AFC North rookie grades: Browns, Ravens land core performers

The 2018 NFL season is in the books, meaning the 2019 NFL Draft is coming down the pike. But before we completely shift focus to the next crop of prospects entering the league, let's take full stock of the rookies who just finished up Year 1. In this division-by-division Rookie Grades series, we're evaluating each team's 2018 draft class and spotlighting areas to address this offseason. Nick Shook examines the AFC North below.

RANK

A-

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Round 1: (No. 1 overall) Baker Mayfield, QB, 14 games/13 starts; (4) Denzel Ward, CB, 13 games/12 starts.
Round 2: (33) Austin Corbett, T, 11 games/1 start; (35) Nick Chubb, RB, 16 games/9 starts.
Round 3: (67) Chad Thomas, DE, 4 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (105) Antonio Callaway, WR, 16 games/11 starts.
Round 5: (150) Genard Avery, LB, 16 games/5 starts.
Round 6: (175) Damion Ratley, WR, 13 games/3 starts; (188) Simeon Thomas, CB, 0 games/0 starts (waived by Browns in September, spent time on Seahawks' practice squad, currently with Seattle).

Cleveland found plenty of high-level contributors in the early portion of this draft. In fact, had Corbett paired with Joel Bitonio to solve the left side of the line, this would have been a no-doubt home-run class -- but the jury is still out on the guard. Mayfield is a franchise quarterback. Ward is a blanket of a corner who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and only has durability concerns standing in his way. Chubb ripped off his share of big gains. Callaway has plenty of potential as a speedy complement to Jarvis Landry, though he doesn't have the size to function as a No. 1 type of receiver. Avery was very productive in Year 1, especially against the pass, trailing only Bradley Chubb in total pressures among rookie edge defenders, per Pro Football Focus.

Combine/free agency focus: The Browns could use a reliable interior defensive lineman opposite the up-and-coming Larry Ogunjobi. The same goes for the middle linebacker position next to Christian Kirksey (who lines up as a Will). Joe Schobert is important (as evidenced by the Browns' struggles without him in 2018), but he isn't the only fix at the position. Corner depth was also tested last season; the team could use another addition there. And, of course, will the Browns attempt to solve the left tackle position by retaining Greg Robinson, drafting someone else -- or doing both? That question also applies to receiver. Cleveland could attempt to re-sign Breshad Perriman (who was an unexpected revelation), draft a replacement, or try both measures.

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B+

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Round 1: (No. 25 overall) Hayden Hurst, TE, 12 games/0 starts; (32) Lamar Jackson, QB, 16 games/7 starts.
Round 3: (83) Orlando Brown, T, 16 games/10 starts; (86) Mark Andrews, TE, 16 games/3 starts.
Round 4: (118) Anthony Averett, CB, 11 games/0 starts; (122) Kenny Young, LB, 16 games/3 starts; (132) Jaleel Scott, WR, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (162) Jordan Lasley, WR, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (190) DeShon Elliott, S, 0 games/0 starts; (212) Greg Senat, T, 0 games/0 starts; (215) Bradley Bozeman, C, 14 games/1 start.
Round 7: (238) Zach Sieler, DL, 2 games/0 starts.
Notable free agent signings: Gus Edwards, RB, 11 games/6 starts.

Obviously, the big get in this class is Jackson, who teamed with coach John Harbaugh to save Harbaugh's job and lead the Ravens to an AFC North title, which made the Broncos-bound Joe Flacco expendable. Surprisingly, second-rounder Andrews (34 catches, 552 yards, three TDs) ended up contributing much more in Year 1 than first-rounder Hurst (13 catches, 163 yards, one score), who missed the first four games of the season due to injury. Both could still team up to make a formidable tight end duo in the future; they'll get more chances when Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, who are both bound for free agency, depart. Senat is an unknown but should get more work in the lead-up to 2019 after dealing with a foot injury. Bozeman is promising as an interior lineman. Young was an immediate contributor as a rotational defender, and we can't forget the out-of-nowhere play of Edwards, who helped carry the rushing load for Baltimore's transformed offense.

