Draft Grades

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AFC North draft grades: Browns boost defense; Steelers help Ben Roethlisberger

Why provide instant grades on the selections of prospects who have yet to take an NFL snap? Well, you're reading this, aren't you? Considering the makeup of every roster and the factors surrounding each pick, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr attempt a division-by-division assessment of the 2021 NFL Draft. Keep in mind that these grades are based on draft hauls alone -- picks traded for veteran players were not taken into account. Below is Dan's review of the AFC North.

NOTABLE SELECTIONS

Best Pick:

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris
Alabama · RB

Draft slot: Round 1, No. 24 overall


I know it's become very popular to scoff at the notion of drafting a running back early. You could argue that Kevin Colbert should have honed in on a different position -- one that doesn't produce late-round and undrafted gems as consistently as the running back spot -- but I believe the team's situation at RB cried out for something greater. Pittsburgh ranked dead last in rushing last season and entered last weekend without a single back who rushed for more than 3.4 yards per carry on the roster. Enter Harris, a do-it-all back who has drawn comps to Matt Forte and Steven Jackson. Give this man the rock 20-25 times per game and never look back.

Most Surprising Pick:

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Notre Dame · LB

Draft slot: Round 2, No. 52 overall


Owusu-Koramoah's fall was one of the draft’s biggest stunners. NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's No. 15 overall prospect was still available late in the second round in part due to a heart issue that wasn't reported until draft weekend. For his part, JOK says he's never really had any heart issues, and Browns GM Andrew Berry explained after trading up for the former Fighting Irish LB that there's "really nothing in his background that would suggest he can't have a nice, long career." That's great news, because the potential is tantalizing given his combination of explosiveness and versatility.

Biggest Sleeper:

Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
Tylan Wallace
Oklahoma State · WR

Draft slot: Round 4, No. 131 overall


NFL teams underestimated Wallace, perhaps because of his size or the knee injury he suffered in 2019, which helps explain why he was still available late in Round 4. It's not hard to envision him becoming a star in Baltimore, though. His game is built on determination and toughness -- sounds like a perfect fit for the Ravens -- and he can be the physical, go-up-and-get-it guy Lamar Jackson has lacked at wide receiver. "I'm telling you this guy will be the next Steve Smith. He's the same kind of competitor and (has the) same kind of jump ball skills," an NFL assistant coach told NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein late last year. With endorsements like that, the 18th WR selected this year could turn out to be pretty special.

TEAM GRADES

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

Grade
A-
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
Total picks: 8

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 6:


The Browns didn't draft an edge rusher to groom behind Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, which is about the only decision to quibble with here. It could be one that comes back to bite GM Andrew Berry, especially if Clowney isn't able to stay healthy, but we didn't dock them major points since we liked so many of his other choices. Cornerback and linebacker were the other most pressing needs for a team that had to improve on defense. Fortunately, Berry was able to find two first-round values at those spots. Newsome was a steady riser throughout the spring because of his size, athleticism and instincts. He could be the answer opposite Denzel Ward. Owusu-Koramoah was thought to be a shoo-in for the first round but fell all the way to the 20th pick of Round 2 amid reports of a heart issue. Berry says he's seen nothing to "suggest he can't have a nice, long career." Later on, Cleveland added world-class speed at receiver (Schwartz), some needed depth in the trenches (Hudson and Togiai) and an undersized safety worth pounding the table for (LeCounte). The Browns did well in front of the home crowd.

Grade
B
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Total picks: 9

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 6:

Round 7:


Sensing that the contending window is nearly shut with Ben Roethlisberger entering his age-39 season, the Steelers clearly were on a mission to upgrade the QB's supporting cast on draft weekend. We're not going to see a repeat of the worst rushing attack in the league now that they have Harris running through defenders. He's the do-it-all back this team so badly needed. Now, with the twilight creeping in on Big Ben, we would have been a little more aggressive in Round 2 to land an offensive tackle, but it's hard to argue with the value or fit for Freiermuth, who's been compared to Tyler Eifert. GM Kevin Colbert did find help for the offensive line in the middle rounds. Green has some developing to do when it comes to pass protection, but he could be up to the challenge of filling the void left by Maurkice Pouncey's retirement. The Steelers didn't address the need for an edge rusher until Round 6, but landing Roche at Pick 216 was one of the best values of the draft. The merits of drafting a punter will be debated. If you're going to pick one, make sure he's built like a tank and can throw a touchdown pass.

Grade
B
Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals
Total picks: 10

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 6:

Round 7:


It won't matter who's catching passes from Joe Burrow if he doesn't get the protection he needs to stay upright, so the case to take Penei Sewell over Chase at No. 5 makes some sense. That said, Chase was arguably a top-three talent in the draft and should resume setting off weekly firework displays with Burrow, like their days together at LSU ... again, if that O-line holds up. The 6-foot, 201-pounder could be the next Anquan Boldin. The Bengals traded out of the 38th pick, when OTs Teven Jenkins and Liam Eichenberg were still on the board, picking up a couple fourth-rounders from the Patriots to move down eight spots. Pocketing a little extra draft capital is always nice, but choosing Carman -- NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah's 96th-ranked prospect -- at No. 46 seems like quite a reach. Ossai was a much better value in Round 3, but he's still a raw talent that will require some seasoning. They found some nice pieces for the O- and D-lines in the middle rounds. We wouldn't have minded it if they had employed a different strategy at kicker instead of making McPherson the first (and only) one off the board early in Round 5. If Carman becomes a quality starter at guard, this haul will be better than it looks on paper right now.

Grade
B
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
Total picks: 8

Round 1:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:


The Ravens' strategy already makes more sense than it did in the immediate aftermath of the draft. The void left by Orlando Brown at right tackle was still looming large after GM Eric DeCosta did not spend any of his eight picks on the position, but Baltimore signed Alejandro Villanueva to a two-year deal earlier this week. The consummate smokescreen pro, DeCosta seems to always have a few misdirection plays up his sleeve. He made major investments at the wide receiver position after saying a week earlier that it was "insulting" to see so little respect paid to the team's players at the position. Well done, sir. Oweh will fill the Ravens' biggest need of all if he can put it all together. He didn't post any sacks in his final season at Penn State, but he has the tools to become a highly disruptive force for a defense replacing Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. We loved the Wallace pick in Round 4, and Wade could be a steal if he bounces back from a rough go of it in 2020. This feels like a high-ceiling, low-floor group overall.

Follow Dan Parr on Twitter.

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