AFC North draft grades: Bengals make boom-or-bust picks

Former NFL player/scout Bucky Brooks and Around The NFL's Conor Orr are performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2017 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is Conor's review of the AFC North.


BEST PICK: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Cleveland Browns, Round 1, No. 1 overall

This is an easy one -- for now. At the moment, we're going off the consensus grades of dozens of scouts, analysts and NFL Network experts who have spent the last few months publicly and privately deifying the 6-foot-4, 272-pound defensive end. According to NFL Network's Michael Silver, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is now locking Garrett into a paternal grip, making the wildly athletic Texas A&M star his pet project for the remainder of his time in Cleveland. Bruce Smith comparisons have already been thrown around. Will he live up to the hype?

MOST SURPRISING PICK: John Ross, WR, Washington
Cincinnati Bengals, Round 1, No. 9 overall

The Bengals' draft provided a window into how, exactly, Marvin Lewis feels about his offense. After watching the club get picked apart in free agency, the Bengals have made moves at wide receiver in the second round last year and now first round this year. The Ross pick is surprising if only because Lewis has no choice but to nail this. Despite spectacular production, Ross has a spotty injury history, which could be worrisome for a speed-driven wide receiver. Rarely does Cincinnati go for the flashy player in the draft, but they landed the new 40-yard dash record holder, increasing his high expectations for 2017.

BIGGEST SLEEPER: Jordan Willis, DE/OLB, Kansas State
Cincinnati Bengals, Round 3, No. 73 overall

Should Willis' game translate to the pro level, he can help transform Lewis' defense into something far more worrisome to opponents. Willis can line up in different places and doesn't get buried when facing double teams. His combination of size and speed is complemented by what, I feel, is a pretty refined set of pass-rushing moves. This was a deeper class of defensive players, so value was always going to be sprinkled throughout the draft. Did the Bengals hit here?


NOTE: Draft classes are ranked from best to worst within the division.

» Round 1: (No. 16 overall) Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama.

» Round 2: (47) Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston.

» Round 3: (74) Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan; (78) Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama.

» Round 4: (122) Nico Siragusa, OG, San Diego State.

» Round 5: (159) Jermaine Eluemunor, OG, Texas A&M.

» Round 6: (186) Chuck Clark, DB, Virginia Tech.

Ozzie Newsome on a mission is one of the most enjoyable general managers to watch in football. A year after loading up on mid-round defensive players, Newsome goes corner, outside linebacker, defensive end, outside linebacker before finally drafting a guard in the fourth round. Two of those defensive players -- first-round pick Marlon Humphrey and third-round pick Tim Williams -- are from Newsome's sweet spot in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The continued effort to re-engineer the Ravens' defense has been a joy to watch and, at the moment, the team seems to have enough utility players to match up with all the diverse weapons in the division (save for maybe Antonio Brown).

» Round 1: (No. 1 overall) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M; (25) Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan; (29) David Njoku, TE, Miami.

» Round 2: (52) DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame.

» Round 3: (65) Larry Ogunjobi, DT, North Carolina-Charlotte.

» Round 4: (126) Howard Wilson, CB, Houston.

» Round 5: (160) Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State.

» Round 6: (185) Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida.

» Round 7: (224) Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona State; (252) Matt Dayes, RB, N.C. State.

What a difference a year makes. All of a sudden, Cleveland finds itself in the position of "media darling" now that a majority of people have decided that the hollow, essentially meaningless term "analytics" is synonymous with success. What have the Browns done right? Unlike the Titans, they are still spinning their 2016 pre-draft trade into selections down the road. The team loaded up on potential defensive talent, though I wasn't as crazy about the Kizer pick as others. If you actually like a quarterback, go get that guy. Don't sit there until one bottoms out then laud his potential.

» Round 1: (No. 30 overall) T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin.

» Round 2: (62) JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC.

» Round 3: (94) Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee; (105) James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh.

» Round 4: (135) Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee.

» Round 5: (173) Brian Allen, DB, Utah.

» Round 6: (213) Colin Holba, LS, Louisville.

» Round 7: (248) Keion Adams, OLB, Western Michigan.

A classic Steelers draft, which began with the ceremonial selection of a rush outside linebacker (Watt). I appreciated the way general manager Kevin Colbert peppered in some potentially dangerous skill position players like Smith-Schuster, though the Dobbs pick felt a little forced to me in the fourth round. Is the team really looking for Ben Roethlisberger's successor, or are they trying to maximize whatever remaining window Roethlisberger has left? There were still some decent offensive players -- including the tight ends Big Ben was clamoring for -- on the board at that point.

» Round 1: (No. 9 overall) John Ross, WR, Washington.

» Round 2: (48) Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma.

» Round 3: (73) Jordan Willis, DE/OLB, Kansas State.

» Round 4: (116) Carl Lawson, OLB, Auburn; (128) Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee; (138) Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan.

» Round 5: (153) Jake Elliott, K, Memphis; (176) J.J. Dielman, C, Utah.

» Round 6: (193) Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma; (207) Brandon Wilson, RB, Houston.

» Round 7: (251) Mason Schreck, TE, Buffalo.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Bengals second-round pick Joe Mixon would have been taken off his board entirely, which seemed to be an opinion shared by at least a handful of RB-needy football teams in this draft. Marvin Lewis has made a living drafting and fostering players that other teams might stay away from, and in a way, that is one of his more admirable qualities. With Mixon, though, it is a pick that elicits a very strong opinion one way or the other at a position where the team already has two entrenched starters. Will it be worth it? Can Mixon add another dimension to the Bengals' offense? I liked many of the picks the team made this time around, but with Ross included, there might be too many boom-or-bust propositions for my taste.

Follow Conor Orr on Twitter @ConorOrr.

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