Every year the draft comes and goes with analysts and draftniks alike rushing to put a letter grade on each teams draft, despite the overwhelming fact that it will take years to determine their level of success. Instead of attempting to predict the future, the goal is to analyze various aspects of each divisions draft class. Focusing on which players are in the most advantageous positions and which players could be looking at struggles. Next up, the AFC North:
Top Contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year
Giovanni Bernard – RB, Cincinnati Bengals #37 Overall
The Bengals have been lacking a playmaking running back for years and hope to have solved that issue with the multi-talented former Tar Heel Gio Bernard. With Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis handling the early down and short yardage situations while Bernard acclimates to the NFL, the Bengals will look to create opportunities for Bernard as a change of pace back, 3rd down back, and in the return game. Bernard is a little under sized for an every down back, but is a perfect fit in a Cincinnati offense which features an explosive passing game chock full of young talent headlined by wide receiver AJ Green. Bernard is looking to get between 12-15 touches a game immediately between carries, receptions, and returns, with the Bengals hoping to see him take over full time running back duties by mid-season. Pittsburgh Steeler 2nd round pick Le’Veon Bell is in line for a big year as well, but Bernard’s big play ability will be tough to outshine.
Top Contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jarvis Jones – LB, Pittsburgh Steelers #17 Overall
With James Harrison’s production declining with age and mounting injuries, the Steelers had a hole at outside linebacker opposite Lamarr Woodley. They waited patiently and watched as a James Harrison clone, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, fell right into their laps at #17. Jarvis Jones was the most disruptive player in college football a year ago, leading the nation in sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles. Jones will be playing the same rush linebacker position in Dick Lebeau’s 3-4 Blitzburgh defense as he did in Georgia’s 3-4 under Todd Grantham. Jones should step into the starting line up early and will be set up for success in the Steelers perennially top 5 defense. The Steelers have quietly restocked their once aging front 7 and have put together a unit which should remain amongst the leagues elite for a long time.
Best Schematic Fit
Le’Veon Bell – RB, Pittsburgh Steelers #48 Overall
Due to the ascension of Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steeler passing game, the Steelers have gone away from the power running game that was once a staple of Pittsburgh football. The selection of Le’Veon Bell, the 230+ pounder out of Michigan State, was made to recapture that mentality. What makes Bell such a good fit in the Todd Haley’s offense is his ability to factor into the passing game, which is uncommon for a back of his size, while also having the size and skills of a power back. The Steelers offensive line is a young but powerful unit which has struggled in recent years in protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Establishing a power running game will give the Steelers the balanced offensive attack it has been lacking while making life easier on Roethlisberger and the line in general. The addition of Bell and his unique blend of size and talent will spearhead this resurgence and give the Steelers the stability in the backfield it has not had since Willie Parker was let go following the 2009 season.
Matt Elam – S, Baltimore Ravens #32 Overall
The last time the Ravens selected a safety from a Florida school in round 1, it was 2002 and they took Ed Reed from the University of Miami at #24. Reed went on to play the next 11 seasons in Baltimore, becoming a perennial All-Pro and helping lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2012. After Reed moved on to the Houston Texans in march, GM Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens used the #32 pick on Florida’s energetic and explosive safety Matt Elam. While Elam does not offer the ball skills that Reed brought to the table, he does have a nose for the football and a penchant for playmaking. The Ravens and their fan base will be counting on Elam to quickly establish himself in the back end of the Ravens defense and emerge as the leader in the secondary, a role that Reed thrived in for over a decade.
Under the Radar Impact Player
Markus Wheaton – WR, Pittsburgh Steelers #79 Overall
With Mike Wallace taking his talents to South Beach with a huge free agent contract with the Dolphins, wide receiver Markus Wheaton has an excellent opportunity to step in and contribute immediately in the Steelers passing attack. Wheaton will add an element deep speed to go along with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and could ultimately step into the starting line up across from Brown with Sanders slated for free agency following the 2013 season. Wheaton is not quite as vertically explosive as Wallace, but he does possess excellent deep speed and can take the top off of a defense. He is a perfect fit with a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger who can buy time in the pocket and has the arm to take advantage of Wheaton’s ability to stretch a defense. He should not have too much trouble beating out aging veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress for the 3rd receiver role.
Biggest Reach and Highest Bust Potential
Barkevious Mingo – LB, Cleveland Browns #6 Overall
When the Browns made LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo the 6th pick in the draft, they based their selection off of what Mingo “could be” not what he currently “is”. Mingo is a versatile and explosive athlete who will play outside linebacker for DC Ray Horton’s blitz heavy 3-4 scheme in Cleveland, he is currently behind Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger on the depth chart and could go much of the year as a situational pass rusher. The problem with Mingo being relied on to generate a significant pass rush is the fact that he has yet to show the ability to consistently pressure the quarterback. After recording a disappointing 4.5 sacks his final year at LSU, the Browns are banking on Mingo’s misuse in the Tigers defense as the reason for his lack of production. Mingo has a rare set of God given skills which appear to fit nicely into an attacking 3-4 scheme, but it does not change the fact that he is an under sized and under productive workout warrior who will be learning a new position. The Browns will most likely follow the same blueprint for Mingo’s development that the 49ers had for Aldon Smith as a rookie in 2011; fortunately, they have the depth to do it.
