finished dead last against the run last season. Cameron Erving’s versatility makes him an ideal fit for a club with questions about the long-term future of center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Edge rusher Nate Orchard may lack the tools that prompted Cleveland to invest in Barkevious Mingo a few years ago, but he’s a more polished and instinctive defender. The Browns added speed at running back with the dynamic Duke Johnson and physicality at wide receiver with Vince Mayle. Fellow Washington State product Xavier Cooper could surprise, as well. The steal of Cleveland’s draft, however, will be seventh round pick Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was viewed as a possible first round pick before tearing his ACL in January.

Grade: B+

Pittsburgh Steelers: With age creeping up on the Steelers, adding youth and athleticism was priority No. 1 for general manager Kevin Colbert, and Bud Dupree adds both. A dynamic athlete with speed, agility and flexibility, he checks off a lot of boxes athletically-speaking and has the work ethic and selflessness Pittsburgh values. Athleticism was the focus for Pittsburgh in this draft with the Steelers gambling on undersized (but playmaking) cornerback Senquez Golson, “tool-sy” wideout Sammie Coates and cornerback Doran Grant. Thorpe Award-winning safety Gerold Holliman will get the buzz despite his shoddy tackling landing him in the seventh round, but versatile tough guy Anthony Chickillo is the Day Three pick to watch for the Steelers.

Grade: B

–Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, a property of The Sports Xchange distributed in partnership with CBSSports.com.


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