AFC North, NFL Draft Focus
Ravens fans need to hope, pray, that at least one of the men pictured here is selected before their pick comes up at number six. Quarterbacks Carson Wentz, North Dakota State. Jared Goff, California.
We spend a lot of time covering the hometown Baltimore Ravens, and the draft focus is pretty easy when you pick at #6. It’s a short list of players you can expect to land. The locals are well aware of the needs, who’s staying, who’s leaving or left. But, you might not be up to speed on how the rest of the division is shaping up. It’s important. Keep your enemies closer type of thing.
With that, I’m here to fill you in. We’ll start with the heated rival, Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow that up with what seems to be the perennial favorite in the AFC North these days, Cincinnati Bengals. Wrap it up with the team that could alter the Ravens draft plans the most, picking four to five spots ahead of them depending on the round, the Cleveland Browns.
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2015 record: 10-6. Loss in AFC Divisional round (@ Denver)
Key departures: Heath Miller-TE (retired), Cam Thomas-DT, Steve McClendon-DT, Brandon Boykin-CB, Kelvin Beachum-OT, Martavis Bryant-WR (One-year suspension)
Key additions: Lardarius Green-TE, Ryan Harris-OT, Steven Johnson–LB, Ricardo Matthews-DE
Estimated cap space for top 51: $2,117,832. Not a lot of room for making any more major moves, or taking on excessive dead money.
Steelers draft outlook
Pittsburgh holds the #25 pick in the draft. Like a lot of teams, cornerback tops the team wish list. They had no problem stopping the run ranking 5th in run defense. But a 30th ranked passing defense cost them games at times. It didn’t help that second round pick a year ago, cornerback Senquez Golson out of Ole Miss, didn’t play at all in his rookie season after undergoing shoulder surgery in August.
The departures of Cam Thomas and Steve McLendon leave the defensive line awfully thin.
Safety also looks to be a need with established NFL player, Mike Mitchell, as the lone reliable player there. They could also look to add an edge rusher with James Harrison getting older while announcing he’ll return for his 14th season. Former first round pick Jarvis Jones is trending towards bust. Bud Dupree looks like a star in the making. So it’s on the list, but not an immediate need.
Also lower on the board would be a guard, as the Steelers lack depth on the line. A lot of Ben Roethlisberger’s success is attributed to not getting abused. While he can extend plays and improvise on the fly, a season of getting destroyed takes it’s toll on even one of the toughest QBs by December. (By tough I mean the guy that plays through a broken nose. Not the diva that gets carted off for a bruise on his shoulder).
Pulse of the Steelers fan base
From the social media universe, the fan base seems to be split on the need for a defensive tackle, with Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt anchoring two of the three spots up front in their 3-4. But the depth behind it is lackluster and injuries in the trenches are common. The thoughts are that if they have an elite front seven, it could remedy the short coming in the secondary, pressing the opposition in to making more mistakes. No matter what side of the fence a Steelers fan is on, taking a defensive tackle or cornerback in round one, most all seem to think there is a big need to address safety in round two. The names often coming up are Darian Thompson, Boise State. Karl Joseph, West Virginia. Keanu Neal, Florida.
With the 25th pick, the Steelers select…: (according to my rankings)
Mackensie Alexander – CB, Clemson
A’Shawn Robinson – DT, Alabama
William Jackson III – CB, Houston
Sheldon Rankins – DT, Louisville
Eli Apple – CB, Ohio State
Jarran Reed – DT, Alabama
Robert Nkemdiche –DT, Ole Miss
OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
These players could go anywhere from pick #15 to round two. I think Alexander will continue to fly up draft boards into the top 15 to 20. William Jackson III is my guess for the Steelers pick. Their list of player meetings at the combine and pro day is filled with DBs, but WJ3 (see if that catches on) is the only one they have met with twice, and for a dinner.
2015 record: 12-4. AFC North champs. Loss in AFC Wild Card Round (vs. Pittsburgh)
Key departures: Marvin Jones-WR, Mohamed Sanu-WR, Reggie Nelson-S, Leon Hall-CB, Andre Smith-OT, Wallace Gilberry-DE.
