DRAFT REVIEW 2021 AFC North

By | June 16, 2021

This group of teams has historically been one of the most Draft-centric in the NFL. In general, they hoard their Picks and look to accumulate extras through the loss of Salary Cap unfriendly vets. The BROWNS have probably deviated the most from this route, in good part due to all the changes in GM’s and Head Coaches in the past decade. The least flexible have been the BENGALS, but even they have veered slightly off course a few times. So let’s take a look at the Division that spent 35 Draft Picks at the end of April.

RAVENS       The team pretty much did what most Draft experts thought they should to fill out their roster. They took Minnesota WR RASHOD BATEMAN in Round 1, in an attempt to get LAMAR JACKSON some targets with medium wideout size (6’1/210), but good speed and elusiveness after the catch. Then in Round 4, they selected TYLAN WALLACE of Oklahoma State, who is not as big (5’11/193), but is strong for his size, and tough. They did NOT draft another TE, which confirms the determination to try to expand LAMAR’s comfort zone. With the trade of disgruntled OT ORLANDO BROWN, and VFA loss of OC MATT SKURA, the team will be shaking up it’s OL a bit. The expectation now is that RONNIE STANLEY will be healthy and reclaim his LT spot with BOZEMAN sliding inside to OC. So with Pick 94, the team selected Georgia behemoth BEN CLEVELAND (250 lbs), who will be given every chance to win one OG slot. He should be a good fit for the RAVENS OL and scheme. With the loss of JUDON/NGAKOUE thru VFA, the team needed some help on the edges. So the team selected Penn State’s ODAFE OWEH at Pick 31, and DAELIN HAYES of the Fighting Irish as DE/OB/ER fits. The team also felt a need for more quality depth in their secondary. Late in Round 3, at Pick 104, BRANDON STEPHENS/CB/SMU was chosen, though his first position shot will come as a S, given his 6’1/219 size. I smell a hybrid/SS/LB in the making here. In Round 5 they got a steal, in this man’s opinion, with Ohio State’s SHAUN WADE, who was not an instant star in his switch from Nickel to Corner, but also not as bad as some clearly felt. With time and coaching, I think he can start on the outside as he was projected as a Senior in college. In Round 7 they surprised me by selecting FB BEN MASON, who should have been gone by Round 4, IMO. The surprise is that they would take a FB, given the fairy tale story of PATRICK RICARD, their 6’4/280 DE/FB the past couple of seasons. No matter what, MASON is a splendid talent that blocks like a bull, catches the ball well, gains short yardage up the middle, and can handle multiple Special Teams roles. He will fit on that roster somewhere for a HC like John HARBAUGH.

 

BENGALS      This team had one overriding goal heading into tis Draft; help for JOE BURROW, their new Franchise QB, who never made it through his first pro season after being sacked at a record pace, and finally going down to a knee injury. So their first mistake came early in the 2021 Draft. With a dominant LT (SEWELL) sitting on the Board at Pick 5, the team selected former BURROW teammate JA’MARR CHASE/WR/LSU. CHASE was rated by most as the best WR in this year’s draft, and he and BURROW were a dynamic duo in 2019 at LSU. However, you can’t get the ball downfield to even Superman lying flat on your back. Oh well… The team did draft 3 other OL in this order; JACKSON CARMAN/Clemson, D’ANTE SMITH/East Carolina, and TREY HILL/Georgia. SMITH may be the best long-term LT prospect if he can add & sustain another 10-15 lbs. to his frame, but for now they may be counting on a pleasant surprise from either CARMAN or VFA RILEY REIFF. In Round 3, the team selected JOSEPH OSSAI, who really came on as a Junior at Texas playing in an OB/ER role. He is a great athlete and an energetic player that they must find a fit for right away. In Round 4, the team loaded up with two DL with very different skill sets. CAM SAMPLE/Tulane is very similar to GENO ATKINS coming out of Georgia, but even a tad smaller at 275. However, he has good hand use and finds the gaps to penetrate and wreak havoc behind the L-of-S. He impressed strongly during Senior Bowl week. They then took former LSU giant TYLER SHELVIN. SHELVIN is similar to READER, whom they signed last year as a VFA. He weighs about 360, so for him to be effective, they have got to keep his weight under control. CHRIS EVANS/RB/ Michigan was their 6th Round Pick. He had some academic issues at Michigan, but earned his way back onto the team. He has lots of tread left on the tires, and is quite versatile. He has a chance to win the job that GIO BERNARD had in their backfield until he forced his exit from Cincy. They are hoping for better things in close games, in part by selecting the only K to be taken in this year’s Draft, EVAN McPHERSON/Florida. To me, it was pretty much a toss-up between he and JOSE BORREGALES/Miami as being the best K Prospect. The talent is here, but the biggest key will still be how much their 3 OL Draftees, plus REIFF, can actually protect BURROW compared to last year’s group.

