The 2021 NFL Draft is now behind us. In 2020, the AFC North was one of the best teams in the NFL by win percentage. It is a division that is swimming in talent at several position groups. Some teams in this division knocked the 2021 NFL Draft out of the park, while others had fine drafts but also made some questionable picks. Regardless, there is no doubt that all four teams got better in the draft. Here are the AFC North draft grades for all four teams.
2021 NFL Draft Grades: AFC North
Cleveland Browns: A
Players added: Greg Newsome II, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Anthony Schwartz, James Hudson, Tommy Togiai, Tony Fields II, Richard LeCounte, Demetric Felton
Though we can’t be sure until we see how these players pan out, Cleveland seems to have gotten one of the best draft hauls of any team in the NFL. They entered the draft with a pretty solid roster top-to-bottom but still with some holes to fill. One of the biggest holes was linebacker, with which they seem to have hit a home run. Owusu-Koramoah was expected to be a first round pick. The linebacker-safety hybrid can play numerous positions and brings serious athleticism and versatility to Cleveland’s defense. Tony Fields II of West Virginia also adds some depth at the position, too.
Cornerback was another position where the Browns had a need, and they addressed it right away in the first round. Newsome could come in and be a starter in his rookie season. At the very worst, he will be their third cornerback and still see a healthy share of defensive snaps alongside Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward. Cleveland also added two receivers to an already loaded room, a position that teams will always be looking to improve. Throw in some offensive line depth with Hudson and this was a really good draft. Their offense already had the makings of one of the NFL’s best for 2021, and their defense will surely improve if the rookies perform the way they are projected to.
Baltimore Ravens: B+
Players added: Rashod Bateman, Jason Oweh, Ben Cleveland, Brandon Stephens, Tylan Wallace, Shaun Wade, Daelin Hayes, Ben Mason
This was a solid draft for the Ravens, but there were a few positions they could have addressed more seriously. Entering the draft, it was no secret that they needed a wide receiver. There was uncertainty as to whether they’d trade for a receiver already in the NFL or use one of their two first round picks on a receiver. They took the latter route, adding Bateman with their first pick. Bateman has sky high potential and could establish himself as the number one receiver that Lamar Jackson has never really had. Ben Cleveland in the third round was a good depth piece for the interior of their offensive line. He may even compete for the starting left guard spot. Two areas that could have been addressed were center and tackle, though. The Ravens centers struggled in 2020 and they traded Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. Neither position was addressed in the draft, which was a bit of a surprise. Maybe they plan to bring in a free agent.
Defensively, Baltimore added to the positions they were most in need of. Oweh is an edge defender with loads of potential. He may not be an instant starter but will play plenty as he develops into a more productive pass rusher. Stephens and Wade were middle-round selections that provide depth at the cornerback position. They will slide in behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. Wade will also likely get some snaps as a slot cornerback; despite a down season at Ohio State, scouts and analysts are high on his potential in the slot.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B-
Players added: Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, Dan Moore Jr., Buddy Johnson, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Quincy Roche, Tre Norwood, Pressley Harvin III
The Steelers accomplished what they wanted to accomplish in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the question is whether or not they prioritized the correct aspects of teambuilding. They wanted to rebuild their run game, and they took many strides in the right direction for that. Harris was the best running back in the draft class and can be their work horse that they haven’t had since Le’Veon Bell. Freiermuth, while not an elite blocker for a tight end, is significantly better as a blocker than Eric Ebron. Green is a little undersized and doesn’t have a ton of starting experience at center, but he’s athletic and plays nasty, exactly what the Steelers need of their center in a pull-heavy scheme. Moore is a solid run-blocking tackle too and will likely start the year as the number three tackle, but could make his way into the starting lineup. Offensively, positions of need were certainly addressed, but there’s a strong argument to be made that they waited too long to address offensive line.
Defensively, it was a bit of a mixed bag for the Steelers. They certainly waited too long to address their secondary. Starting outside cornerback Steven Nelson and nickel cornerback Mike Hilton from 2020 departed the team this off-season. Neither was really replaced in the draft. Norwood was good value for a seventh round pick. The safety will likely make a push for the slot cornerback position, but he has no chance of being a starting outside corner. Johnson was a questionable pick; his strength is in the run game, but the Steelers linebacker room has several guys who excel at stopping the run. They need more coverage skills at that position. Loudermilk was probably one of the worst picks in the whole draft. The team traded a fourth round pick from next year to move into the fifth round this year, all to draft a player who was expected to go undrafted, at the deepest position on their defense. However, they made up for that disaster by snagging Roche in the sixth round for some really quality depth at outside linebacker.
Cincinnati Bengals: C+
Players added: Ja’Marr Chase, Jackson Carman, Joseph Ossai, Cameron Sample, Tyler Shelvin, D’Ante Smith, Evan McPherson, Trey Hill, Chris Evans, Wyatt Huber
There are holes all over Cincinnati’s roster, so it would have been impossible for the team to fill them all. They surely made some questionable decisions, though. Chase is a wonderful wide receiver prospect, but passing on Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick was a very questionable decision. If he pans out the way most scouts expect him to, Sewell would have provided the Bengals with a starting tackle for the next 10+ years. Instead, they drafted Carman in the second, who is expected to move into guard at least for his rookie season. Trey Hill might prove to be a steal in the sixth round, but it wouldn’t have hurt the team to address the center position sooner.
Defensively, Cincinnati was smart to load up on the defensive line. Four draft picks were spent on defense, and all four were either used on edge defenders or interior defensive linemen. While these position were definitely needs, the Bengals might have been wise to choose an off-ball linebacker at some point in the draft. But, as previously stated, they only had so many picks to fill so many holes. Their defensive selection weren’t bad, but their questionable strategy to address the offensive line is what gives the Bengals the lowest of all AFC North draft grades.
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