AFC North draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
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It was quite apparent that every team in the AFC North had a specific plan in this year's draft, and each one differed greatly.

The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens wanted to rebuild the defense, using their first four picks for that side of the ball. It started with Florida safety Matt Elam at the bottom of the first round.

The Cincinnati Bengals believed the key to taking the next step in the playoffs was adding more weapons on offense. There's no more excuses for quarterback Andy Dalton after the Bengals took the first tight end (Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert) and running back (North Carolina's Giovani Bernard) in this year's draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers believe bouncing back from an 8-8 season requires upgrading two of the team's weakest areas, the pass rush (Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones) and running game (Michigan State back Le'Veon Bell). The Steelers didn't take a tight end, which will be a trouble spot if Heath Miller hasn't fully recovered from knee surgery by the start of the season.

And, in the first draft under their new regime, the Cleveland Browns obviously didn't like the depth of this draft, trading twice in the middle rounds to stockpile more picks in the 2014 draft. The Browns picked only two players (LSU linebacker Barkevious Mingo and San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden) in the first five rounds.

Here are some more thoughts on how the draft unfolded for the division ...

BEST MOVE

The Steelers had a top-five talent -- Jones -- fall into their laps at No. 17. So, how is that the "best move?" Pittsburgh invested a first-round pick in Jones when other teams were scared off by medical concerns and a poor pro-day workout. His fall is reminiscent of how Terrell Suggs fell in the 2003 draft, and you remember how that turned out.

Jones has the potential to be the best defensive player in this draft. He led the nation in sacks (14.5), tackles for loss (24.5) and forced fumbles (seven) despite missing two games last season. His burst, strength and athleticism coming off the edge make him a perfect fit for the Steelers defense and the heir apparent to James Harrison.

There is a risk involved because he's previously been diagnosed as having stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal column that has shortened NFL careers. But the Steelers couldn't pass on a disruptive rusher like Jones. Since leading the NFL in sacks in 2010, the Steelers ranked 17th in 2011 and 15th in 2012. Taking Jones is the first step to turning the NFL's top-ranked defense into more of a playmaking one.

Making the best move doesn't mean the Steelers had the best draft in the AFC North. That honor goes to the Bengals. The Steelers reached in the second round by taking Bell, a finesse back who will remind many of Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh chose Bell over more explosive backs like Alabama's Eddie Lacy and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin.

Outside of drafting Jones, the Steelers' other great move was trading up in the fourth round to select Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas, a high-energy and hard-hitting defensive back. Pittsburgh had to give up a 2014 third-round pick for him, but the Steelers could get a third-round compensatory pick next year for losing wide receiver Mike Wallace.

RISKIEST MOVE

[+] EnlargeBarkevious Mingo
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsCleveland potentially boosted its pass rush by drafting Barkevious Mingo early in the first round.
The AFC North team that needs the most infusion of talent in this draft decided to play spectator. The Browns added two players in the first 174 picks of this week's draft. New general manager Mike Lombardi channeled Bill Belichick in trading picks in the fourth and fifth rounds of this draft for selections in the third and fourth rounds in 2014.

These moves make sense because next year's draft should be deeper than this one, but this offers little immediate help to a franchise that has lost 57 games in the past five seasons. Plus, there are no guarantees that Lombardi or chief executive officer Joe Banner will be making those picks next year. The federal investigation into owner Jimmy Haslam's family-run truck stop business has put a cloud of uncertainty over the franchise.

Some can argue the Browns' first pick was a risky move as well. Instead of filling the team's biggest need with Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, the Browns went with the highest-rated player on their board, Mingo, a pass-rush menace with tremendous upside, at No. 6 overall. The decision was the right one, although I would feel better about it if the Browns addressed cornerback in free agency.

Sitting with a league-high $33 million in salary-cap room entering the draft, the Browns refused to spend money on a veteran starter, whether it was Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Aqib Talib, Keenan Lewis or Cary Williams. Instead, it looks like the Browns will start either Buster Skrine or the 68th player taken in this draft (McFadden). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cleveland allowed 22 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last season, tied for second-most in the NFL.

It was a quiet final day for the Browns. Cleveland used a sixth-round pick on Notre Dame free safety Jamoris Slaughter, who hasn't fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and a seventh-rounder on defensive end Armonty Bryant, a character risk from East Central Oklahoma.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

The Bengals were full of surprises, and I mean that in a good way. Everyone knew the Bengals were going to take a safety, linebacker or running back in the first round. Wrong. Cincinnati went with the draft's best tight end, Eifert, with the No. 21 overall pick even though they drafted Jermaine Gresham with the No. 21 overall pick three years ago. Eifert is a matchup nightmare for defenses, from the red zone to deep downfield. The Bengals took advantage of a draft that featured a run of offensive linemen and pass-rushers in the top 20. That allowed Eifert, the best offensive playmaker in the draft behind Tavon Austin, to fall unexpectedly to Cincinnati.

The Bengals delivered a milder surprise in the second round, when they made Bernard the first running back taken. Rated as the fourth-best back in this draft by Mel Kiper Jr., Bernard has the chance to be the next Ray Rice. Later in the second round, Cincinnati added to an already deep defensive line with Southern Methodist's Margus Hunt, a world-class discus thrower. In total, the Bengals brought in three of the best athletes at their positions, which is a strong foundation for any draft.

FILE IT AWAY

The Ravens solidified the middle of their defense for years to come with their first three picks: Elam, Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown and Missouri Southern State's Brandon Williams. The problem is the Ravens did nothing of significance to improve their wide receiver group. (They drafted Elon's Aaron Mellette in the seventh round.) Baltimore gave quarterback Joe Flacco a $120.6 million contract and then took away his go-to receiver in Anquan Boldin. The Ravens didn't replace him in free agency and, as of the start of the seventh round, didn't draft a wide receiver. Baltimore's first pick on an offensive player was Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

The only proven receivers on the roster are Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, who is more of a returner than a starting wideout. Of the remaining receivers -- Tandon Doss, David Reed, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams -- none was drafted in the first three rounds and two went undrafted. It's a group that has combined for 21 receptions and one touchdown. That said, please spare me the repeated questions about the Ravens' signing Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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