2014 NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

AFCN

Cincinnati Bengals

The First Pick: The Bengals addressed their biggest need in this year’s NFL Draft in round one, adding Darqueze Dennard, a young cornerback to go along with the veterans currently on the team. He’s a terrific man-to-man corner who excels in press coverage. He’s also an intelligent player who knows how to use his body and the field to win battles.

The Question: It’s hard to question the selection of Dennard in the first round, but Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr were both available when the Bengals picked. Many fans are convinced Andy Dalton isn’t the answer, and Bridgewater and Carr are both potential franchise players, so if Dalton struggles, fans will remember that the team passed on them.

The Steal: Dennard might end up as the best cornerback out of this class, and there was a time when many analysts thought he’d go inside the top ten. Getting him with the 24th pick could be a tremendous value.

The Reach: The team really liked center Russell Bodine through the draft process and targeted him from the beginning. When round four came along, the Bengals decided to go get him, trading up to the early part of the round. They likely could have gotten him without the trade.

The Rest: Jeremy Hill, the team’s second round pick, will play early and often. He’s an upgrade over BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Will Clarke has the measurable at defensive end coaches like, but he’s very raw. They added depth at linebacker and cornerback with the late round picks.

The Grade: Hill and Bodine might start from day one, and could be big upgrades. Dennard is a terrific pick as well. They made an unnecessary trade, though, and didn’t get a ton of value. B-

 

Cleveland Browns

The First Pick: Instead of taking the quarterback they wanted early in round one, they traded back, got a pick for next year, and selected cornerback Justin Gilbert. He’s athletically gifted, and his speed is second-to-none. He’s not as technically sound as a few of the other prospects, but they Browns got a guy with a huge upside.

The Question: This draft for the Browns is all about Johnny Manziel. He comes in with the kind of fanfare that leaves him open to be either Cleveland’s greatest hero, or a colossal bust. Brian Hoyer should allow him to sit and learn, but it would be no surprise to see him take over as starter sometime in 2014. His success, or failure, defines this draft and the future of the Browns.

The Steal: The Browns didn’t wind up with many picks, but they got some nice value overall. Pierre Desir is a small-school player, but a hugely talented one. He has great length for the position, and terrific ball skills. He could have gone as early as round two.

The Reach: Gilbert may have been the biggest reach for a team that did pretty well with the picks they had. He’s more potential right now, though he could wind up a great player.

The Rest: The Browns added some talented players with their six selections. Terrance West is a powerful runner for a team that needed some insurance for Ben Tate. Joel Bitonio and Chris Kirksey are guys that will contribute early on.

The Grade: Johnny Football is the key to this draft, but there’s no doubting the Browns played it correctly by waiting on him. They got the guy they wanted, and didn’t have to reach for him. They also added solid players with each pick. B+

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The First Pick: It’s no secret that the Steelers love their linebackers, and the selection of Ryan Shazier with their first round pick should be no surprise. Shazier is a tremendous athlete who makes plays all over the field. He can blitz, play the run, and is solid in coverage. He will be a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, where they love their playmaking linebackers.

The Question: The secondary was scarcely addressed in the draft, and is probably the biggest weakness going into the season. Ike Taylor struggled in 2013 and Troy Polumalu is another year older, so they will need Taylor to play better and some help from the depth. Shaquille Richardson was taken in round five, but they’d love him to be able to help sooner rather than later.

The Steal: The Steelers needed a receiving threat to go along with Antonio Brown, and was able to nab Martavis Bryant in the fourth round. With all the measurables a team could want, Bryant could have been picked as early as round two, but inconsistency pushed him down the board. He could be a big addition for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense.

The Reach: There is no doubting the obvious talents of Dri Archer. His speed is unmatched in this draft, and he is a homerun threat. However, his size severely limits what he can do, and round three might be early for a guy who is always one hit away from injured reserve.

The Rest: Stephon Tuitt was added in round two, and should be an upgrade to the defensive line. They also added the humongous Dan McCullers as a late round pick. Wesley Johnson could be a solid player on the interior of the offensive line.

The Grade: The Steelers added some nice players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They also could have a couple of steals for Roethlisberger on offense. B+

 

Baltimore Ravens

The First Pick: CJ Mosley was a top ten pick a few months ago. Injury concerns may have hurt his stock just a little, but the Ravens saw the talent he has and pulled the trigger. He has speed, instincts, and just makes plays. Baltimore may have added another great inside linebacker to a defense that knows a thing or two about great inside linebackers.

The Question: The team added a very talented defensive lineman in Timmy Jernigan, but it’s unclear how he’ll fit in the 3-4 defense the Ravens employ. He could be fantastic inside as a pass rusher on a 4-3 set, but he lacks the bulk to be the tackle in the Ravens front. He’ll need to learn to play as an end if he wants to see time on the field.

The Steal: Terrence Brooks might have been the perfect fit for the Ravens. He’s versatile, quick, and smart, and he allows the team to move Matt Elam to strong safety. Brooks can cover one-on-one, or play center field. He could have gone in round two.

The Reach: Brent Urban is a versatile player on the defensive line, and should be a fit for the Ravens defense. An injury hurt his stock, and he might have been available a round later. He’ll require some coaching up on his technique as well.

The Rest: Tight end Crockett Gillmore is a big target, and the team hopes he can help get Joe Flacco back on track. Keith Wenning is a late round quarterback prospect with some nice upside. They added depth at the offensive skill positions as well.

The Grade: Mosley could end up as one of the best picks of the draft, and along with Brooks immediately makes the defense better. Jernigan was a bit of a mysterious pick. B

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