Analysis

2020 NFL rookie grades, AFC North: Bengals, Browns see big returns

Super Bowl LV's in the books, bringing an unprecedented NFL season to a close. So, how did the new guys perform in this uniquely challenging 269-game slate? Gennaro Filice and Nick Shook are taking a division-by-division look at each team's rookie class, providing grades and analysis on Year 1 production. Shook examines the AFC North below.

Grade
A-
Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals
Total picks: 7 · 4-11-1

Round 1

Round 2

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Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7


The Bengals nailed their first two picks of the 2020 NFL Draft, selecting a special talent who might very well be capable of transforming the franchise in Burrow. The only negative was that we didn't get a full season from him due to a season-ending knee injury. Higgins turned out to be a stud as a rookie, catching 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns. He looks to be an ideal replacement for A.J. Green in the future. Wilson was Cincinnati's first attempt at addressing its linebacker need and he played well. He was the Bengals' top linebacker in PFF's grading system and landed among effective defenders like Bills linebacker Matt Milano. Wilson and Davis-Gaither each registered a couple starts -- Wilson would have finished with more if not for injury -- and also played a healthy amount of special teams. Kareem saw time in a rotational role, and Adeniji played significant snaps in three games as Cincinnati worked through its offensive line issues. Bailey primarily played special teams as a rookie.

Grade
A-
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
Total picks: 7 · 11-5

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6


The Browns were in desperate need of a legitimate left tackle, and in a draft full of them, they landed one of the top two, if not the best. Wills made the PFWA All-Rookie Team after a very solid season protecting Baker Mayfield's blind side. While he'll need to improve his run blocking, Wills figures to be Cleveland's starting left tackle for years to come. Delpit could have answered a huge question at safety, but an Achilles tear ended his season in camp. He looms as a promising prospect, should he return to form in 2021. Elliott was a rotational defender stuck behind two very good defensive tackles (Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi) but still made a few plays. Phillips showed flashes but hasn't yet filled Cleveland's dire need for linebacking talent. Bryant was the No. 3 tight end in a deep group, yet he managed to find his own niche, catching 24 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns. He'll need to work on his tendency to drop a pass here and there, but the Browns landed a steal in Bryant, who also made the All-Rookie Team. Harris filled in at guard when the Browns battled losses to injury and COVID-19. He impressed before suffering an injury. He's a player who can grow into an effective lineman in the future. Finally, Peoples-Jones was another steal in the sixth round, filling out Cleveland's receiving corps and stepping in to help replace Odell Beckham. His most memorable grab -- a 24-yard catch along the boundary for the game-winning touchdown in Week 7 -- made him an instant fan favorite in Cleveland.

Grade
B-
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
Total picks: 10 · 11-5

Round 1

Round 2

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Round 7

Notable Undrafted Free Agent


Queen didn't play up to the level of a first-rounder out the gate, scoring one of the worst PFF grades among all qualifying linebackers, though he did have his moments, especially in pass-rushing situations. And he actually received a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie Team. He'll need to improve in coverage and become a more consistent tackler in order to fulfill his draft billing. Dobbins was an excellent pick and fit perfectly in Baltimore's offense. In fact, veteran Mark Ingram ended up inactive down the stretch in favor of Dobbins, who ripped up 805 yards on the ground, averaging 6.0 yards per carry and scoring nine touchdowns. Madubuike recorded 19 tackles (two for loss) and a sack, but his play outside of traditional stats didn't go unnoticed, as PFF gave him a grade that put him alongside the likes of teammate Brandon Williams and Washington's Daron Payne. Duvernay was a marginal contributor in Baltimore's passing game, which is still struggling to find a bona fide No. 1 receiver. Harrison played a near equal amount of defensive and special teams snaps as a rotational linebacker. His best game came against a playoff team, Indianapolis, in a 24-10 win over the Colts in Week 9. Though he saw a healthy amount of offensive snaps, Phillips failed to make a significant impact on the offensive line. Bredeson only saw the field in small amounts, playing a total of 78 snaps, with 44 of them coming on offense. Washington registered two tackles in eight games. Proche caught one pass in 2020, playing primarily on special teams. Stone appeared in two games before he was waived at the end of the regular season, landing in Houston in late December. Huntley played admirably in place of Lamar Jackson at the end of Baltimore's playoff loss to Buffalo.

Grade
B-
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Total picks: 6 · 12-4

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 6

Round 7


Pittsburgh landed one of the 2020 class' top receivers in Claypool, who should be considered a steal given that he was the 11th WR off the board last year. His 62 receptions for 873 yards and nine touchdowns (plus two rushing touchdowns) added an element the Steelers had missed since the days of Plaxico Burress. Highsmith came on strong late in the season and is trending upward, although he likely needs to add a little bit of weight in the offseason. McFarland found himself stuck behind James Conner and Benny Snell, seeing just 33 rushes in his rookie campaign. Dotson was strong as a rookie, earning a PFF grade in line with that of the New York Giants' Kevin Zeitler, and was especially effective in pass blocking, but will need more reps to continue improving. Brooks didn't see the field except for 10 special teams snaps between Weeks 9 and 17, and 28 defensive snaps in Week 10 against Cincinnati. Davis appeared in seven games but played a mere 54 defensive snaps on the season, recording six tackles (one for loss). He could help provide depth for the interior D-line in the future.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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