Early draft reflections: The AFC North

Doug Farrar
April 29, 2013

I'm not sure if giving grades out right after a draft is more like critiquing a meal right after you've ordered it, or reviewing a book just after you've cracked Page 1. At the very least, it will take one full season before a team's selection process can be accurately assessed in the long-term view. As to the validity and accuracy of immediate grades, you should ask the guys who didn't know who Tom Brady was in 2000, or saw Russell Wilson as a third-round waste pick in 2012. So, with that in mind, consider this a series of early reflections, more based on how the players performed in college, potential scheme fits, and overall team quality.

Baltimore Ravens: 32. FS Matt Elam, 56. ILB Arthur Brown, 94. DT Brandon Williams, 129. OLB John Simon, 130. FB Kyle Juszczyk, 168. OT Ricky Wagner, 200. DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, 203. OT Ryan Jensen, 238. WR Aaron Mellette, 247. CB Marc Anthony.

In the first two rounds of their draft, the Ravens replaced the two most important players in franchise history in some interesting ways. Florida safety Matt Elam, the team's first-round pick, played a lot on the slot for the Gators, but he has the coverage range and hitting ability to do some of the things Ed Reed did. Not that Elam is going to be the next Reed -- he's not quite that long and athletic, but I think there are some elements of his game that bring Bob Sanders to mind, and Baltimore has an enforcer in their defensive backfield again. With their second-round pick, the Ravens took Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, perhaps the best and fastest coverage linebacker in this draft class. With Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe out the door, Baltimore needed to redefine its idea of what inside linebackers do. I was amazed that the San Francisco 49ers didn't exploit the Ravens' slow inside game with their passing attack -- they may have won the Super Bowl had they done so. Brown will make plays in space that Lewis didn't over the last five years of his career.

Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams is a stout run-plugger who can move around the line, fitting the team's concepts of defensive positional versatility. Ohio State outside linebacker John Simon is a longtime coach's favorite because of his utterly relentless attitude about the game. Two Senior Bowl stars who bear watching: Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk and Elon receiver Aaron Mellette. Juszczyk blocks with force and aggression, but can also contribute in the passing game. Mellette is a sneaky-fast player who should find a place in Jim Caldwell's more expansive route concepts.

Cincinnati Bengals: 21. TE Tyler Eifert, 37. RB Giovani Bernard, 53. DE Margus Hunt, 84. SS Shawn Williams, 118. LB Sean Porter, 156. OT Tanner Hawkinson, 190. RB Rex Burkhead, 197. WR Cobi Hamilton, 240. OT Reid Fragel, 251. C T.J. Johnson.

If Andy Dalton doesn't get to the mythical next level in the NFL, it won't be for lack of targets. Adding Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round should do a lot for the Bengals' passing game. He can line up all over the formation effectively, brings good functional speed to the game, and will be an outstanding jump-ball target. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard isn't a speed-burner, but he runs with great leverage and power -- attributes the Bengals prefer in their backs. He has a shot to get serious playing time right off the bat. SMU defensive end Margus Hunt may take a little while longer to find his place in Mike Zimmer's defensive line, but the Bengals will want to use Hunt on special teams from Day 1 -- the 6-foot-8 Estonian and former Olympian blocks field goals and extra points at a freakish rate. The Hunt pick makes sense for this team -- he reminds me of Michael Johnson, who came out of Georgia Tech with some finishing work to do, but with the athletic ability to be special over time.

Texas A&M outside linebacker Sean Porter replaced Von Miller as the Aggies' "Joker" (the move defender who could do a lot of different things), and should see a lot of time in that same role for a team that still needs a lot of coverage help between the hashmarks. Georgia safety Shawn Williams, with his intriguing blend of toughness and coverage range, can help a defense with serious holes at the safety positions. Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton was a productive, if inconsistent, target for Tyler Wilson over the last couple of years. Could be a good complementary target if he gets his mental game together.

Cleveland Browns: 6. OLB Barkevious Mingo, 68. CB Leon McFadden, 175. SS Jamoris Slaughter, 217. DE Armonty Bryant, 227. OT Garrett Gilkey.

LSU pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo adds to a Browns defensive front that was already stacked with the additions of Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant to the underrated trio of Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, and Ahtyba Rubin. New Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who ran all kinds of multiple fronts and blitz concepts in Arizona, has a bit of a dream team on his hands. Mingo struggles with blocks and needs to work up a few more pass-rush moves, but he absolutely screams off the edge, and if he can put up 10-plus sacks per season, he'll have been worth the sixth overall pick. Horton may use Mingo as he did Darryl Washington -- as a move linebacker who blitzes all over the place.

Notre Dame safety Jamoris Slaughter missed most of the 2012 season with an Achilles injury, but has impressive speed and could act as an in-the-box hitter in different defensive packages. San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden is an undersized (5-foot-10, 193 pound) pass defender on the "sleeper lists" of many. He will be a very good bookend to Joe Haden and may wind up as the best player in this Browns draft class.

"I believe my ball skills are very good, my man-to-man coverage, I became a lot more aggressive in the last couple years. My IQ for football, studying my opponent is really big for me," McFadden said after he was selected in the third round.

All of a sudden, Cleveland's defense is one to watch.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 17. OLB Jarvis Jones, 48. RB Le'Veon Bell, 79. WR Markus Wheaton, 111. SS Shamarko Thomas, 115. QB Landry Jones, 150. CB Terry Hawthorne, 186. WR Justin Brown, 206. LB Vince Williams, 223. DT Nick Williams.

With James Harrison out the door and some overall questions regarding Pittsburgh's pass rush, Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones brings immediate potential production at a mandatory position in Dick LeBeau's defense. He's quick around the edge, strong, and probably more versatile in his new scheme than he was in college. The Steelers also lost Rashard Mendenall to the Cardinals in the offseason, and Michigan State halfback Le'Veon Bell was the top guy on general manager Kevin Colbert's board. He's a bullish power back who will rack up the carries, but needs to work on his pass protection in an offense increasingly cognizant of the fact that Ben Roethlisberger requires better protection. The steal of Pittsburgh's draft might be third-round receiver Markus Wheaton of Oregon State. We had him ranked 50th in this year's Shutdown 50, and he reminds me of the productive version of Brandon Lloyd -- a guy who can get downfield (a huge need after Mike Wallace's departure to Miami) but will also get open under zones and gain yards after the catch.

Syracuse's Shamarko Thomas is a bowling ball of a safety (5-foot-9, 213 pounds) with surprising speed -- he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the scouting combine despite the fact that he did a faceplant at the end of his run. Thomas can play in the box, a la Ryan Clark, and there's some potential there for him to fly around Troy Polamalu-style if Polamalu struggles with injuries again. Oklahoma quarteback Landry Jones is a low-risk prospect as a fourth-round pick and the sixth signal-caller selected in this draft class. Jones has a decent arm, but struggles with more fundamentals than you'd expect of someone with his production and experience. Those expecting the next Sam Bradford down the road should re-check their expectations.