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AFC North draft grades: Ravens shine; Bengals, Browns impress

Why provide instant grades on the selections of prospects who have yet to take an NFL snap? Well, you're reading this, aren't you? Considering the makeup of every roster and the factors surrounding each pick, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr attempt a division-by-division assessment of the 2020 NFL Draft. Keep in mind that these grades are based on draft hauls alone -- picks traded for veteran players were not taken into account. Below is Dan's review of the AFC North.


BEST PICK: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Cincinnati Bengals, Round 1, No. 1 overall

Look, I love the Ravens' selection of Patrick Queen at No. 28 overall (and every other pick Baltimore made), but I'm not going to pretend like any of the 30 other picks by AFC North teams have the potential to make as big an impact as the one that started the proceedings. The home-state kid, who once had to flee Ohio to get his chance to start, gets to ride back into town on the white horse to lift the hopes of a franchise that last won a playoff game six years before this presumptive savior was born? This has to seem too good to be true for a Bengals fan base that gets a sudden infusion of swagger from the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. Burrow isn't a perfect player, but this was a perfect pick at the perfect time. So long, Red Rifle.

MOST SURPRISING PICK: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
Baltimore Ravens, Round 2, No. 55 overall

Of all the steals the Ravens made in the 2020 NFL Draft -- and there were several -- which was the most unexpected get? Let's go straight to the man making the picks! Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta said Dobbins was the player he was most surprised to land.

"We were ecstatic to get J.K.," DeCosta said on the team's official site. "He was by far -- by far -- the highest-rated guy that we had on the board. We kind of felt like he fell out of the sky right to us, the type of team that we are to get a running back like that."

And they should be thrilled. The need at running back wasn't as pressing as some others on the roster (Baltimore already had Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill at the position), but can a team that leans on the run like the Ravens ever have enough good backs? I say no! Dobbins bounced back from a less-than-stellar 2018 by rushing for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. And his physical style is a perfect fit for this offense.

BIGGEST SLEEPER: Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
Cincinnati Bengals, Round 7, No. 215 overall

If he can stay healthy, Bailey might turn out to be one the draft's biggest steals. The former Boilermaker had two of his college seasons cut short by ACL tears, including a 2019 campaign that ended after four games. When he hasn't been nursing a bad knee, he's shown he has the goods. In fact, NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah has said Bailey's tape is second-round quality. The Bengals remade their linebacker corps in this draft, selecting three of them. Bailey was the last of the three selections, but he has the instincts and strength to vastly outperform his draft slot.


NOTE: Draft classes are ranked from best to worst within the division.

Baltimore Ravens
RANK: 1 · 2019 RECORD: 14-2-0

» Round 1: (No. 28 overall) Patrick Queen, LB, LSU.
» Round 2: (55) J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State.
» Round 3: (71) Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M; (92) Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas; (98) Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State; (106) Tyre Phillips, OG, Mississippi State.
» Round 4: (143) Ben Bredeson, OG, Michigan.
» Round 5: (170) Broderick Washington, DT, Texas Tech.
» Round 6: (201) James Proche, WR, SMU.
» Round 7: (219) Geno Stone, S, Iowa.

Baltimore somehow managed to find amazing value in almost every round. It seems unfair that they do this year after year, really. Queen fills the void that had been lingering since C.J. Mosley departed last offseason and will go sideline to sideline, wreaking havoc with his explosiveness despite being undersized. As we mentioned earlier, Dobbins adds another dose of electricity to the Ravens' highly charged backfield and the value was too good to pass up, even if there were more pressing needs. Oh, and you better believe Eric DeCosta did work with four third-round selections, pouncing to add -- you guessed it -- nice value in the middle portion of the draft. Harrison is a downhill attacker who will complement Queen at 'backer, and Madubuike will help keep blockers off of those two. We're intrigued by Duvernay, who could become a spark plug in the slot if he improves as a route runner. There are Hall-of-Fame worthy shoes to fill at guard following the retirement of Marshal Yanda, but Phillips and Bredeson seem like perfect fits for the Ravens' power running game. We approve of the decision to trade up in Round 6 for Proche, who has the ball skills and competitiveness to be much more productive than his athletic traits would lead you to believe. And how about landing Stone with pick 219, nearly 100 slots lower than where Jeremiah valued him? There were the only team that had his top value pick in two different rounds. Well done, Ravens.

Cincinnati Bengals
RANK: 2 · 2019 RECORD: 2-14-0

» Round 1: (No. 1 overall) Joe Burrow, QB, LSU.
» Round 2: (33) Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson.
» Round 3: (65) Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming.
» Round 4: (107) Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State.
» Round 5: (147) Khalid Kareem, DE, Notre Dame.
» Round 6: (180) Hakeem Adeniji, OG, Kansas.
» Round 7: (215) Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue.