Key additions: Karlos Dansby-LB, Brandon LaFell-WR, Taylor Mays-S
Estimated cap space for top 51: $20,833,641. Reggie Nelson, and Leon Hall are some of the top free agents that the Bengals let test the market after 2015. They are still out there on the market though teams are looking. The Bengals have plenty of money to bring these familiar faces back on a team friendly deal for a pair of over 30-year olds.
Bengals draft outlook
The Bengals could foil the Steelers draft plans all weekend long, picking just one spot, ahead of them at #24. The Steelers don’t traditionally trade a lot of picks, but you have to wonder if they will try to leap frog a division rival to get a guy they want, rather than have to play against that guy twice, or three times a year. Cincy is a well rounded team, not great in any one specific area, but very good in all of them. Since team owner Mike Brown has finally gotten out of his own way, the team is getting better at scouting, drafting, and salary cap management.
The top need appears to me to be at edge rushing defensive end. Physical freak Margus Hunt not progressing into a reliable NFL player. Will Clarke and Marcus Hardison aren’t ready for a starting snaps.
Another need looks to be at wide receiver. I’m not sold and Brandon LaFell being some upgrade over Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu. It’s not a pressing need as they still have A.J. Green under contract for the next four years, Tyler Eifert as a receiving TE for this year, and the cap space to sign him long term next. With LaFell being the third option, it gives a rookie a chance to adapt to the pro game without pressure to perform right out of the gate. Typical for rookie wideouts.
Defensive tackle is a position they want to address as well, as this class is a deep one for the position. They’ll want to find Domata Peko’s eventual replacement, specifically a nose tackle. Given the depth at the position, they might not need to reach there in round one.
The Bengals could go in any direction in round one.
Pulse of the Bengals fan base
They are glad they don’t need a quarterback! We here in Baltimore know the joy in that feeling after dealing with seven starters in eight years before Joe Flacco arrived. There is also a huge push to try to get Ohio State wideout, Michael Thomas. There is definitely some home state bias there. There is quite the debate going on as to where Thomas will fall. A lot seem to think he should be there for the Bengals late in round two but others think he is gone long before that. The Ohio State bias among Cincy fans is definitely real. I’ve come across a number of comments and such that people want to take Buckeye linebacker Derron Lee if there at #24. Never mind that the Bengals have 11 linebackers on the roster, including Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Hawk, Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey. All of them pretty much on the cheap side too. I can only imagine how many fans want to give up the whole draft to move up to the top five and grab Joey Bosa.
With the 24th pick, the Bengals select….: (according to my rankings)
Kevin Dodd – DE, Clemson
Josh Doctson – WR. TCU
Andrew Billings – DT, Baylor
Corey Coleman – WR, Baylor
Will Fuller – WR, Notre Dame
Emanuel Ogbah – DE, Oklahoma State
I think if any of the three bolded players are there, you have to take them. I like all of them, and wonder if the Bengals do too. Dodd could go early, or late. Docton the same, Billings the same. Especially Billings if teams pass on the position completely given the depth in the next round. Someone will always fall. I don’t feel high on Laquon Treadwell, but see a team taking him before Doctson, which could be a dream for Cincy. Doctson is the real deal.
2015 record: 3-13
Key departures: Alex Mack-C, Mitchell Schwartz-OL, Karlos Dansby-LB, Travis Benjamin-WR, Donte Whitner-S, Craig Robertson-LB
Key additions: Robert Griffin III-QB, Demario Davis-LB, Rahim Moore-S
Estimated cap space for top 51: $40,000,616. The Browns rolled over $20+M in cap space from 2015, and could rollover another $30M or so next year. They should be in play for some top echelon free agents in 2017. Some major additions could be needed given the teams draft history, and the amount of talent that left Cleveland for 2016 wasn’t made up for yet, with the draft still to come.
