AFC North Teams Have Great Draft

Todd FlemingAnalyst IApril 26, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 23:  Defensive lineman Ziggy Hood of Missouri runs during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 23, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

While it is hard to evaluate a draft for at least two years, it appears that all four AFC North teams had successful drafts. 

I'll start with my hometown Steelers.  They addressed all of their needs, adding a versatile defensive linemen in the first round in Evander "Ziggy" Hood that should help shore up the critical and hard to find 3-4 end position for years. 

Going into the draft, they were lacking depth at corner, but added two prospects at the position in the third and fifth rounds of the draft.  I am particularly intrigued by their fifth round CB selection, ball hawking corner Joe Burnettout of Central Florida.  I have a feeling he may be their late round gem this year. 

Looking at Pro Football Weekly's 2009 Draft Guide, third round cornerback choice Keenan Lewis is described as someone who "will not tackle his own shadow."  Not a terribly flattering description and something that will likely be addressed early during training camp. 

While I was a little surprised by their WR choice of speedster Mike Wallace of Mississippi, he does address an immediate need as a kick returner and, with that kind of blazing speed, is a great developmental prospect.  Their return game last year was not one of their strengths, but with the addition of Wallace and Burnett, that might change. 

They also addressed depth on the interior offensive line with Wisconsin mauler Kraig Urbik, who will play guard but has the versatility to also fill in at tackle.  They added Penn State center A.Q. Shipley in the seventh round, a player I was surprised was still on the board considering the earlier run on centers.  

The rap on Shipley is that he has short arms.  But, then again, so did Mike Webster. 

They also picked up a battering ram of a running back in Frank "the Tank" Summers in the fifth round.  A good rule of thumb is that whenever you have a chance to draft a guy called "tank," you do it.  On a more serious note, he should help upgrade one of their big Steelers' areas of weakness from last year, short yardage situations.  

Goal line situations were a real adventure for the Steelers last year, a situation the "Tank" was brought in to remedy.  Their other two picks were used to add additional depth at defensive end and tight end in Oregon DT Sonny Harris and D.J. Johnson from Arkansas State.

This was close to the draft that most Steelers' fans envisioned, very heavy on the offensive and defensive lines and cornerback.  The one area I thought would get more attention than it did was wide receiver.  This shows me that the Steelers have a fair amount of confidence that Limas Sweed will make significant steps forward this year. 

All in all, an excellent draft filled with players that very much fill the Steelers mold; versatile, big, and fast high-character prospects.        

The Cleveland Browns pulled off a minor miracle by trading their fifth overall pick.  This was a major achievement and saved them a ton of money, while allowing them to stockpile a number of excellent picks and a few decent veterans. 

Besides grabbing the best center prospect in the draft in Alex Mack to shore up their line, they also picked two excellent wide receiver prospects in Ohio State's Brian Robiskie and Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi, which will immediately help fill out their depleted wide receiver corps.  Their other second round pick, Hawaii end/linebacker David Veikune, looks like a small reach, but could blossom into a solid 3-4 linebacker.  

While Cleveland is taking some heat for their selections, it isn't warranted.  The only move I question is selecting Mack with Michael Oher still on the board since top tackles are usually rated higher than centers, and right tackle is an area of need.  But, it is hard to fault them for taking Mack, a guy who looks like a real keeper. 

Plus, Oher is far from a sure thing as a tackle prospect.  I give the Browns very high marks for successfully shedding the albatross of the fifth pick and converting it into a host of picks that helped them to start reconstructing their depleted roster. 

The Cincinnati Bengals took Alabama tackle Andre Smith at No. 6.  I really like this pick.  While the Bengals do have a history of drafting players with character problems, I don't buy the hype that Smith is one of those guys.  So he left the combine early and he ran without a shirt on.  Not exactly felony material (a problem common to plenty of other Bengals' selections).  

He is a mauler and at one point was considered the best tackle in the draft.  I think he was unfairly attacked by the media and Cincinnati was wise to ignore that background noise and take him when they did. 

They also got the steal of the second round in Southern California middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, a guy that nearly everyone expected to be drafted in the first round.  I'm not sure what accounted for his tortuous slide.  He should immediately help to improve their defense. 

The Bengals past draft strategy far too often amounted to drafting the highest rated convict on the board.  This year, they avoided that temptation, at least with their early picks.     

Finally, the team Steelers' fans love to hate...the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens made an excellent selection in the first round in grabbing one of the draft's better tackle prospects, Michael Oher, somewhat below where he was projected to go.  While I always thought he was being overvalued, I didn't expect him to be there in the mid 20s.  This ranked up their with San Francisco's selection of Michael Crabtree at the 10 spot as the steal of the round. 

After that, I'm not convinced their draft was that special.  The Ravens need some playmakers at wide receiver to help Joe Flacco and found none.  Nor am I really sold on Paul Kruger, a Utah OLB, who they selected in the second round.  The Ravens have traditionally been very good drafters, at least on the defensive side of the ball, so time will tell. 

But, outside of Oher, I don't see too much to get excited about in their picks.  Still, having Oher fall to them in the first round sets the basis for at least a good draft.

All in all, the four AFC North teams did plenty to improve themselves through the draft.  All four of the teams addressed their trenches in the first round, never a bad strategy.  In the past, there was always at least one team from the division that left me scratching my head, usually the Bengals or the Browns.  Not this year.