AFC North teams did a nice job overall in this year’s draft. Most teams addressed their main needs and picked up late round steals that very well could contribute next season. Here’s my breakdown of each team’s strongest picks as well as a final overall grade for their draft selections.
1. Jermaine Gresham was not only what the Bengals wanted with their 21st pick but exactly the type of athlete they needed at tight end. I can't give them enough credit for addressing their needs right off the bat while getting the top player at the position as well. Gresham will give the Bengals the playmaker they needed all last year at tight end. The position was quite vacant in 2009, and Gresham’s athleticism, combined with his ability to stretch the defense, will please the Bengals.
2. I believe that the Bengals stole a solid player with the 84th pick in the draft. Jordan Shipley is the type of polished receiver that you don't expect to find in the third round of the draft. Good hands, toughness and the ability to contribute as a returner on special teams. His ability to attack the middle of the field combined with his sure handedness makes him the type of addition the Bengals absolutely need to pair along with Chad Ochocinco and newly-acquired Antonio Bryant.
3. With their second pick in the draft, Carlos Dunlap was an example of an extremely talented second-round pick that could've easily gone in the first round. Dunlap is a very athletic player that adds to the Bengals’ already productive defensive line. He is the type of defensive end that can line-up on all three downs as well as being used to rush off the edge. This addition will bolster the D-line and add more depth to one of the team’s strong points.
OVERALL GRADE: A
1. The best pick in the Brown's draft — let alone the entire draft — might just have been Colt McCoy. This must definitely be considered one of the biggest steals in this year’s draft. McCoy was considered to many as being the second best quarterback on the board. The fact that the Browns were able to select him in third round probably not only went as a surprise to the Browns but McCoy himself. This quality pick was the only factor that kept me from giving the Browns a C- for the draft.
2. The Browns could have traded up and drafted Tennessee's highly sought-after safety Eric Berry as many expected, but then again that wouldn't be the Cleveland Browns. They choose to stay with the safe pick of Joe Haden. In the end Haden provides the Browns with a polished and safe pick at the cornerback position. The Browns ranked in the top five worst pass defenses in the NFL last year, so by principal this pick does make some sense. Haden has a good deal of upside as he possesses the skills to develop into a quality NFL corner.
3. I think it might be safe to say that the city of Cleveland, as well as myself, are not quite sure why the Browns decided to pass on USC safety Taylor Mays before selecting Oregon safety T.J. Ward. With Ward’s problems staying healthy as well as his inability to make enough big plays, I don't quite see what Cleveland saw in this pick.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
1. Picking up tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta was a necessary move for the Ravens. Todd Heap is showing signs that he has had better days in his career. Both Dickson and Pitta are pass-catching tight ends with the ability to stretch the field. Dickson is one of the better pass-catching tight ends in this year's draft.
2. The Ravens found a talented and athletic outside linebacker in Sergio Kindle. Although this was not the team’s biggest need, Kindle is the type of true athlete that they couldn't pass up with the 11th pick of the second round. The Ravens seem to always find a way to add explosive pass-rushers to their squad.
3. Terrence Cody is exactly the type of run-stopping nose tackle that you would expect the Ravens to select. Huge frame, moves well for his size and overall a tough player. With the injury issues of starter Kelly Gregg, nose tackle is definitely a concern the Ravens needed to address. Cody adds size and strength to a defensive front that already creates havoc for the rest of the NFL.
OVERALL GRADE: B
1. The Steelers not only did a good job of addressing their main need of an offensive lineman, but they landed a very special player in Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey is a gifted athlete that moves very well for his size. This ability gives him the option to either line up at guard or center. The Steelers have probably found a starting solution to their problem on the offensive line for years to come.
2. I love the pick of Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth round. This was another one of those guys that could have easily been drafted in the second round. Dwyer is a balanced running back with good athletic ability. He has the experience and talent help the Steelers at one of their weaker positions. I would go out on a limb and say that this pick will most certainly come into place sometime this season if not next.
3. The Steelers should have clearly realized that they needed to make large strides at finding receivers in this year’s draft. I feel that they failed largely at what I would call their attempt of trying to do so. They failed to pick a receiver until the third-round selection of Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders is an undersized receiver that will most likely find his time in the slot. The plan would be for him to become the Steelers’ number three receiver. After giving up Santonio Holmes (former Super Bowl MVP) for a fifth-round selection, I would have assumed that the Steelers would have put forth a much stronger effort toward obtaining a big-time receiver.
OVERALL GRADE: C
Image: Bengals first-round pick Jermaine Gresham