Baltimore Ravens – A
Like every team, the Ravens entered the draft with a list of needs, but, unlike other teams, Ozzie Newsome made sure that each need had been checked off by the end of the seventh round.
Right off the bat, Newsome found the heir-apparents to Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata in C.J. Mosley and Timmy Jernigan, neither of which were supposed to be on the board when the Ravens picked.
Mosley is a prototypical middle linebacker in today’s NFL. He’s fast, athletic and still has the ability to lay the wood. Alongside Daryl Smith, Mosley is going to give the Ravens one of the best inside linebacker duos in the league.
As for Jernigan, nearly every mock draft had him going in the first round – some as early as the top ten – so when the Ravens drafted him half way through the second round, it was an absolute steal. The only explanation for Jernigan’s free-fall is that teams were nervous about his diluted drug sample at the combine. If he can stay on the straight and narrow, then Baltimore should have another nose tackle to hold down their defensive line for a decade-plus.
From then on, Baltimore continued to grab players that fit a need and strengthened the depth of the roster. Safety Terrence Brooks and defensive end Brent Urban have the ability to contribute next year, and tight end Crockett Gillmore and wide receiver Michael Campanaro have the upside to become major cogs in the passing game down the line.
Newsome is one of the best general managers in the league, and he showed us why this year.
Cincinnati Bengals – B-
On paper, the Bengals already have one of the best rosters in the league. This draft was really about mending holes and creating depth.
That being said, other than Darqueze Dennard, there isn’t much about the Bengals draft class that makes you say “wow.”
Jeremy Hill should be able to step into the BenJarvus Green-Ellis role and William Clarke has an opportunity to compete for a starting defensive end role with Margus Hunt and Wallace Gilberry, but the rest of the class is likely going to need some more developing before they can contribute on the field.
The AJ McCarron pick is one of the more interesting of the entire draft. We all know that Andy Dalton is on thin ice in the eyes of Bengals fans, but does McCarron symbolize insurance or the future? McCarron definitely has some talent – the biggest criticism of him during the draft process was in his personality – and you have to wonder what the Bengals plan on doing with him. Either he is destined to be Dalton’s backup or he might be the Bengals starting quarterback as early as 2015.
Still, the selection of Dennard with the 24th pick was one of the best picks in the first round and the reason why the Bengals grade is as high as a B-. Dennard was, by most accounts, either the first or second best cornerback in this years draft class. While he may not have the pure coverage skills that Justin Gilbert has, he has the ability to contribute heavily in the run game.
Dennard is going to be able to reinvigorate Cincinnati’s quickly aging secondary. Personally, I would have made Dennard the first cornerback off the board, and the Bengals should feel lucky to have gotten him so late in the first round.
Cleveland Browns – B
Technically, Ray Farmer and the Cleveland Browns had a fantastic draft. They moved back in the first round, picked up an additional first round pick for next year and drafted the best cornerback and quarterback on their board.
Entering week one, I wouldn’t be surprised if each of their first three picks – Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel and Joel Bitonio – is starting his first NFL game.
The best pick of Cleveland’s draft was easily Manziel. While I didn’t think he was worth the Browns fourth overall pick, selecting him at 22 was a great value. Manziel is an all-or-nothing pick, but if he pans out, then the Browns will have won the 2014 NFL Draft by a landslide.
All throughout the draft, the Browns found value with their picks and their trades. Through their wheeling and dealing, Cleveland added a first, fourth and sixth round pick in next year’s draft, and that first round pick – gained in the Sammy Watkins trade with Buffalo – could easily prove to be another top five to ten pick.
Honestly, the Browns should probably have walked away with an A grade, but an off-the-field development derailed much of the Browns rebuilding plans. Thanks to Josh Gordon, who seemingly can’t stay away from marijuana if you paid him – literally – passing up on Watkins now seems like a disastrous move.
Manziel is going to need someone to throw to, and without Gordon or Watkins, it looks like Greg Little and Andrew Hawkins are going to have to be the answers. The draft class looks even worse when, after seven selections, the Browns walked away with no wide receivers to fill the void left by Gordon.
Still, the Browns believe that they have their quarterback, cornerback and guard of the future, and if each of those players reach his full potential, this draft class will be remembered as a great one for the Browns, even without a wide receiver.
Pittsburgh Steelers – B+
There really isn’t anything negative to say about Steelers draft. They went about their business and filled each of their major holes to some extent.
When Ryan Shazier fell to them at pick 15, his speed and athleticism were simply too good to pass up. He has the ability to play inside or outside linebacker, and he can even play some defensive end. Whether he will immediately fill in at outside linebacker or move around within the defense, Shazier was an extremely solid pick for the Steelers.
Likewise, the Steelers also filled a need at defensive end with the drafting of Stephon Tuitt in the second round. Tuitt has first round ability, but his draft stock fell after he showed up this season slow and overweight. As the season went on, his performance grew, but it was too little too late in terms of regaining his first-round draft stock.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers really strengthened some weak positions, but they also picked up several key players to help Big Ben and the offense out.
Everybody remembers Dri Archer from his explosive combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds. If he can channel that freakish speed into NFL production, Archer could end up being a weapon like Darren Sproles for the Steelers.
That said, I think that the Steelers best move of the night was drafting Martavis Bryant out of Clemson. I love this guy. He spent the last two seasons being overshadowed by Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but don’t let that overshadow the potential he has too.
At 6-4, 211 pounds, Bryant ran his 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. He looks like a Demaryius Thomas clone. If he was on a team without two other stand-out, first-round receivers, we may have been talking about him in the first two rounds. Instead, the Steelers got him in the fourth round, and he could easily end up being Big Ben’s number one option in a few years.
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