Our one quibble with the Bengals' draft was the decision to wait until Round 6 to address the offensive line after not adding to it in free agency, but overall, this was nice work. Sure, the Burrow pick seems like a no-brainer, but it's still a great one that instantly rejuvenates the franchise. He's coming off the best year ever by a college quarterback. And Cincinnati was smart to add another weapon for him to kick off Round 2. Higgins could become another A.J. Green in due time, but for now, they get to team up together, creating a tandem that could do a lot of damage to defenses. Linebacker was this team's biggest need on defense, and we're fans of all three players they selected at the position, even though we would have probably turned to the offensive line over Davis-Gaither in Round 4. Wilson is a future starter, and, as we mentioned earlier, Bailey could provide tremendous value for a seventh-round pick if he's able to stay healthy. Kareem isn't going to wow anyone with explosiveness or athleticism, but he can provide solid depth off the edge. We liked what the Bengals did when they finally selected an offensive lineman. Adeniji has a chance to develop into a starting guard and was Jeremiah's top value of Round 6.

Cleveland Browns
RANK: 3 · 2019 RECORD: 6-10-0

» Round 1: (No. 10 overall) Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama.
» Round 2: (44) Grant Delpit, S, LSU.
» Round 3: (88) Jordan Elliott, DT, Missouri; (97) Jacob Phillips, LB, LSU.
» Round 4: (115) Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic.
» Round 5: (160) Nick Harris, C, Washington.
» Round 6: (187) Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan.

Baker Mayfield has to be resting easier these days. GM Andrew Berry gifted him with a massive upgrade at the tackle spot, signing Jack Conklin in free agency to man the right side, and then he went out and drafted a new left tackle with the 10th overall pick. Wills was the top player at his position on many boards. He should be protecting the blindside for the next decade. The next-biggest need for this club was at safety, and Berry checked that box by plucking Delpit. Concerns about his tackling knocked him out of the first-round conversation, but there's still plenty to like about his game as a fast, instinctive free safety. I see a lot of upside in the Elliott pick. He can provide a push from the inside. I'm not as enthusiastic about the Phillips pick. Linebacker was a need and Phillips led a talent-rich LSU defense in tackles last season, but he might not become more than a backup/special-teams contributor at the next level. I wouldn't have minded seeing the Browns go in a direction other than tight end to start Day 3 with Austin Hooper and David Njoku (who just had his fifth-year option picked up despite his disappointing 2019 season) already on the roster. That said, have you seen draft analyst Lance Zierlein's comp for Bryant? It's George Kittle! So, I'm not going to argue with taking a shot on that kind of player. Harris provides some depth on the interior O-line, and Peoples-Jones was worth a flyer in Round 7 even though he never lived up to his billing at Michigan.

Pittsburgh Steelers
RANK: 4 · 2019 RECORD: 8-8-0

» Round 2: (No. 49 overall) Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame.
» Round 3: (102) Alex Highsmith, edge rusher, Charlotte.
» Round 4: (124) Anthony McFarland, RB, Maryland; (135) Kevin Dotson, OG, Louisiana.
» Round 6: (198) Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Maryland.
» Round 7: (232) Carlos Davis, DT, Nebraska.

Before you tweet something derogatory about me, Steelers fans, just know that the grade would be higher if we were taking into account the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade and move up to snag Devin Bush last year, which cost them valuable capital in this year's draft. We're sticking exclusively to grading 2020 draft hauls in this exercise, folks. The good news is that even with limited flexibility, the Steelers were still able to pick up some intriguing talent. The class is just a little short on juice, and they didn't address a significant need on the defensive line until the final round. Pittsburgh added a massive target for Ben Roethlisberger in Claypool, although he doesn't offer much sizzle after the catch. Highsmith is a nice sleeper pick. He will get at least a year to add some needed size and strength behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who is playing on the franchise tag in 2020. McFarland's flashes have been something to behold -- he shredded Indiana and Ohio State for 200-plus yards rushing in consecutive games in 2018. If he can stay healthy and figure out how to flash on a more consistent basis, this will be an excellent selection, but it was a little bit surprising to see them gamble on him within the first 125 picks. Dotson was the first player picked who wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Flip on the tape and you'll see a blocker with the power to make his way into a starting lineup down the road. Brooks can be an immediate help on special teams.

Follow Dan Parr on Twitter _@TheDanParr_.

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