Late for Work 5/3: Who Had the Strongest Draft in the AFC North?

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No Consensus on Which AFC North Team Had Best Draft

Nearly a week removed from the NFL Draft, the grades continue to roll in. The most recent wave of analysis examines how the draft impacted each division.

In the AFC North, there is no consensus as to which team had the best draft.

NFL.com’s Dan Parr gave the Cincinnati Bengals the highest grade in the division, an A-minus.

“[They] put together a really nice haul, starting with [Alabama offensive tackle Jonah] Williams,” Parr wrote. “Williams might be even better at guard than he is at tackle, but they got a plug-and-play guy who'll be a starter on the O-line for the next decade.

Tyler Eifert is back on another one-year deal, but you can't count on him to stay healthy, so the [Washington tight end Drew] Sample pick makes sense, although it was probably a little early to take him. He's likely to be much more effective as a blocker than receiver off the bat, but don't sleep on his potential as a pass catcher. They finally turned their attention to the biggest area of need with the selection of [N.C. State linebacker Germaine] Pratt, a former safety who'll bring some thump to a division where you can never have enough of it at LB.”

As for the other teams in the division, Parr gave the Ravens a B-plus, the Cleveland Browns a B and the Pittsburgh Steelers a B-minus.

“The Ravens played things just right in the first round, trading down a few spots to pick up some extra draft capital and still landing [Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise] Brown. … He's the weapon this team needed to find to help second-year QB Lamar Jackson,” wrote Parr, who also praised the additions of Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill, Notre Dame wide receiver Miles Boykin and Oklahoma guard Ben Powers to the offense.

“The team began to rebuild after an offseason of change on defense with the wildly productive [Louisiana Tech outside linebacker Jaylon] Ferguson (FBS all-time leader in sacks with 45) seeing his slide come to an end in Round 3,” Parr wrote. He was once considered a potential first-rounder, but a disappointing offseason sullied his stock. Ferguson will be an interesting developmental pass rusher to watch. … The lingering question is who will replace C.J. Mosley at ILB -- the Ravens didn't draft one, which was a bit surprising.”

Regarding the Browns and Steelers, Parr wrote: “[The Browns’] grade would be a C if it were based solely on the picks they made, but we're taking the [Odell Beckham Jr.] trade into account, which bumps it up. He was well worth the price of their first- and third-rounder [and Jabrill Peppers] this year.

“This draft started with a bang for Pittsburgh and kind of petered out after that, with some interesting swings along the way. I like the idea of identifying a massive need, finding a fit and then doing whatever it takes to land your target. That's exactly what [General Manager] Kevin Colbert did by trading up 10 spots for [Michigan linebacker Devin] Bush.”

Dennis Sosic of Pro Football Network’s “AFC North and Goal” podcast said the Ravens won the draft in the AFC North.

“I think they had a great draft. They kept talking about getting speed, and they selected speed guys [on offense],” Yates said. “And they helped their defense with Jaylon Ferguson. I think they had the best draft. They got the most starters.”

Sosic’s co-host, Travis Yates, had a similar assessment.

“I think we now know what to expect from [Ravens General Manager] Eric DeCosta’s identity, and at least at first glance, it’s all about speed, which kind of goes away from what we’re used to seeing from these Ozzie Newsome teams that were built on more of a powerful running game and a real stout defense,” Yates said. “And now we’ve got this dynamic offense led by Lamar Jackson and these amazing weapons now with Hollywood Brown and Miles Boykin and Justice Hill.

“DeCosta has made a statement, and it’s ‘catch us if you can. We’re still the defending AFC North Champions and you’re going to have to catch us to beat us.”

Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner chose the Steelers as the most improved team in the division following the draft.

“Pittsburgh made one of the biggest moves of the first round when they moved up for Devin Bush. After Bush and Devin White, there wasn’t a single linebacker in the class that could replicate their ability in coverage,” Renner wrote. “From there, they got two other PFF favorites in Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson and Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne. Johnson drew comps to Antonio Brown from a stylistic perspective inside the PFF offices, while Layne is much more suited to zone coverage than former first-rounder Artie Burns.”

Taking both the draft and free agency into consideration, Sportsnaut’s Vincent Frank listed the Ravens and the Browns among the 10-most improved teams in the NFL.

“Even after adding Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas in free agency, the Ravens knew they needed more weapons for young quarterback Lamar Jackson on offense. That’s where wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin came in during the 2019 NFL Draft,” Frank wrote. “Not to be outdone, first-year general manager Eric DeCosta added running back Justice Hill in the fourth round. This trio is only going to help Jackson improve under center in his first full season as Baltimore’s starter.

“The addition of Odell Beckham Jr. made these Browns early winners in free agency. Being able to acquire him for a mere first and third-round pick was an absolute steal. No matter what we think of running back Kareem Hunt’s off-field issues, he’s still one of the most-talented backs in the game. And without a first-round pick, Cleveland was able to add top-end cornerback Greedy Williams with what should be considered the steal of the draft. These Browns are certainly going places. That’s for sure.”

Previewing Ravens Rookie Minicamp

Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz identified five things the Ravens can accomplish at rookie minicamp today and tomorrow. Here are three of them:

Test Justice Hill’s instincts as a receiver and pass blocker: “The Ravens took Hill, a speedy running back out of Oklahoma State, in the fourth round of the draft and will give him plenty of opportunities over the next several months to show off his skills as a ball-carrier. But Hill’s best chance to make a significant impact as a rookie would be to fill the third-down back role, where he could help by catching passes and stonewalling rushers. Hill was a workhorse runner in college and didn’t factor much (into the) Cowboys’ receiving game. So at rookie minicamp, the Ravens need to figure out what Hill offers as a route runner. And though hitting isn’t permitted, Baltimore can also get a good glimpse at Hill’s instincts as a pass protector.”

See how Jaylen Ferguson fits and understands the defense: “Considering their dearth of established pass rushers, the Ravens don’t have time to dawdle with Ferguson’s development. Baltimore will want to see how the third-rounder out of Louisiana Tech fares as a rush linebacker and begin to assess how long it might take Ferguson to get up to speed in an NFL defense. They’ll likely prepare Ferguson, the all-time Division I sack leader, to step in as a Day 1 contributor.”

Evaluate Trace McSorley’s skills from beyond center: “McSorley, a quarterback out of Penn State who joins the Ravens as a sixth-round pick, could wind up playing special teams or serving as a gadget offensive piece for Baltimore. The team can start conjuring up ideas once McSorley gets on the field with fellow quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III in a couple weeks. Over the next two days, though, the Ravens should take a deeper look at McSorley’s throwing mechanics and his presence behind center. He’ll be the top QB at rookie minicamp, and his performance will give quarterbacks coach James Urban an idea of how to map out McSorley’s development.”

Quick Hits

In ESPN’s Todd McShay’s way-too-early 2020 mock draft, he has the Ravens selecting Auburn defensive end Nick Coe at No. 19 overall.

Despite the praise the Ravens have received for their draft, they dropped three spots to No. 17 in USA Today’s Nate Davis’ power rankings. The Ravens swapped places with the Steelers in the rankings.

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