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A thorough assessment of a team’s draft can’t truly be reached for another three years or so. That said, with tighter rosters and larger rookie contracts, a successful draft must yield at least some immediate help. With that in mind, here’s a look at how AFC North teams fared over the weekend—both from a big-picture NFL standpoint as well as a fantasy perspective—taking into account how key needs were (or weren’t) addressed and the impact potential of the players acquired.
The run-first Ravens traded up when OT Michael Oher slid down the board to them, and in rounds two and five they addressed depth needs at linebacker with OLB Paul Kruger and ILB Jason Phillips. CB Lardarius Webb has the kind of speed and playmaking ability the Ravens love in their secondary, and both he and sixth-round pick RB Cedric Peerman can contribute in the running game. TE Davon Drew joins a mix that includes Todd Heap and L.J. Smith, who between them are good for at least a half-dozen DNPs a season. With Derrick Mason getting on in years and Mark Clayton showing flashes of first-round talent but no real consistency, a wide receiver was definitely on Baltimore’s wish list; failure to address that position is their only glaring error on draft day—though the post-draft signing of undrafted free agent Eron Riley from Duke offers hope.
Fantasy nugget: Few coordinators know how to use their running backs in the passing game quite like Cam Cameron. To that end, Peerman could carve out that niche in the offense should Ray Rice falter or be pressed into feature-back duty due to Willis McGahee problems.
Don’t look now, but the Bengals played this one extremely well. First-round pick Andre Smith will help keep Carson Palmer upright and lay the groundwork for Marvin Lewis’ back-to-the-run game plan. Defensive needs were addressed with a pair of players many projected to go in the first round—ILB Rey Maualuga and DE Michael Johnson, who, if he plays up to his potential, is the early favorite for “steal of the draft”. With all that talent falling into their laps—and the trend continued with TE Chase Coffman at the end of Round Three—the Bengals can’t be faulted for waiting until the fourth round to address their need at center. At least they did their homework, with the staff having coached C Jonathan Luigs at the Senior Bowl. The Bengals found punter Kevin Huber in their backyard and added athletes like CB Morgan Trent and DE Clinton McDonald late. RB Bernard Scott might be the most talented third-down back in the draft, but off-field issues caused him to slide. Cincy fans, you know the drill; the punchlines write themselves. Seventh-round WR Freddie Brown is a big possession receiver from out west—almost perfectly suited to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who sprung from similar origins. Undrafted free agents RB Marlon Lucky and WR Quan Cosby could also factor into the mix.
Fantasy nugget: With the Bengals giving up on the failed Chris Perry experiment, releasing him the day after the draft, and Kenny Watson on the wrong side of 30 for a running back, there’s an opportunity for Scott to move quickly into the third-down role—assuming, of course, he keeps his nose clean. And with Cedric Benson far from a certainty, the goal line abilities of 244-pound seventh-round RB Fui Vakapuna could come into play sooner rather than later as well.
Braylon Edwards is still on the roster, at least for now, but that didn’t prevent the Browns from drafting a pair of wideouts in the second round. Then again, given Cleveland’s depth at the position behind Edwards, Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi will contend for immediate playing time whether the Browns find a new home for Edwards or not. Cleveland moved down three times before settling on C Alex Mack as the anchor of their offensive line and picking up three extra picks along the way. Rush LB David Veikune and forgotten USC LB Kaluka Maiava will help Eric Mangini upgrade the defense—as will S Abram Elam and DE Kenyon Coleman, picked up in the trade with the Jets. A pair of sixth-round DBs, Don Carey and Coye Francies, add depth. Given the Jets’ desire to land Sanchez and two more moves back in the draft, the Browns might have come up with a little more to show for their efforts—like, perhaps, Beanie Wells instead of sixth-rounder James Davis as a backup/heir for Jamal Lewis?
Fantasy nugget: Despite being a sixth-round selection and opening his NFL career behind names like Noah Herron on the depth chart, don’t discount Davis too quickly. An injury or precipitous decline in productivity from Lewis—who turns 30 before the start of the season and has plenty of miles already on his tires—could yield a committee backfield with Jerome Harrison in the pass-catching role and Davis handling between-the-tackles—and, more importantly, goal line—work. Don’t forget, Davis set Clemson’s standard with 47 career rushing touchdowns.
The defending Super Bowl champs didn’t have many pressing needs, and aside from G/T Kraig Urbik it’s unlikely any of their draft picks will be asked to make a significant contribution this season. In Urbik and C A.Q. Shipley the Steelers addressed Ben Roethlisberger’s shaky protection, and first-round selection Ziggy Hood—and maybe even sixth-rounder Ra’Shon Harris—will be groomed to step in along Pittsburgh’s aging defensive line. Speedy WR Mike Wallace replaces what the Steelers lost when Nate Washington departed via free agency and should spell Santonio Holmes in the return game. A pair of bigger backs—241-pound RB/FB Frank Summers and 260-pound H-back David Johnson—will augment a Willie Parker-led backfield that also gets last year’s first-round pick, Rashad Mendenhall, back from injury. CB Keenan Lewis excels in press coverage; fellow CB Joe Burnett might take over nickel duties and will also help on returns.
Fantasy nugget: Wallace turned heads with a 4.31 40 time at the Combine. Washington’s departure leaves 40 catches, 631 yards, and three touchdowns up for grabs, and if Limas Sweed doesn’t watch out Wallace might streak past him into the Steelers’ three- and four-WR rotations.