The draft is over, and the dust has settled. Now it's time for the way too early analysis of how each team did and how much better they will be. Cleveland ended up having the most selections in the draft with 14, and they used a few of them to not only improve, but send messages to a couple of their current players. Baltimore, in typical Baltimore fashion, had a very solid draft that could put them back in contention for the division title. And, Pittsburgh had a great draft...depending on who you ask.
Mel Kiper seems to always have a sweet spot for the Ravens. Kiper gave the Ravens the highest draft grade for any AFC North team, but not everyone sees it that way. Jamison Hensley explained why this wasn't an 'A' draft for the Ravens, saying, "this was a strong draft but fell short of being a fantastic one. For an A draft, the Ravens would've completed a trade up for Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey and not passed over UCLA linebacker Myles Jack or Eastern Kentucky pass rusher Noah Spence in the second round. The other problem was ignoring the cornerback position -- the team's biggest need -- until the fourth round."
All are extremely valid points from Hensley. Especially the Ravens waiting to address the cornerback position. Currently the Ravens have Jimmy Smith, who is coming off surgery, and no one of serious worth after him. The NFL has been a passing league for quite a while now, and the emphasis on having two or even three good corners has become huge. And, it's even more so when you face teams like the Bengals and Steelers twice a season.
It makes sense that after the draft several players who are already on the team's roster have questionable futures. The Ravens are a special case this season because they also have a bevy of players returning from injured reserve. The biggest position that could see some changes from the end of last season is wide receiver. Steve Smith Jr. and Breshad Perriman are returning and their spots are safe because of leadership and investment. Then Baltimore brought in Mike Wallace as a free agent this offseason, and Kamar Aiken took advantage of his opportunity last season and balled out. That leaves players like Marlon Brown, who has been a disappointment since his rookie season in 2013, and Michael Campanaro, who was an intriguing seventh round pick in 2014. Neither have produced much for the team, and with the Ravens drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round and Keenan Reynolds in the sixth round, it is becoming a numbers game.
It seems the analytic site thinks the Browns have stayed true to their new analytics theme as they received the highest draft grade with an A. Obviously time will tell how many of these players will actually pan out for Cleveland, but with 14 selections it's hard to imagine they didn't find a few diamonds in the rough. The way the Browns maneuvered the draft was really a thing of beauty. They finished with three third round selections, four fourths, and four fifth round picks. They also have set themselves up to do the same thing next year with the Eagles' first round pick and Titans' second round pick. This draft will largely depend on the development of USC quarterback Cody Kessler and their plethora of pass rushers and receivers.
The Browns made the only draft day trade that included a current player when they received Jamar Taylor from the Dolphins by swapping seventh round picks. The Browns only moved down from 233 to 250. Taylor was a second round pick in 2013 and the Browns are banking on him improving from a change of scenery. It wouldn't be the first time a corner left Miami to find success elsewhere in the NFL, Vontae Davis who went to the Colts and Sean Smith who left for the Raiders, each have made a Pro Bowl since their departures from Miami. If Taylor follows suit there is obviously something in the water in Miami, and it isn't good for corners.
The Browns made 14 picks this year, and four of those were wide receivers. The situation with Josh Gordon is a well documented mess. After failing another drug test, the league has asked to see him remain clean for three months before they will consider reinstatement again. Since that time, Gordon has been rumored to be partying with former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. The two were even seen at Coachella together. The Browns don't seem to be impressed. Their first pick was the speedster Corey Coleman, a wide receiver from Baylor (the irony), and they continued to bolster the position with three more highly productive receiving threats on day three of the draft.
These receivers could also be an attempt to finally improve a receiving corps that was widely ignored by the past regime, and Gordon could easily be included on the team if he finally gets everything right. However, Cleveland isn't going to sit around and leave his seat warm while he continues to screw around. Picking four wide receivers also sends a message to guys like Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline.
Hue Jackson has always seemed to talk up his guy at quarterback wherever he has been. Whether it was Carson Palmer in Oakland or Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. Jackson, the king of hyperbole, never waivers on having the utmost confidence in his guy. Sashi Brown, VP of football operations for the Browns, seems to be giving him a run for his money with his comments on Kessler. Via The Plain Dealer, Brown had this to say about assuming Kessler would sit behind Robert Griffin III:
"I do think Cody is a guy that I would not want to sleep on at all if I wanted to be the starting quarterback of the Browns," Brown said. "He's going to come in serious ready to work. Robert has four years of NFL experience, is tremendously athletic and serious about becoming a starting quarterback in this league. There's no reason he can't, but this is going to be a competition."
Brown's comments aren't surprising. Cleveland took Kessler in the third round ahead of guys like Connor Cook, Dak Prescott, and Cardale Jones. All of whom arguably should've gone before Kessler, but this shows the confidence that Cleveland's brain trust has in the quarterback who had a 78.2 completion percentage at USC. It also sends a message to Griffin that he'll need to earn his job. Griffin will have to work for the right to become the next Cleveland starting quarterback, as will Kessler.
The analytic movement is relatively new to the NFL, and as it becomes more popular, the contrast between old and new age thinkers is easy to spot. Look no further than the Steelers 2016 NFL draft. Longtime draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Steelers a 'B' which to be fair, isn't saying it was the best. He gave Pittsburgh the second lowest grade in the division, only ahead of Cleveland. Meanwhile Pro Football Focus gave them a C- which was tied for second worst with the Cardinals. The Falcons ranked at the bottom with a D+.
A large part of the difference in opinion comes from their opinions on the Steelers first two picks. Last week, we talked about how PFF didn't think Artie Burns even fit what the Steelers like to do, but Kiper had this to say on the picks via ESPN
Artie Burns fills an obvious need at cornerback, but he's not as good as William Jackson III, who Cincinnati grabbed just one spot earlier. I really like Sean Davis and he can be plugged in at safety, though I would have taken Justin Simmons at that spot.
Kiper admits there were better picks on the board in the second, but PFF isn't nearly the fan of Davis that Kiper is.
Another good athlete with a great size-speed combo, Davis played both safety and cornerback at Maryland with mixed results. His -3.6 overall grade ranked No. 96 among safeties in the draft class, as he struggled in coverage and has missed 25 tackles over the last two years.
Clearly, the Steelers are the opposites of Cleveland in analytics now, and time will tell if that is good or bad.
Bruce Gradkowski is returning to the Steelers on a one year deal to compete for the backup spot behind Ben Roethlisberger. The Landry Jones show was a mixed bag last season, and since the Steelers didn't add a quarterback in the draft, they're turning to a veteran with knowledge of the system.
Gradkowski was on the Steelers in 2014, but was out of the NFL in 2015. Prior to his stint with Pittsburgh, he played for Cincinnati, Oakland and Cleveland.
The Steelers might just be looking to light a fire under Jones in order for him to possibly take the next step and be more consistent. And, they could be simply adding Gradkowski as a camp body. But, the Steelers may need whoever wins the backup job to play as Roethlisberger's health has been a more recurring issue as his career plays out.