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Three AFC North teams get high grades for 2024 draft | Jeff Schudel

May 4—The grades from national analysts for the NFL draft last weekend are in. The consensus is the Browns lost ground in the AFC North.

USA Today gave the Ravens a B-plus, the Bengals a B, the Steelers an A and the Browns a C-plus.

NFL.com handed an A-minus to the Ravens, a B-minus to the Bengals, an A to the Steelers and a C-plus to the Browns.

CBS Sports was kinder to Browns general manager Andrew Berry, giving the Browns and Bengals both a B-minus, the Ravens an A-minus and the Steelers an A-plus.

Pro Football Focus gave the Ravens an A-minus, the Bengals a B-plus, the Steelers an A-plus and the Browns a C-plus.

Of course the other three teams in the division had something the Browns did not have in the 2024 draft — a first-round pick. Nor did the Browns have one in 2022 or 2023 because they traded them to the Texans in March 2022 for Deshaun Watson.

For better or worse, the Browns know Watson will be their quarterback for at least the next three seasons, as he was the previous two — when he was available. For the record, here is how the Browns' three division rivals used their first-rounds picks when the Browns had none:

Ravens: Safety Kyle Hamilton (2022, 14th overall), wide receiver Zac Flowers (2023, 22) and cornerback Nate Wiggins (2024, 30). Bengals: safety Daxton Hill (2022, 31), defensive end Myles Murphy (2023, 28) and offensive tackle Amarius Mims (2024, 18). Steelers: quarterback Kenny Pickett (2022, 20), offensive tackle Broderick Jones (2023, 14) and offensive tackle Troy Fautanu (2024, 20).

The Ravens and Bengals already had established starting quarterbacks when the Browns mortgaged their future for Watson — Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and Joe Burrow in Cincinnati.

The Steelers are still searching for their quarterback, even after signing Russell Wilson and trading with the Bears to acquire Justin Fields this offseason. They declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Fields. Wilson, 35, is not the long-term answer, but the Steelers seem content to solve that issue down the road.

"It was just another value-filled draft for Pittsburgh," NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter wrote. "It was likely the Steelers would take offensive linemen on Day 1 or 2, and they found good value in Fautanu and (center Zach) Frazier. Both Wilsons selected on Day 2 (wide receiver Roman Wilson from Michigan and linebacker Payton Wilson from North Carolina State) were also fantastic finds and should make impacts in 2024 and beyond. The Steelers went O-line again on Day 3, getting (guard Mason) McCormick (from South Dakota State) at least a round later than I placed his value because of his toughness and athleticism."

The Bengals finished last in the AFC North in 2023, but they were still 9-8 despite Burrow missing seven games with a wrist injury. Even when Burrow is healthy, the Bengals might no longer be the best team in the division.

"The Bengals took some semi-uncharacteristic risks on high-upside prospects in the hopes of extending the contention window," Paul Bretl wrote in USA Today. "(Offensive tackle) Amarius Mims at No. 18 is a gamble because of his low snap count in college — yet the film suggested he could be the best right tackle from the class. Jermaine Burton (wide receiver from Alabama) in the third round was a character risk, yet flashes first-round talent that certainly projects nicely in the same offense as Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. And Erick All boasts massive upside at tight end, provided he can overcome the medical issues that plagued his collegiate career."

The Ravens were AFC North champions in 2023. They scored the most points in the division (483) and allowed the fewest.

"In Ravens form, they had another good draft," Leger Douzable wrote for CBS Sports. "Nate Wiggins is the best man corner in the class, and they got better in the trenches."

The Ravens used a second-round pick on offensive tackle Roger Rosengarten from Washington and a seventh-round pick on center and Mentor graduate Nick Samac from Michigan State.

In giving them a C-plus, USA Today did not rip the Browns' draft class. The grade reflected them not having a pick until the second round, and the fact Berry has done well building the roster through previous drafts and free agency. The Browns were 11-6 in 2023 and made the playoffs as a wild-card team.

"Without (a first-round pick), it's hard to land immediate contributors," Bretl wrote in his analysis. "The Browns did draft Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr., who is as good of a scheme fit as you could find for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. That was their only pick in the top-80, and outside of that it is extremely difficult to find players who will contribute as a rookie. Given the age of OG Joel Bitonio (11th season), the selection of Michigan OG Zak Zinter is a fine one in the third round, but there is no immediate role for any player not named Hall in this draft class."

The Browns selected Hall with the 84th pick. He might end up starting alongside Dalvin Tomlinson, but Berry would consider that a bonus. The team is deep at defensive tackle with Shelby Harris and Maurice Hurst back from last year. Plus, Quinton Jefferson, a ninth-year veteran, was signed in free agency.

"You can never have enough guys who can impact the quarterback and impact the passing game," Browns assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel Glenn Cook said. "(Hall) has to come in and obviously integrate himself into the way we do things. We hope he does.

"This is one of those things where hopefully he reaches his maturity and his peak in a few years. "We're not necessarily worried about from Day One that Michael Hall Jr. come in and play 80 snaps. He has to earn it. So day one is just coming in and being on time and being in the right place. We'll see what it looks like in September."

Hall played in 28 games with 12 starts in three years at Ohio State.

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