Skip to main content

AFC North rookie grades: Silver lining for 0-16 Cleveland Browns

With the 2017 NFL campaign in the rearview, draft season's about to kick into high gear. But before we completely shift over to the Class of 2018, let's review the returns from this past season's crop of rookies. Division-by-division, we're providing grades on each team's 2017 draft class, as well as identifying areas that must be upgraded this offseason. Nick Shook examines the AFC North below.

Baltimore Ravens

Round 1: (No. 16 overall) Marlon Humphrey, CB, 16 games/5 starts.
Round 2: (47) Tyus Bowser, OLB, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 3: (74) Chris Wormley, DE, 7 games/2 starts; (78) Tim Williams, OLB, 8 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (122) Nico Siragusa, OG, 0 games/0 starts (tore ACL, MCL, PCL in camp).
Round 5: (159) Jermaine Eluemunor, OG, 8 games/2 starts.
Round 6: (186) Chuck Clark, DB, 15 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings:Patrick Ricard, FB/DL, 16 games/0 starts.

Humphrey started to grow into the corner Baltimore was hoping it was getting at No. 16 overall, but the 21-year-old's still a season or two away from reaching his full potential. The rest of this class was fairly spotty, with Bowser leading the way as the most important contributor (11 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 interception) not named Humphrey. Siragusa unfortunately had his season wiped out by a serious knee injury, and the majority of these other mid-round picks were stuck at the bottom of the two-deep behind more experienced players, with Williams suffering from a lack of playing time the most. Credit GM Ozzie Newsome for unearthing two-way throwback Patrick Ricard, who did a nice job of replacing Kyle JuszczykGRADE: C+

Combine/free agency focus:Alex Collins was a pleasant free-agent addition at running back, and after a majority of the season passed, Baltimore's coaching staff finally realized he was their best option. That doesn't preclude the Ravens from looking at running backs, though. Receiver needs to addressed, as the Ravensranked 29th in passing offense while trying to lean on veterans Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, as well as ever-disappointing former first-round pick Breshad Perriman. Depth picks at guard would be helpful and would make progress toward finding a successor to veteran Marshal Yanda (unless Eluemunor proves to be the guy).

Cincinnati Bengals

Round 1: (No. 9 overall) John Ross, WR, 3 games/1 start.
Round 2: (48) Joe Mixon, RB, 14 games/7 starts.
Round 3: (73) Jordan Willis, DE, 16 games/1 start.
Round 4: (116) Carl Lawson, DE, 16 games/1 start; (128) Josh Malone, WR, 11 games/7 starts; (138) Ryan Glasgow, DT, 16 games/1 start.
Round 5: (153) Jake Elliott, K, 15 games/0 starts (with Philadelphia); (176) J.J. Dielman, C, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (193) Jordan Evans, LB, 15 games/4 starts; (207) Brandon Wilson, RB, 8 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (251) Mason Schreck, TE, 0 games/0 starts.

Ross, runner of the fastest 40-yard dash in combine history, registered more rushes (1) than receptions (0) in 2017. Thanks to injury, he was a complete non-factor. There were exciting glimmers of potential from Mixon, but he largely just muddied the running back position in Cincinnati. (The jury's still out on him.) Cincinnati found a pair of very promising contributors in Willis and Lawson, with the latter racking up 8.5 sacks as a rookie. Glasgow made an impact in his appearances, as well. Round 5 and after weren't kind to the Bengals, who let both Elliott and Dielman get nabbed by other teams, with the kicker playing in (and winning) the Super Bowl as a result. GRADE: C

Combine/free agency focus: Is this the final stand for Andy Dalton? Could Cincinnati turn elsewhere at quarterback? AJ McCarron's free agency status (his RFA/UFA grievance hearing is set for Feb. 15) is also worth monitoring there. The Bengals desperately need help on the offensive line, which was putrid after seeing its two best members (Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler) leave via free agency last offseason.

Cleveland Browns

Round 1: (No. 1 overall) Myles Garrett, DE, 11 games/9 starts; (No. 25 overall) Jabrill Peppers, S, 13 games/13 starts; (No. 29 overall) David Njoku, TE, 16 games/5 starts.
Round 2: (52) DeShone Kizer, QB, 15 games/15 starts.
Round 3: (65) Larry Ogunjobi, DT, 14 games/1 start.
Round 4: (126) Howard Wilson, CB, 0 games/0 starts (broke kneecap in May).
Round 5: (160) Roderick Johnson, OT, 0 games/0 starts (knee injury in preseason).
Round 6: (185) Caleb Brantley, DT, 12 games/1 start.
Round 7: (224) Zane Gonzalez, K, 16 games/0 starts; (252) Matt Dayes, RB, 16 games/0 starts.

Armed with a cache of picks, Cleveland went to work rebuilding its roster via the draft, turning two first-round picks into three and using them on three key contributors. Garrett looks to be exactly what folks expected when he was the unanimous pick at No. 1, and Njoku showed plenty of signs of being a big-play tight end for years to come. Peppers had an up-and-down campaign, but he was playing a unique -- if not peculiar -- role as a deep safety in Gregg Williams' system. Kizer was thrust into an unwinnable situation, but he made decisions that didn't help his case. Where this class could really shine through in the future is in the contributions of the later-round picks. Wilson and Johnson had their rookie seasons wiped out by injury, but Ogunjobi and Brantley each made encouraging strides, Gonzalez seemed to improve as the year went on, and Dayes was helpful in spots. GRADE: B+

Combine/free agency focus: In what is projected as a quarterback-rich draft, Cleveland has to use the first overall pick on the franchise's next face under center. Beyond that, needs exist at cornerback, offensive tackle and, with Isaiah Crowell expected to leave via free agency, running back. No team is armed to improve through this draft more than the Browns. Another talent at receiver -- who isn't the failure that was Kenny Britt in 2017 -- could help this young squad out a lot, as could some linebacking depth.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Round 1: (No. 30 overall) T.J. Watt, OLB, 15 games/15 starts.
Round 2: (62) JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, 14 games/7 starts.
Round 3: (94) Cameron Sutton, CB, 5 games/1 starts; (105) James Conner, RB, 14 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (135) Joshua Dobbs, QB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (173) Brian Allen, DB, 10 games/2 starts.
Round 6: (213) Colin Holba, LS, 7 games/0 starts (with Jacksonville).
Round 7: (248) Keion Adams, OLB, 0 games/0 starts.

Pittsburgh absolutely nailed it in Rounds 1 and 2 with the selections of Watt (54 tackles, seven sacks, one interception, one forced fumble) and Smith-Schuster (58 catches, 917 yards, seven touchdowns). The two were immediate, major contributors and look to be mainstays for years to come. After that, things kind of fall off a cliff. Sutton was a late-season contributor due to injury, but had a nice second-half against Cincinnati in Week 13 after replacing Coty Sensabaugh at halftime. If he can develop into a reliable corner, it will address a need Pittsburgh has been trying to fill through the draft for nearly five years. Conner was helpful in spots, but largely an afterthought. Dobbs inspires very little confidence. Meanwhile, Allen is in the same boat as Sutton, Holba ended up on the Jaguars, and Adams spent the season on IR. Because of the two hauls at the top, Pittsburgh gets a solid grade -- but it's a top-heavy group. GRADE: B

Combine/free agency focus: Corner is still a question mark in Pittsburgh, and will require attention yet again. The Steelers will also need to take a hard look at middle linebacker after the frightening injury to Ryan Shazier. It wouldn't hurt to start thinking about life after Ben Roethlisberger, who flirted with retirement last offseason and will probably keep having those thoughts from now until he actually does hang it up.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content