AFC North Offseason Grades

Baltimore Ravens (B-)

This grade was an average of their free agency (D) and their draft (A). To be fair, they couldn’t do much in free agency as they are going to have to pay Lamar Jackson and most probably Orlando Brown Jr and Mark Andrews. This led to losing Michael Pierce to the Vikings. This leaves a hole in the middle of the defence. They somewhat solved it through getting Calais Campbell from the Jaguars. A veteran who still has a lot left in the tank will help pressure opposing QBs along with the franchise tagged Matt Judon. Any other signings were depth pieces such as Dereck Wolfe from the Broncos or depth resigns within the team such as Anthony Levine.

Due to the lack of action in free agency, the Ravens had to have a good draft to keep at the top of the AFC with the Chiefs and did they ever! Patrick Queen will help sure up the LB core, they lost Onwuasor and Josh Byrne. They then collected JK Dobbins in the 2nd, a powerful runner who will relieve some pressure off Ingram and will take over from him once his contract ends. Justin Madubuike will try to help replace Pierce and collecting Duvernay will add more youth to a WR group already consisting of “Hollywood” Brown and Myles Boykin. Therefore, one can leave if the Ravens are still up against the cap in a few years. Phillips and Bedson can fight to replace Marshall Yanda at guard and James Proche is an under-the-radar receiver from SMU who can immediately play in the slot for the Ravens. A great draft that has the future in mind whilst creating depth to push the Ravens to a Superbowl rather than just the playoffs. Now they just need Jackson to continue being Jackson.

Cincinnati Bengals (B+)

The Bengals lost Andrew Billings in free agency but immediately upgraded at the position with the signing of DJ Reader who will line up alongside Atkins, Lawson, Hubbard and Dunlap (as well as rookie Khalid Kareem). Each bring a different skillset along the D-line. Power from Atkins and Reader with speed from Hubbard and Lawson on the outside. I can see Dunlap getting traded or cut with low dead cap amount, but his experience could help him stay on the roster to help the young guns in Lawson, Hubbard and Kareem. Waynes was a nice pick up at nickel from the Vikings, but he won’t set the world on fire. Vonn Bell was the best pick up of the free agency, a cheap 3-year deal ($18 million). An underrated box safety will allow Jessie Bates to focus on interception rather than tackles. However, they didn’t upgrade their biggest weakness, O-Line. That could hurt their new franchise QB. This is furthered by the future at the WR position. Green will probably leave after this year and Ross is essentially a bust (they didn’t pick up his 5th year option either). This leaves Tyler Boyd and 33rd overall pick Tee Higgins. This means that over the next free agency periods, the Bengals will need to address interior O-Line and WR.

However, they now have their franchise QB in Joe Burrow. Ever since the Florida game, I had Burrow as the number 2 QB and with his playoff performance and Tua’s latest injury, I had Burrow as NO.1. Therefore, I love this pick and the Bengals have a QB for the next 15 years. Tee Higgins will be crucial for Burrows future; he has a year before he needs to be a reliable target for Burrow. Logan Wilson, their third-round pick, is a tackling machine. He’ll be starting in very little time. The rest of their draft was a little average, they didn’t pick up a falling big name, but they got a starting LB, a potential NO.1 WR and their franchise QB. If Burrow hits, the rest of this draft is a bonus.

Cleveland Browns (A)

Change is happening in Cleveland; competence has been bought into this long-suffering organization. Karl Joseph didn’t fit in Oakland (now Las Vegas) but he showed promise early in his career. A one-year prove it deal worth $2.5 million is a smart move to potentially salvage Joseph’s career who’s lack of coverage skills can be made up for by Delpit, the 2nd round rookie. Adrian Clayborn (also on a one-year deal) will help with depth on the D-Line and potentially start in place of Garrett depending on anymore suspension fallout. Their big signings were Austin Hooper, one on the best young tight ends in the NFL and forms a devastating 2 TE set with David Njoku (who will probably proceed to free agency in 2 seasons). This will help Mayfield settle in the pocket, something he rarely did last year. Add this was added to by signing Jack Conklin at right tackle. This shores up a very weak O-line and will also create more room for Nick Chubb to run. Every signing will help the team or is a low risk, high reward signing. They improved defence and offense. Very good free agency for Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski.

Then there was the draft. Instead of taking controversial QBs or exciting (but relatively unimportant skill positions) they took a high floor and ceiling, unexciting pick with the OT from Alabama, Jedrick Wills. The best OT in the draft will move to left tackle and create a safe pocket with free agent addition Conklin for Mayfield. They then got physical freak Grant Delpit at free safety. Great in coverage, he was a projected top 5 pick before the season, but his pursuit angles when tackling let him down (might have been down to injury though). Jordan Elliot will be a ready replacement for Ogunjobi if the DT goes to free agency soon. Same is said for Harrison Bryant potential replacing Njoku at TE. Nick Harris adds good depth at centre, but the best value pick was in the sixth with Donovan Peoples-Jones (DPJ). Held back by QB play at Michigan, DPJ gets to learn from OBJ and Landry and can break out at NFL level. The Browns improved their Offense and defence and went for picks that will help, rather than be flashy. This franchise is finally on track to get back to the Jim Brown days. The people of Cleveland deserve it.

Pittsburgh Steelers (C-)

It seems that the Steelers are going to be relying on Big Ben staying healthy and that same defence returning from last year (54 sacks and 20 INTs!). They lost Javon Hargrave who accounted for 4 of those sacks and helped mainly in the run defence. Past Hargrave, they only really lost depth and were able to bring in replacements. Their only big(ish) signing was Eric Ebron. An inconsistent tight end for the Lions and Colts, Tomlin could help make him a true star. However, I don’t have confidence on Ebron becoming a consistent threat, but a 2-year $12 million contract isn’t a bad idea for the Steelers.

The draft was a disappointment but the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick saves the grade for the Steelers. With him as the equivalent 1st round pick, the rest of the draft seemed underwhelming. Chase Claypool is another WR for the Steelers to turn into a star but there were other needs that should have been addressed first with a corner and/or an interior lineman to pair with Cameron Heyward. McFarland Jr was a nice pickup to push and perhaps replace James Connor. Antoine Brooks Jr a nice pickup, a physical safety who will support (and hopefully replace) Edmunds at strong safety. However, their draft didn’t have a pick that really looked like a steal. The Steelers are on borrowed time with Big Ben, their defence may well be amazing, returning to the Steel Curtain days but they can’t do it all themselves. The Steelers had an underwhelming offseason, Tomlin will need another personel best year of coaching.

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