2011 NFL Draft: AFC North First-Round Draft Grades
The first round wasn't what we expected, or anyone expected for that matter. Quarterbacks went much quicker than expected and in a very different order than some thought was accurate.
The AFC North stuck to their guns for the most part, however, with the exception of one team, who added a bevy of picks in what could be one of the biggest draft day trades in NFL history. The Atlanta Falcons realize they have a very solid window of opportunity with a young group of playmakers on offense that could contend for some time.
The Browns cashed in on the Falcons' win-now mentality to the tune of five draft picks. The Browns, in return for the sixth overall pick and ultimately the selection of WR Julio Jones, received the first-, second- and fourth-round picks from Atlanta for this year. They also will get Atlanta's first-round and a fourth-round pick in 2012.
The Browns weren't done making deals, however. Later on in the draft the Browns decided to move up to the 21st selection and made a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. That trade sent Kansas City the 27th overall selection and their third-round selection.
Ultimately, the Browns moved back in the first round, passing up on a franchise wide receiver for a very stout defensive tackle, an extra second- and fourth-round pick this year and a first- and fourth-round pick next season.
That was the extent of the shake up for the AFC North. Most picks fell in line with what we expected, and the Steelers continued to draft the best available player.
Now, to the grades.
Cleveland Browns: B+
It is very tough for me not to give the Browns an A here. They made a phenomenal trade with the Falcons that has them set up to draft quality impact players in this year's draft and next. I had said it all along that the Browns had more important holes to fill than at wide receiver, so biting on Julio Jones that high would have been counteractive to their approach.
The Browns apparently thought so too, and were presented with an offer they couldn't refuse. The Browns know they are still a year or two from being legitimate contenders, and now have the arsenal to back that up. So as far as the Falcons trade is considered, A-plus.
Then you have the questionable decision to move up and select Phil Taylor. Taylor was projected to fall further in the draft, although the so-called "experts" were wrong about pretty much everything from pick No. 4 to pick No. 14. In order to move up and draft Taylor, the Browns had to part with their lone third-round pick, but you would expect the Browns could move up in to the third round with one of their extra draft picks.
As far as the selection of Taylor is concerned, I am not as sold. The Browns needed to add a big body in the middle of the defensive line, and Taylor is the biggest and could draw some nice similarities to Shaun Rogers. I still think Taylor is best suited in the 3-4 to eat up blockers than he is as a pass rusher in the typical 4-3 alignment. That pick I will give a B-minus. Taylor is going to be a very good football player but I think it will take time in Cleveland's system.
The Bengals were who we thought they were. They went with the best player available and the guy on top of their draft board. Hard to blame them for going after A.J. Green, a receiver from Georgia. Green possesses an elite level of athleticism and size but could struggle if he is catching balls thrown by Jordan Palmer.
I still say that Marvin Lewis would have jumped at the chance to draft Cam Newton, but didn't want to meet the Panthers' asking price. The Bengals had their opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback in either Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker, but instead went with a skill position.
Green is going to be a very good wide receiver in the NFL, but his success will be directly tied to what the Bengals do with the remainder of their draft picks. Now that the Bengals have found a flashy playmaker to replace Chad Ochocinco, could they also draft a redheaded quarterback to replace Carson Palmer?
I would think the Bengals would have to find a new quarterback to fit their West Coast offense. Drafting a quarterback is an option. They could also look to free agency for a temporary fix. The Bengals need help everywhere, so Green is a good start.
The Ravens nabbed a fantastic defensive back in Jimmy Smith. The pick was a bit confusing as a prolonged trade agreement with the Chicago Bears went awry and cost the Ravens their 26th pick. The Ravens were only bumped back one spot and decided against trading their pick to the Bears.
The Ravens were hot on Jimmy Smith for a while, as they had a serious need for a cornerback to upgrade their unit. Smith could have been a top ten pick if it weren't for the fact he will bring some baggage to the locker room that houses him. The respect level for Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is great enough that most feel Smith's off-field issues will stop.
The Ravens looked a little silly after losing their pick and dropping down a spot. Now it looks more like the Chicago Bears are at fault. The Ravens have made an appeal for the Bears' fourth-round selection. It is all speculation at this point to say who was at fault, but the Ravens are doing their best to play the victim here.
Smith will be an immediate contributor for the Ravens and thus will give them the best grade in the AFC North.
The Steelers saw a dominating defensive end fall in to their lap, and it wasn't Da'Quan Bowers. Well, Bowers did fall in to their laps, but instead the Steelers decided to go with Cameron Heyward of Ohio State. Heyward is a very tough defensive end that will absolutely improve the pass rush for the Steelers in 2011.
Although Heyward likely will begin his career on the bench, he could get some opportunity on passing downs to go after the quarterback this season. Heyward has an NFL pedigree, so his work ethic and maturity shouldn't be of any concern in Pittsburgh.
Heyward will likely follow in the same path as former first round pick Ziggy Hood. Hood spent his first year mostly watching from the sidelines with the occasional third-down snap thrown in. Hood has emerged as a very good defensive end in Pittsburgh after stepping in for Aaron Smith last season. Heyward could benefit from playing behind Brett Keisel for one season to learn how to contribute every play, and not solely as a pass rusher.
I think this was a very safe and smart choice for the Steelers. The most pressing need for the Steelers still will be at the cornerback position. Ike Taylor could leave next year, and the Steelers would be left with Bryant McFadden as their best cornerback. The Steelers could have gone after Brandon Harris or Aaron Williams but instead took a very talented lineman in Heyward.
The first round grades for every team are nice, for now. Each team will have to follow up their picks with a solid second and thirds rounds. The second round will begin Friday at 6 pm eastern with the Bengals picking first of all the AFC North teams.
Some things to look for in Day 2 of the 2011 NFL Draft:
- Will the Bengals draft their future quarterback early on?
- How will the Browns use their added second-round pick to improve their team? Will they fill a hole, or use the added selection to pick a high-reward skill player?
- Do the Ravens see the need to draft an heir for Ed Reed to be that glaring that they could draft Rahim Moore in the second round? Or will they address a need on their offensive line?
- Will the Steelers be able to draft a playmaking cornerback in this round with their original picks? Or will they have to trade up in order to have a chance at a worthwhile cornerback?
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