Circa 5 years ago the most physical division in the NFL, and now arguably the most physical, the AFC North always seems like a war of attrition. For the past few seasons, it’s been the Baltimore Ravens and either the Bengals or the Steelers fighting for the playoffs with the Browns in the distance. This season should be no different, but maybe the Browns close the gap. The Steelers won the division last season, but with no Le’Veon Bell, stood no chance against Baltimore in the Playoffs. Andy Dalton still hasn’t won a playoff game for Cincy, and the Browns haven’t made the postseason since 2002. Yeah, that long ago. This was an interesting draft for the division, let’s take a look:
Impact Rookie: Duke Johnson, RB Miami (FL)
The Browns worked most of last season with a Runningback by committee, and Johnson will add to that again. Ben Tate is now gone, leaving Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West to compete with Duke Johnson. Johnson is the better receiver out of the backfield of the three, and the most talented likely. I expect Johnson to emerge quickly, but still share time. Bad news for Fantasy owners, but good for the Brownies.
Delayed Impact: Cameron Erving, OL Florida State
As much as I believe that every team benefits from adding depth up front, I don’t necessarily see where Erving plays immediately. The Browns have Alex Mack at Center, one of the better ones in the league. Erving projected best in the NFL as a C. He could play OT, but he’s much better inside. So that leaves Guard? Or they’re just waiting? You tell me.
Diamond in the Rough: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DB Oregon
Although a bit undersized, Ifo is a good cover man, and was probably a early Day 2 pick in the draft before tearing his ACL in the preparation for the Florida State playoff game. He can be a good slot Corner, but he could also be an absolute stud Free Safety, but it will also hinge on his recovery from the knee injury. He was absolutely worth a flier at pick #241.
Impact Rookie: Tyler Kroft, TE/H-Back Rutgers
Kroft was a nice value in the 3rd round for the Bengals, who will be looking for more out of Tyler Eifert after letting Jermaine Gresham go. Kroft is a bit undersized to play in-line, but he plays with a nasty disposition. Kroft may turn into a safety blanket for Dalton. Kroft should have little to no transition.
Delayed Impact: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT Texas A&M
Ogbuehi was a bit of a surprise pick in the 1st round, especially coming off of a Torn ACL and to a team with two average at worst Tackles. However, Andrew Whitworth isn’t getting any younger, and Andre Smith hasn’t quite lived up to his former draft slot. Ogbuehi along with Jake Fisher in the 2nd round shows the direction that Cincy wants to go, but Ogbuehi will likely start the season on the PUP list, and likely wouldn’t beat either incumbent Tackle out immediately.
Diamond in the Rough: Marcus Hardison, DL Arizona State
A JuCo transfer before coming to Tempe, Hardison is still a little raw as a player, but he displayed the ability rush off of the edge at 305 pounds, and that’s scary impressive. A nice value at the end of the 4th round, Hardison will likely contribute as a sub package interior rusher and could eventually turn into a starter.
Impact Rookie: Maxx Williams, TE Minnesota
Joe Flacco has shown the tendency to look to his Tight End as both a weapon and as a safety blanket, and with Dennis Pitta recovering from another hip dislocation and losing Owen Daniels to free agency, Williams has the best opportunity to entrench his position in the starting lineup. The consensus top Tight End in this class, Williams will play with a chip on his shoulder and look to prove himself.
Delayed Impact: Breshad Perriman, WR Central Florida
Reports are that Perriman is running with the 1s in camp, but he could have a bit of a rocky transition. He displayed an unsettling habit in college of dropping passes. With the class that Baltimore should have out of this draft, this is about the only concern of their top picks. Ozzie killed it again.
Diamond in the Rough: Za’Darius Smith, OLB Kentucky
On a team that boasts Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker might seem like one of the least likely positions to make an impact, but there’s opportunity here. Smith is in that 6’5″ 275 pound range, much like Pernell McPhee who the Ravens turned from a mid Day 3 pick into a prized Free Agent for Chicago. Smith will play both standing up and with a hand in the ground, presenting him different and effective matchups.
Impact Rookie: Senquez Golson, CB Ole Miss
Despite his diminutive size, Golson is a ballhawk and should be a playmaker for the Steelers. This pick was a bit of a frustration pick, as Baltimore knew that the Steelers wanted Maxx Williams, and traded up to #55 in front of them, so at #56, this wasn’t a bad value for Golson, who will provide much needed help in the secondary after the retirements of Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu.
Delayed Impact: Bud Dupree, LB Kentucky
There may have not been a more polarizing player in this year’s draft than Dupree, who was mocked anywhere from #3 to Jacksonville to the 2nd round. Eventually, he fell into Pittsburgh’s lap at #22, an ideal situation for Dupree. He won’t be depended on for immediate production, but he doesn’t have long, as Pittsburgh will need it’s pass rush to aid their secondary.
Diamond in the Rough: Gerod Holliman, S Louisville
Anytime a player who led the nation in Interceptions falls to the 7th round, there will be questions as to why. The why is simply, Holliman’s production outweighs his athleticism. Also, very apparently, his tackling ranges from disinterested to terrible. However, Holliman picks his spots, and he could develop into a sub package Safety or even a starter down the road if he can become more consistent.
The road to the Super Bowl almost always has to deal with the winner of the AFC North, and this year should be no different.