Last Word On Pro Football 2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC Part One

Another NFL Draft is in the books. After seven rounds and 253 picks, all 32 teams now officially have their incoming class of prospects. Of course, the biggest question fans have in the aftermath of the draft is how well their favorite team did in terms of addressing their biggest positional needs.

Now it must be said that it’s difficult to give a fully accurate evaluation this early in the process. The true measure of whether or not a given draft class was hit or miss won’t be evident until these players have been on the field for a few years. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do some immediate post-draft prognostication.

Which teams aced the 2017 NFL Draft? Which ones left fans and experts scratching their heads? And which ones fell in between those two extremes? All of it will be addressed in our draft grades. Here, the focus is on the AFC East and AFC North.

Last Word On Pro Football 2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC Part One

Buffalo Bills: C+

1 (27): Tre’Davious White, cornerback, LSU
2 (37): Zay Jones, wide receiver, East Carolina
2 (63): Dion Dawkins, offensive tackle, Temple
5 (163): Matt Milano, linebacker, Boston College
5 (171): Nathan Peterman, quarterback, Pittsburgh
6 (195): Tanner Vallejo, linebacker, Boise State

The Bills did a lot of wheeling and dealing over the course of the draft, making three trades altogether. They made a deal with the Chiefs in round one, going from ten to 27 and adding a starting caliber corner in White. That became a huge need after losing Stephon Gilmore in free agency. Two trades came on day two, with Buffalo moving up in both instances. They grabbed a dynamic young receiver in Jones who finished his career as the FBS all-time leader in receptions. Right tackle was another glaring need which they addressed in drafting Dawkins.

In the later rounds came some depth adds at linebacker and a potential quarterback of the future in Peterman. But here’s the problem with this draft class. In one of the deepest drafts of all-time at tight end, the Bills chose to ignore the position despite it being a significant need. Charles Clay is far from the biggest vertical threat among NFL tight ends. Adding a player with that skill set could’ve complimented his ability as a run blocker.

For that reason, it’s hard to give the Bills any higher than an slightly above average grade.

Miami Dolphins: B

1 (22): Charles Harris, edge rusher, Missouri
2 (54): Raekwon McMillan, linebacker, Ohio State
3 (97): Cordrea Tankersley, cornerback, Clemson
5 (164): Isaac Asiata, offensive guard, Utah
5 (178): Davon Godchaux, interior defensive lineman, LSU
6 (194): Vincent Taylor, interior defensive lineman, Oklahoma State
7 (237): Isaiah Ford, wide receiver, Virginia Tech

Only eight teams managed fewer sacks per game than the Dolphins in 2016. So adding a capable perimeter pass rusher was on general manager Chris Grier‘s agenda. Enter Charles Harris, who had 18 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss while at Missouri and should help the team get better pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

McMillan is a steal at where the Fins picked him. He immediately upgrades a linebacking corps that should be much improved next year with the addition of Lawrence Timmons in free agency. Tankersley will need to prove he’s no longer a liability in run support but is excellent defending the pass.

Godchaux and Taylor are solid late round depth adds to the interior of the defensive line behind Ndamukong Suh. And Ford could turn into a reliable fourth option for Ryan Tannehill if he can improve at gaining separation from press. Overall, a solid draft haul.

New England Patriots: C+

3 (83): Derek Rivers, edge rusher, Youngstown State
3 (85): Antonio Garcia, offensive tackle, Troy
4 (131): Deatrich Wise, edge rusher, Arkansas
6 (211): Conor McDermott, offensive tackle, UCLA

Through a combination of trades and forfeitures due to you know what, the defending Super Bowl champs made just four picks. That’s tied for the lowest number in the common draft era. It’s hard to completely address team needs with so few selections, and the Patriots focused on just two of them.

Bill Belichick is a fan of versatile edge players who can make an impact standing up as well as with their hand in the ground. Both Rivers and Wise are suited for it, even though Rivers has better upside. Garcia is a physical lineman who could be a natural successor to Nate Solder at left tackle. The Pats are bringing in both him and McDermott with the aim of improving an offensive line that dealt with its share of issues protecting Tom Brady, especially late in the season.

The most glaring miss here is running back. Even though they signed Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in the off-season, LaGarrette Blount is likely on his way out. Adding one more body to the backfield would’ve made sense for depth purposes.

New York Jets: C

1 (6): Jamal Adams, safety, LSU
2 (39): Marcus Maye, safety, Florida
3 (79): ArDarius Stewart, wide receiver, Alabama
4 (141): Chad Hansen, wide receiver, California
5 (150): Jordan Leggett, tight end, Clemson
5 (181): Dylan Donahue, interior defensive lineman, West Georgia
6 (188): Elijah McGuire, running back, Louisiana-Lafayette
6 (197): Jeremy Clark, cornerback, Michigan
6 (204): Derrick Jones, cornerback, Ole Miss

The Jets didn’t get cute with their first round pick and made the safest bet with Adams. The addition of both him and Maye makes the secondary better overnight, especially with cornerback Morris Claiborne signing in free agency. Stewart and Hansen adds depth to a receiving corps that lost Brandon Marshall. And Leggett might finally give Gang Green a competent tight end. New offensive coordinator John Morton incorporated the position heavily into his offenses with the Saints.

But what drags the Jets’ grade down is the lack of a quarterback or tackle. Fans probably aren’t too excited about any of the team’s options behind center. The prospect of Josh McCown as your starting quarterback can’t be very attractive. And despite this being a terrible draft for offensive linemen, addressing the need at some point couldn’t have hurt.