Browns draft outlook
Cleveland owns the #2 pick in the draft, and who they take will greatly effect who’s available for the Ravens at #6. As I’ve mentioned, I think Joey Bosa, Myles Jack, and Jalen Ramsey are the elite talents in the top of the draft. The Ravens need Laremy Tunsil to go #1 as projected, and they really need Cleveland to draft a quarterback #2, as projected. If the Browns decide to for once draft the best player available rather then the best player that fills a need, that will throw a wrench into the Ravens plans.
All of sudden, Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State, who not a soul was discussing during the football season, has drawn comparisons to Andrew Luck. Size, arm strength, athleticism. Just not the major school pedigree, which really doesn’t matter, in my opinion. The signing of RG3 might be insurance if a drafted QB doesn’t work out, or to bridge the gap until the rookie is ready.
In all honesty, the Browns have holes to fill nearly everywhere. Typical for a team that won just three games. Wide receiver after Travis Benjamin left. O-Line after Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz left. Linebacker after Karlos Dansby left. Defensive back after Tashaun Gipson left. Edge rusher are high on the wish list as well after ranking 28th in the NFL in sacks.
The only place they seem content is at running back. New head coach, Hue Jackson, had high praise for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson upon his arrival.
Cleveland has 11 picks in the draft, including compensatory picks. They will need to hit on most of them.
Pulse of the Browns fan base
Cleveland has botched so many quarterback draft picks since their reinvention with Tim Couch (Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeded, Johnny Manziel). They have botched so many of these picks, that some fans seem content with trading out of the #2 spot. If San Francisco really wants to move up to get a QB, fearing the Cowboys at #4 may also take a QB, Cleveland could trade back with SF to #7. Let another team take either Wentz, or Jared Goff. Then Cleveland can take the guess work out of which QB to take, should Dallas not go QB. (I don’t think they will). Or if both QBs go before #7, live with RG3 for a season, bolster the roster in other places with more picks. Maybe in the trade you net a 2017 first round selection. With a pair of first round picks in 2017 where Clemson QB, DeShaun Watson will likely be in play.
Almost how some Orioles fans are so disinterested in drafting pitchers because the coaches hinder their development, and they often suffer long set backs, and end up flourishing elsewhere where coaches all them to utilize their all their skills in way that the player is comfortable with. Some Browns fans don’t want to draft “the next Browns QB bust, former Cleveland QB, etc…”
Other Browns fans, the debate is between Wentz and Goff. Simply, you need a quarterback to have success. Other than Tim Couch, this would be the first time they picked a QB so high. If Wentz compares to Andrew Luck, he must be special right? Luck was a number one overall pick. The Browns now own the number two overall pick from the same draft as Luck, and have a chance to take the top QB available. Which they didn’t do in selecting Quinn, Weeden, or Manziel.
With the 2nd pick in the draft, the Browns select…: (according to my rankings)
Laremy Tunsil – OT, Ole Miss
Jalen Ramsey – DB, Florida State
Joey Bosa – DE, Ohio State
Myles Jack – OLB, UCLA
DeForest Buckner – DE, Oregon
Clearly, with the second pick, I’m just going off the top of the big board for best player available for a team with holes to fill all over the place. Hue Jackson sounds like he has faith in RG3. Let’s not forget that as a rookie, RG3 was one of the most efficient QBs in the league. He’s not Johnny Manziel. He’s not Blaine Gabbert or some third or fourth tier guy. Injuries, poor O-line, poor coaching could have slowed him down. Redskins head coach, Jay Gruden, put RG3 in the dog house for whatever reason, and Kirk Cousins ended up running away with the job.
Hue Jackson likes RG3, and the Browns have plenty of ammo to move up a number of picks from round two into the end of round one. They can find Memphis QB Paxton Lynch in the end of round one. If RG3 wasn’t signed, and if Hue Jackson wasn’t the coach, I’d think Wentz or Goff all the way. But Jackson is a QB coach who took Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton to a different level. He likely feels confident in reviving RG3’s career. But Paxton Lynch would be a nice Plan B while still addressing a need elsewhere with the best player available at pick #2.
Tunsil is likely gone #1, I don’t think the Browns can go wrong drafting Ramsey or Bosa. In turn, totally screwing up the draft board for the Ravens.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]