Combine/free agency focus: As a fan of Alex Collins, I don't want to write this, but it should be expected that the Ravens at least explore another option at running back, even after Edwards' excellent rookie season. Might that runner be Le'Veon Bell? Receiver isn't a wasteland, but Baltimore needs a true No. 1. Those don't just grow on trees. On defense, Za'Darius Smith was a key contributor who might leave via free agency, and with Terrell Suggs, Brent Urban and C.J. Mosley also up for a new deal, the Ravens have some tough questions to answer this offseason.

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C+

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Round 1: (No. 21 overall) Billy Price, C, 10 games/10 starts.
Round 2: (54) Jessie Bates III, S, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 3: (77) Sam Hubbard, DE, 16 games/0 starts; (78) Malik Jefferson, LB, 12 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (112) Mark Walton, RB, 14 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (151) Davontae Harris, CB, 3 games/0 starts; (158) Andrew Brown, DE, 0 games/0 starts; (170) Darius Phillips, CB, 15 games/1 start.
Round 7: (249) Logan Woodside, QB, 0 games/0 starts (waived by Bengals in September, currently in AAF); (252) Rod Taylor, OL, 0 games/0 starts; (253) Auden Tate, WR, 7 games/0 starts.

Bates was the shining star of this class, starting all 16 games and racking up 111 tackles, seven passes defensed and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). Bates garnered plenty of national praise, landing on the PFWA All-Rookie Team. Hubbard has potential and could end up in a starting role in place of veteran Michael Johnson, who's headed for free agency again in 2019. Price was hampered by injuries -- first, a torn pectoral suffered during the NFL Scouting Combine, and later, a foot issue -- making it difficult to evaluate him after one season. The rest of the class didn't really produce. Tate didn't get to play much. Woodside is in the Alliance of American Football, slinging the ball for the San Antonio Commanders. Phillips was a special teamer who played in place of injured starters and did well with his limited chances. If Hubbard and Price end up being quality starters, this group gets a better grade. Right now, though, it's underwhelming.

Combine/free agency focus: The first issue that must be addressed, something that has been a weakness for two seasons now, is the offensive line. Cincinnati found a decent left tackle via trade when it acquired Cordy Glenn from Buffalo last March, but the team needs to figure out where it's going on the right side of the line. Tight end should also receive attention, even if the Bengals bring back the oft-injured Tyler Eifert. Linebacker is a need, though the approach there depends on how the Bengals view free-agent-to-be Preston Brown.

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C+

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Round 1: (No. 28 overall) Terrell Edmunds, S, 16 games/15 starts.
Round 2: (60) James Washington, WR, 14 games/6 starts.
Round 3: (76) Mason Rudolph, QB, 0 games/0 starts; (92) Chukwuma Okorafor, T, 13 games/3 starts.
Round 5: (148) Marcus Allen, S, 2 games/0 starts; (165) Jaylen Samuels, RB, 14 games/3 starts.
Round 7: (246) Josh Frazier, DL, 0 games/0 starts (waived by Steelers in September, spent time on Lions' practice squad).

The lesser-known Edmunds brother (Tremaine was chosen 16th overall by the Bills) was a head-scratcher as a first-round pick, but he was decent after being thrown into the fire (78 tackles, one sack, one pick, four passes defensed) and has a chance to become a reliable starter. Washington was uneven as a rookie, but has plenty of potential to do more in the future. Rudolph waits quietly behind Ben Roethlisberger, for now. Samuels played very well while filling in for James Conner when Conner was injured (109.3 scrimmage yards per game from Week 14 through Week 16), bringing hope to a position group that once looked discouraging in light of Le'Veon Bell's expected departure. Okorafor could develop into a starter at tackle. This group didn't produce a budding star, but it might end up providing a few contributors, which could send this grade up a letter.

Combine/free agency focus: Cornerback is again a need, as Joe Haden isn't getting younger (he'll turn 30 in April) and Artie Burns still hasn't lived up to his draft status as a former first-round pick. Outside linebacker is also worth looking at, since Bud Dupree has underwhelmed, posting just 5.0 sacks per season since being selected 22nd overall in 2015. If Pittsburgh really ends up moving Antonio Brown, then, yes, receiver will become something else the organization must examine. Depth is needed on the front seven, especially along the line. And tight end matters, with Jesse James potentially departing via free agency. Finally, is Rudolph truly the future at quarterback?

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.