Best 2nd Round Pick
Arthur Brown – LB, Baltimore Ravens #56 Overall
The Ravens lost the heart and soul of their defensive unit with the retirement of Ray Lewis following their Super Bowl victory. To make matters worse, Lewis’s heir apparent Danell Ellerbe received an offer he could not refuse from the Miami Dolphins and left via free agency. The Ravens wound up trading in round 2 with the Seahawks to secure Arthur Brown as their new weak side inside linebacker and defensive signal caller. Brown is a sideline to sideline tackling machine who has rare instincts and a nose for the football who will be protected behind an improved Ravens front. While Brown has gigantic shoes to fill by stepping in for a Hall of Famer, the Ravens landed one of the safest and most complete defensive players in the draft.
Best 3rd Round Pick
Leon McFadden – CB, Cleveland Browns #68 Overall
The Browns entered the draft with a couple glaring needs, one of which was finding a starting caliber cornerback to line up opposite of the emerging Joe Haden. New DC Ray Horton made a point in his introductory press conference that he wants defensive backs who will hit and factor in the run defense. Though undersized, Leon McFadden is a tough and versatile player who balances steady coverage and ball skills with a willingness to aggressively play the run, not unlike former 3rd rounder and long time Cleveland Brown cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. He will line up next to Haden and benefit from playing across from a pro bowl caliber talent while the hopefully renewed Cleveland pass rush makes the entire secondary’s life easier.
Best 4th Round Pick
Landry Jones – QB, Pittsburgh Steelers #115 Overall
The Steelers are perennial conference contenders in the AFC but have struggled in recent seasons keeping Ben Roethlisberger healthy and winning while he is out of the line up. The selection of Landry Jones in the 4th round was a step towards stabilizing the back up quarterback spot which has been manned by veteran journeyman Byron Leftwhich and Charlie Batch the last few seasons. Landy Jones is one of the most productive quarterbacks in NCAA history and a terrific fit in Todd Haley’s offensive system. He will battle veteran free agent addition Bruce Gradkowski for the #2 quarterback duties and should hold the position for the foreseeable future.
Best 5th Round Pick
Ricky Wagner – OL, Baltimore Ravens #168 Overall
The Ravens starting offensive line is a strength of the team and was further solidified with the addition of Ricky Wagner, the versatile tackle from Wisconsin. Wagner comes from one of the country’s best programs for producing NFL lineman and his versatility will make him a valuable utility lineman with the potential to develop into a starter down the road. Wagner will battle Jah Reid and Gino Gradkowski to be the first lineman off of the bench.
Best 6th Round Pick
Vince Williams – LB, Pittsburgh Steelers #206 Overall
Vince Williams was an excellent value pick for the Steelers in the 6th round. Versatile playmaker Lawrence Timmons has always had a consistent “thumper” beside him in the Steelers defense, Larry Foote took over for James Farrior and now Foote will have to hold off Williams for the strong side inside linebacker job. Williams is a physical downhill player whose range limitations make him a nice fit on the inside in a 3-4. The Steelers aggressive style of play and zone blitz scheme looks to be a great opportunity for Williams to eventually win a starting job.
Best 7th Round Pick
Marc Anthony – CB, Baltimore Ravens #247 Overall
After some disappointing off-season workouts, Mark Anthony fell much further than expected on draft weekend. A 32 game starter at Cal, the steady and productive Anthony looks to make his mark early on special teams while battling for playing time in sub packages. An improved defensive backfield with the healthy return of Lardarius Webb, the Ravens are also counting on 2011 first round pick Jimmy Williams to start at cornerback. Corey Graham, Chykie Brown, and Asa Jackson will have to hold off the former Golden Bear for playing time and possibly a roster spot.
UDFA Most Likely to Earn a Roster Spot
Chris Faulk – OL, Cleveland Browns
Faulk entered the 2012 season with first round ability and aspirations, but had his draft status suffer a crushing blow when a he sustained a devastating knee injury during practice after the opening game of the year. The injury required two surgeries and resulted in the 6’6 330 lb. road grader to miss the remainder of the season and go undrafted. While the Browns are set on their starting tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, they plan on moving Faulk to guard where he will compete with fellow rookie Garrett Gilkey and 2nd year man Ryan Miller for a roster spot. His ability to play multiple positions could prove helpful in his quest for a roster spot and he does have the talent to eventually start on the professional level.
Tags: 3-4 Defense 3-4 Outside Linebacker Arthur Brown Baltimore Ravens Barkevious Mingo Chris Faulk Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns Giovani Bernard Jarvis Jones Landry Jones Le'veon Bell Leon McFadden Marc Anthony Markus Wheaton Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterbacks Ricky Wagner Vince Williams