Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2015 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is his review of the AFC North. (NOTE: Click on the tabs to see other divisional breakdowns.)
The Ravens desperately need an electric playmaker in the middle of the field to help Joe Flacco thrive as a pocket passer. Williams is the most complete tight end in the 2015 class, possessing the hands, ball skills and sneaky athleticism to develop into a red-zone monster in coordinator Marc Trestman's system. With questions surrounding the return of Dennis Pitta, the Ravens were wise to snag a Jason Witten-like weapon to anchor the passing game between the hashes.
It's not surprising the Steelers took a cover corner in Round 2, but few expected the team to snag a rail-thin, 5-foot-9 prospect to compete in the rough-and-tumble AFC North. Granted, Golson is a spectacular playmaker with exceptional ball skills (16 career INTs), hands and awareness, but the need to thump big-bodied runners on the perimeter could make him a liability in certain situations.
The Browns might've landed the most natural runner in the 2015 class with the selection of Johnson in Round 3. The ex-Miami star is a spectacular cutback runner with outstanding vision, balance and body control in the hole. He has the ability to make defenders miss in tight areas or in space, while also flashing enough power to run through arm tackles. Furthermore, Johnson displays strong hands and ball skills as a receiver out of the backfield. Bottom line: This multi-skilled back could make Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West afterthoughts in the Browns' offense.
NOTE: Draft hauls are ranked from best to worst within the division.
1) CLEVELAND BROWNS: While some folks were screaming for the Browns to move up the board and nab a quarterback or electric receiver, general manager Ray Farmer proved he was intent on building a blue-collar team that doesn't rely solely on the performance of the QB. Thus, Farmer focused his efforts on upgrading the defensive front with the selections of Danny Shelton, Nate Orchard and Xavier Cooper. The trio will augment a solid front line and help the Browns play the kind of physical football that coach Mike Pettine desires. Offensively, the Browns took a versatile interior blocker (Cameron Erving) and a dynamic running back (Duke Johnson), which will allow the offense to pummel opponents behind a "ground and pound" approach. The Browns threw a couple of late-round darts with the selections of cover corners Charles Gaines and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, two guys with big-time potential. If both guys play up to their collegiate flashes, Cleveland could have one of the deepest defensive backfields in the NFL in a few seasons. GRADE: B+
2) CINCINNATI BENGALS: When a team is loaded due to superb player acquisition, the decision makers are free to draft with an eye toward the future. After putting together one of the most talented rosters in the NFL over the past few seasons, the Bengals used the 2015 draft to further cement a foundation that should allow them to remain perennial contenders for the next five years. Offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are developmental prospects poised to take over as starting bookends in the next year or two. Paul Dawson is arguably the most instinctive linebacker in the draft, but character concerns and questionable athletic traits led to his drop down the charts. If he takes care of business off the field, he could become a difference maker in the middle alongside Vontaze Burfict (who, by the way, was a very similar prospect when he went undrafted out of Arizona State). Keep an eye on receiver Mario Alford. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson could use him as the vertical stretch playmaker who deters opponents from playing press-man on the outside. GRADE: B+
3) BALTIMORE RAVENS: The Ravens consistently have landed talented players at every stage of the draft because GM Ozzie Newsome and his staff rely more heavily on film evaluation than they do on workout numbers and pro-day performances. Thus, it's not a surprise that Baltimore acquired a number of prospects with the potential to make immediate contributions. Receiver Breshad Perriman, tight end Maxx Williams, defensive tackle Carl Davis and running back Javorius "Buck" Allen could step on to the field and provide big-time contributions as first-year pros. Perriman and Williams, in particular, are expected to anchor a Ravens passing game that will look drastically different under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. If Perriman can eliminate the drops that plagued his collegiate career, he could give the Ravens the big-bodied playmaker they need as a WR1. Defensive end Za'Darius Smith could be a sleeper pick who emerges as a useful player for the Ravens down the road. GRADE: B
4) PITTSBURGH STEELERS: The Steelers skew toward the conservative side on draft day, valuing productive players with size and athleticism. This has been the formula for the team since the Chuck Noll era. Defensively, the Steelers plucked Alvin "Bud" Dupree to give the team a much-needed pass rusher with speed and quickness. He isn't a polished player, but has tremendous potential as a DPR (designated pass rusher). The Steelers also landed a pair of cover corners in Senquez Golson and Doran Grant. Golson, as mentioned above, is a bit of a question mark based on his diminutive physical dimensions -- in addition to potentially struggling against bigger-bodied receivers, he could have some trouble against the run. Receiver Sammie Coates is a "boom or bust" prospect with enticing physical tools who needs to develop better consistency as a pass catcher. GRADE: C+