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May 16, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

By on 10:15 PM

The AFC North has long been a rough and tumble, rugged division. Teams built on the ground-and-pound offense and strong, sturdy defenses. The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals have all had their share of success as of late while the Browns... well, have not.

The tides may be shifting in the north however as Cleveland definitely took a "go big or go home" approach in the NFL Draft.

Lets take a look at how each team fared.

Baltimore Raves

Best Pick: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

The Ravens had a pretty decent draft from top to bottom. In most cases they were able to take the best player available, while also filling needs.

CJ Mosley offers great instincts, athleticism and physicality and instantly upgrades the defense. Defensive linemen Timmy Jernigan and Brent Urban are tough run-stuffers with upside and safety Terrence Brooks could be the centerfielder to complement last year's first round in-the-box hitter Matt Elam. Mosley may never be as good as Ray Lewis, but he could come close . Jernigan was projected as a first-rounder at one point and fell due to inconsistent play and a failed drug test at the combine.

I also like the upside of TE Crockett Gillmore and RB Lorenzo Taliaferro. Don't be surprised if WR Michael Campanaro makes this club as a slot receiver.

You have to admire Ozzie Newsome for leaving no stone unturned when searching for defenders in such unlikely locales as Alabama and Florida State.

Grade: B+

Cincinnati Bengals

Best Pick: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The Cincinnati Bengals have evolved over recent years, into a team that has become quite good at making the most of the NFL Draft. Their ability to fill holes via cheaper rookies versus over paying league veterans has been very beneficial to the team once referred to as the "Bungles".

This year the Bengals’ draft looks good on paper, but fans of the team were not pleased with taking Hill, who’s a character risk, over Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, who also was available at No. 55. One selection they did like however was Alabama QB, A.J. McCarron, largely due to current signal caller, Andy Dalton's playoff struggles.

Very few draftniks expected McCarron to still be on the board in the fifth round. McCarron won 90 percent of his starts at Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide to a pair of BCS National Championships in the process. The fact that he played in a pro-style system -- one that featured a host of two-back sets and play-action passes -- makes him a perfect fit in Hue Jackson's offense.

Darqueze Dennard may lack the flashy athleticism to get scouts excited but he's a pro-ready corner who plays with toughness and poise against the pass and run. Jeremy Hill is a tough, downhill runner who will complement last year's pickup of air-back Gio Bernard quite well and defensive end Will Clarke offers the length and blue-collar work ethic to do the same with last year's gamble on Margus Hunt.

Grade: C+

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Pick: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

The Steelers were once the rule of the roost in the AFC North led by a dominating defense that was fueled by an aggressive front seven. But advancing age and numerous injuries have weakened the unit over the past few seasons, forcing GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin to focus their efforts on adding young, dynamic defenders to the mix.

Shazier and Notre Dame defensive end, Stephon Truit should be immediate game-changers on defense and UCLA linebacker, Jordan Zumwalt was born to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, bringing a physical nature that will endear him to coaches and fans, alike.

Versatile weapons Dri Archer and wideout Martavis Bryant offer pure explosiveness.  Archer will give Ben Roethlisberger a Darren Sproles-like target out of the backfield, while Bryant is a big-bodied pass catcher Big Ben can target in the red zone.

There is a lot to like about the Steelers' selections but with a few of these players struggling to play up to expectations throughout their career, there is some boom or bust factor here that must be acknowledged, as well.

Grade: B-

Cleveland Browns

Best Pick: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

First-year GM Ray Farmer wants to build a deep team capable of withstanding injuries and extended absences from key players. Reviewing his initial draft class, it's fair to say Farmer achieved this goal.

Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel form a formidable first-round one-two punch for a team that has made a habit of wasting its one-two punches. While I have some concerns about Johnny Manziel's ability to throw from the pocket consistently, he will be protected by the same caliber of left tackle play in Pro Bowler Joe Thomas as he received with Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews while at Texas A&M.

Second-round pick, Joel Bitonio is a versatile OL and himself, as well as Manziel will be pushing hard to get on the field ASAP.

With the Josh Gordon suspension looming, the Browns will continue their such for help at the wide receiver position. Unfortunately for Manziel, without former teammate Mike Evans or new teammate Josh Gordon on the field with him, he will likely lack the dynamic pass-catcher that he has always had up to this point in his young career.

I also like the addition of underrated athletes Christian Kirksey and Terrance West.

With all that said, five games into the 2014 season, long-suffering Browns fans may be wondering "what if" the Browns had just selected Sammy Watkins (or Mike Evans) at No. 4 overall and rather than trading back.

Grade: B-

In closing, I leave you with this.



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