 

BROWNS        This was a solid Playoff team last season, to the delight of the win starved BROWNS faithful. But those fans want a double digit regular season Win total and a deeper run through the Playoffs. Last year’s new GM ANDREW BERRY had a few upgrades in mind, and some overall quality depth additions to the roster this off-season.  They added 5 key VFA’s in CLOWNEY, TROY HILL/NB, JOHN JOHNSON/S, TAK McKINLEY/ER and ANTHONY WALKER/LB, all of whom are under 30-years old. And in case it slipped past your attention, they all play on defense. The other big veteran addition could be the return of ODELL BECKHAM/WR, who likewise, is still under 30. The team already has two good young CB’s in GREEDY & DENZEL, but both have missed multiple games to injuries already in their young careers, so in Round 1, the team took GREG NEWSOME/CB/Northwestern to add quality depth. NEWSOME isn’t flashy, but hits hard and covers well overall. Even though talent is available in their LB corps, they just couldn’t pass on Golden Domer JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH, a do it all LB that may even be able to handle S chores. TOMMY TOGIAI/Ohio State is a really solid complimentary player that will fit well in their DL rotation. Early in Round 4, the team selected OL JAMES HUDSON/Cincinnati, who is a talented, but raw, player right now with only a total of 11 starts on the OL in college. He was a DL as a HS recruit. So look for him to be inactive in his rookie season unless injuries to others force him into games. Just in case OBJ isn’t quite the same explosive self he was pre-injuries, the team selected former track star ANTHONY SCHWARTZ in Round 3. He’s raw as a route runner, but “go long” is a blood curdling expression to DB’s that must keep up with him. If BECKHAM, LANDRY, HIGGINS, & PEOPLES-JONES can all stay healthy for the most part, SCHWARTZ can be eased into the mix, and likely the return game, while he learns how to be a true NFL wideout. TONY FIELDS/LB/West Virginia is in for the ride as a Special Teamer and hopefully a sub-package cover LB. FIELDS is one of those nice picks a team makes in Round 5 when most of their starting roles are full already. Keep an eye out for their final Pick in Round 6, DEMETRIC FELTON/WR/RB/RS/UCLA. He’s a lightning quick, little (5’9/189) scat back that led his team in yards rushing, and also receptions, in consecutive seasons under CHIP KELLY. Quicker than fast, he has prodigious 9 3’8″ hands for a guy only 5’9. He is almost impossible to catch if he gets into open spaces with the ball in his hands. In a quite interesting move, the team literally gave wheelbarrows of cash in a post-Draft signing bonus to 300 lb.+ college standout MARVIN WILSON/DT/Florida State, having decided to replace SHELDON RICHARDSON and his $14 million 2021 Cap hit price. They are really hoping that WILSON plays with upside every week.

STEELERS     The STEELERS took a bit of flack from some of their faithful for mishandling the 2021 Draft. Not so fast, my friends! They had 9 Picks and spread them around quite effectively, in my opinion. Once they decided not to re-sign vet RB JAMES CONNER, it was clear that they might want a true No. 1 RB, not just a bunch of guys splitting time and roles. So, while many fans screamed for OL help, the team selected NAJEE HARRIS/RB/Alabama, who used the 2020 Covid season to show that he is a do-it-all Back that can run, catch, and block. As long and TOMLIN doesn’t overwork him, HARRIS should be a solid No. 1 RB. With most of their fans still screaming for an OL at Pick 55, the team took Penn State TE PAT FREIERMUTH. The 6’5/255 all purpose TE was a must going forward. EBRON is likely in his last year as a STEELER and McDONALD has retired. At Pick 87 in Round 3, the team took an OL, just not a big sexy name. It was converted DL KENDRICK GREEN of Illinois. GREEN will likely get a shot at OC and OG in Training Camp, with a good chance to win one of those jobs. He’s a nice sized (6’2/305) IOL with athleticism and nastiness to his game. At Pick 128, the team went to the OL well again to select DANIEL MOORE/OT/Texas A&M. MOORE was a 3-year starter for the Aggies that really looks the part. He’s 6’5/310 with 10 1/4″ hands and 33 3’4″ arms. He is agile on his feet and a natural knee bender. With solid-teaching coaches, he can start in the NFL in time. On Day 3, it was time to help the Defense out with some fresh talent. As expected, on Day 3 of almost any Draft you don’t get a lot of future starters. However, if you draft wisely, you get role players with useful/specific skills. The Day 3 draftee that I like best for the STEELERS is QUINCY ROCHE DE/ER from Miami. I watched game after game last season with ROCHE being an undersized DE, but when it came to passing downs, he was beating some good blocking OT’s. His quickness off the snap is close to elite. His speed around the corner is elite. And probably best of all is his speed and balance as he bends to turn the corner. He just gets to the QB with a sack or QBH on a high percentage of his edge-rush efforts. MIKE TOMLIN should be able to find ways to maximize this guy on obvious passing downs. He never should have lasted until Pick 216, IMO. As TOMLIN mentioned during a late interview on Draft Day 3, the selection of TRE NORWOOD/DB/Oklahoma is punctuated by his versatility to play all over the secondary. He’s most natural at S, but can fill in at CB as needed in sub-packages. ISAIAHH LOUDERMILK/DL/Wisconsin, whom they traded up to Pick, is ridiculously long. He is listed at 6’6, but plays like 6’8. His real weight is about 290, not the 275 that some places have pegged him at. His body configuration is almost ideal for a team like the STEELERS that uses a 3-4 base scheme on defense. The only Pick that I do not get here is P/PRESSLEY HARVIN/Georgia Tech, who I think will be a blocked Punt waiting to happen at the NFL level.

Lots of help here for all of the teams in the division. The biggest difference is that the BENGALS were trolling for immediate starters, while the rest of the division was looking for depth and future starters. Some interesting Picks from everyone, with only a few guys that I would label major reaches.

Cheers

 

Pigskin