NFL DRAFT REVIEW: AFC NORTH
By Simon Carroll
The NFL Draft is in the books. And whilst it is far too early to assign grades to these draft classes we can look at how they have affected team’s rosters ahead of the upcoming season.
We start this series with the AFC North:
|2||55||JK Dobbins||RB||Ohio State|
|3||71||Justin Madubuike||IDL||Texas A&M|
|3||98||Malik Harrison||LB||Ohio State|
|3||106||Tyre Phillips||IOL||Mississippi State|
|5||170||Broderick Washington||IDL||Texas Tech|
The rich get richer. Back in the days of Ozzie Newsome the Baltimore Ravens created a draft and free agency strategy that was unique at the time, but one that many teams have plagiarised since. Quite simply they stay true to their board, and quarterback aside draft best player available. Considered cap management plays a part – nobody gets overpaid and star players are allowed to test the market in free agency. If they leave, the Ravens re-tool the following year with compensatory picks. This has helped a franchise to remain competitive for the best part of two decades.
With Newsome’s protégé Eric DeCosta now in situ, Baltimore continues with the plan that has done so well for them in the past. Fortunately for them the board fell kindly enough to fill a need with their first pick; Rangy linebacker Patrick Queen will occupy a role not truly filled since CJ Mosley left town 12 months ago. Day two was unsurprisingly a success too – The Ravens’ desire to dominate on the ground will benefit from the addition of JK Dobbins who joins a now fearsome backfield. Their first three picks of round three were all high value. And the late round selection of James Proche epitomises this devotion to taking talent above need. Quite simply, they nailed it.
|4||107||Akeem Davis-Gaither||LB||Appalachian State|
|5||147||Khalid Kareem||EDGE||Notre Dame|
Renowned for their reluctance to trade up or down in the draft, the Bengals stayed true to form and selected with the first pick in each round. With 2019 a lost season it was inevitable that Zac Taylor would want his own guy under center. And the era of the Red Rifle ended with the first selection of the entire draft as home-state kid Joe Burrow returns home. Cincy don’t get bonus points for not overthinking this pick, but the impact Burrow will have on this team cannot be emphasised enough.
Duke Tobin decided to arm Burrow with an elite talent in round 2. Tee Higgins is a big bodied receiver who fights for every ball and has sneaky speed after the catch – remind you of anyone? I fully expect this to be AJ Green’s last year in tiger stripes, but with Higgins, Boyd, Ross, Auden Tate and Joe Mixon in the backfield this is now a weapon-heavy offense. Getting Jonah Williams back on the offensive line will be like having an extra first round pick in of itself. We should see much more of Zac Taylor’s vision for this unit in 2020.
After attacking defense in free agency they were left with mending the linebacker corps, which was diabolical last season. They weren’t shy in doing just that, bringing three aboard in Wilson, ADG and Bailey who could all start day one. Expect a bounce-back season in Cincinnati.
|4||115||Harrison Bryant||TE||Florida Atlantic|
Andrew Berry’s first draft in a much-more analytics-focused front office went pretty much as anticipated. Tackle was the presumed target in round one, and in Jedrick Wills they got one of the elite four in this draft class. Wills played right tackle at Alabama but it was Tua’s blindside, and with Jack Conklin coming over from Tennessee expect their rookie to plug in on the left.
Defense was always going to be the focus on day two, and The Browns attacked at three positions of need. The 2018, game-changing version of Grant Delpit would have been a first round pick. Tackling concerns saw a fall in the draft, but Cleveland fans won’t mind when they see him flying round FirstEnergy Stadium. The additions of Jordan Elliott and Jacob Phillips add steel to the core of this unit that was particularly susceptible to the run last season. If nothing else, The Browns’ defense got a lot tougher over draft weekend.
Berry wasn’t finished, adding late round targets for Baker Mayfield in Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ represents ridiculous value in the 6th round for this team. And adding the seam-busting Bryant to free agency acquisition Austin Hooper shows that The Browns were less than impressed with the output from their tight end group last year. New head coach Kevin Stefanski will be tasked with drawing up some creative plays to incorporate all the weapons at this offense’s disposal.
|2||49||Chase Claypool||WR||Notre Dame|
|6||198||Antoine Brooks Jr||S||Maryland|
The Steelers round off what was a strong group of draft classes for the AFC North. With no first round selection following the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick last season, they began on day two with the selection of Chase Claypool. GM Kevin Colbert has shown an eye for receiver talent during his time in Pittsburgh, and the big-bodied Claypool looks suited to this physical division. After turning heads with his athleticism at the combine he likely starts immediately on the inside, maybe as a WR/TE hybrid in he mould of Evan Engram.
Alex Highsmith is a high-upside pass rusher with a nose for the quarterback. Quick off the snap and a high motor, he offers immediate impact on passing downs. My colleague Oli Hodgkinson got to speak to him just before the draft which you should definitely check out. I fully expect him to have beaten out Bud Dupree opposite TJ Watt before the end of the year.
A quieter day three for Pittsburgh, but one addition caught the eye. With James Conner missing game time last season and seemingly always dinged up, it was imperative the Steelers helped him share the workload. Anthony McFarland is a completely different ball carrier; elite athleticism and breakaway speed mean he’ll be a complimentary back in this offense. He’s lightweight but delivers a nasty hit when finishing plays that will endear him to the Pittsburgh faithful, He also provides special teams value as a returner as well. All in all, a solid haul for the Steelers.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.