Baltimore Ravens: B-

1 (16): Marlon Humphrey, cornerback, Alabama
2 (47): Tyus Bowser, linebacker, Houston
3 (74): Chris Wormley, interior defensive lineman, Michigan
3 (78): Tim Williams, linebacker, Alabama
4 (122): Nico Siragusa, offensive guard, San Diego State
5 (159): Jermaine Eluemunor, offensive tackle/guard, Texas A&M
6 (186): Chuck Clark, cornerback, Virginia Tech

At 34, Terrell Suggs isn’t getting any younger. And so it becomes paramount with every passing year to find his natural successor on the outside of Baltimore’s 3-4. Both Bowser and Williams will have the opportunity to do so and make an impact in the Ravens pass rush. Humphrey oozes height, weight and speed at corner and can be a reliable weapon in a division full of superstar wide receivers…if he can improve against the deep ball.

The Ravens are frighteningly thin at offensive line. Though this is far from the best draft to address that problem, their two late round additions could help. Siragusa excelled in run support, an important trait considering the Ravens were 28th in rushing yards per game last year. Eluemunor’s a project at this point but has rotational piece written all over him if he develops.

Add in Wormley who looks to be tailor made as a five-technique tackle in Baltimore’s defensive scheme and you have a decent crop of incoming prospects.

Cincinnati Bengals: C-

1 (9): John Ross, wide receiver, Washington
2 (48): Joe Mixon, running back, Oklahoma
3 (73): Jordan Willis, edge rusher, Kansas State
4 (116): Carl Lawson, linebacker, Auburn
4 (128): Josh Malone, wide receiver, Tennessee
4 (138): Ryan Glasgow, interior defensive lineman, Michigan
5 (153): Jake Elliott, kicker, Memphis
5 (176): J.J. Dielman, center, Utah
6 (193): Jordan Evans, linebacker, Oklahoma
6 (207): Brandon Wilson, running back, Houston
7 (251): Mason Schreck, tight end, Buffalo

John Ross turned heads with his record breaking 40 at the Combine. But he projected as a mid to late first round pick due to injuries. That didn’t prevent Cincy from taking him in the top ten. It’s certainly a reach but he should make an immediate impact in the slot. The addition of Joe Mixon is simply “Marvin Lewis being Marvin Lewis.” He’s consistently had a history of not shying away from players with checkered backgrounds. Mixon has that and then some.

The most glaring absence in the Bengals draft class is at guard. It became a fairly big need when Kevin Zeitler signed with Cleveland. Not addressing it is probably related to the dearth of quality linemen in this year’s draft. But that doesn’t take away the fact Cincinnati remains alarmingly thin between the tackles.

The Bengals kicking struggles under the now departed Mike Nugent was well-documented. So it wasn’t much of a surprise they were the first team in this year’s draft to take a kicker in Jake Elliott. Overall, some good additions but if I’m Andy Dalton I’m worried about my ability to stay upright next year.

Cleveland Browns: B+

1 (1): Myles Garrett, edge rusher, Texas A&M
1 (25): Jabrill Peppers, safety, Michigan
1 (29): David Njoku, tight end, Miami (FL)
2 (52): DeShone Kizer, quarterback, Notre Dame
3 (65): Larry Ogunjobi, edge rusher, Charlotte
4 (126): Howard Wilson, cornerback, Houston
5 (160): Roderick Johnson, offensive tackle, Florida State
6 (185): Caleb Brantley, interior defensive lineman, Florida
7 (224): Zane Gonzalez, kicker, Arizona State
7 (252): Matt Dayes, running back, N.C. State

The cynics were expecting the Browns to overthink it. But in the end, they made the right choice and took Garrett first overall. Then they traded down with the Texans and nabbed arguably the most versatile player of the draft in Peppers. But they weren’t done. The Browns then moved back up into the first round, taking Green Bay’s pick and selecting Njoku. Suddenly, three huge needs were addressed and they didn’t overreach for a quarterback.

Even when Kizer came off the board, it didn’t feel like Cleveland mortgaged its future hoping the franchise’s quarterback woes were now a thing of the past. Chicago was more than happy to come in and play that part. Overall, the Browns did a fairly decent job methodically addressing all their major needs.

Pittsburgh Steelers: A-

1 (30): T.J. Watt, edge rusher, Wisconsin
2 (62): JuJu Smith-Schuster, wide receiver, USC
3 (94): Cameron Sutton, cornerback, Tennessee
3 (105): James Connor, running back, Pittsburgh
4 (135): Joshua Dobbs, quarterback, Tennessee
5 (173): Brian Allen, cornerback, Utah
6 (213): Colin Holba, long snapper, Louisville
7 (248): Keion Adams, linebacker, Western Michigan

Pittsburgh’s Christmas Day meeting with the Texans is all the more intriguing with J.J. Watt‘s brother in Steelers Black and Gold. The younger Watt brings with him a phenomenal work ethic and a plus skill set in defending the run. While he’s a work in progress as a pure bend the edge pass rusher, coaches and scouts are convinced his game as a whole will continue to improve.

Smith-Schuster gives Ben Roethlisberger a big-bodied target with a wide catch radius and solid football I.Q. Connor is a great story and should be able to compete with Knile Davis for back-up reps behind Le’Veon Bell. It’s unclear whether Dobbs is truly a quarterback of the future. But he might be able to supplant Landry Jones as the number two behind Big Ben for the time being.

Adding depth at corner was a key objective heading into the draft. The Steelers finished bottom half of the league in interceptions and passing yards surrendered per game. Sutton and Allen bring their own unique skill sets to the secondary and should make this unit better.

AFC South and AFC West
NFC East and NFC North
NFC South and NFC West

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