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2014 NFL Draft review: AFC North

Johnny Manziel with Texas A and M. (Image: Creative Commons)
Roar Rookie
22nd May, 2014
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It’s been a week since the biggest event of the NFL’s off-season calendar – the NFL draft – wrapped at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. You’re probably just now starting to get Aloe Blacc’s I’m The Man out of your head.

If the thought of waiting out the next three months of cuts, claims and quarterback controversies sounds about as exciting as the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 48, don’t fret. We’re here with our 2014 draft grade for each division in the league.

Up first, the black-and-blue AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens
After an uncharacteristically sub-par year, the proud Ravens used the draft to reload on defence in a bid to revive their reputation as an AFC powerhouse.

Snapping up arguably the most talented linebacker of the class in Alabama’s CJ Mosley with their first-round pick, Baltimore scored serious value in the second with D-tackle Timmy Jernigan, projected by several experts to be a mid-first round guy.

Both rookies are expected to be significant first-year contributors, shoring up an already stout front seven and easing the crippling burden shouldered by the quarterback in 2013.

Speaking of Joe Flacco, he’ll enjoy new weapons in Crockett Gillmore – a raw tight-end boasting good size – and underrated wide-out Mike Campanaro, a fine talent who’ll definitely find himself on an NFL roster in 2014.

Cincinnati Bengals
With Baltimore and Pittsburgh going heavy and the lowly Browns proving themselves rock stars in Radio City, everyone’s forgotten about Cincinnati. They may not boast the most explosive draft class, but a number of wise moves were still made.

Topping the list is defensive back Darqueze Dennard, an absolute steal towards the end of the first round. The winner of the Jim Thorpe Award for college football’s best corner has ‘shutdown talent’ written all over him, and should prove an immediate starter.

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Running back Jeremy Hill was a curious second-round selection given the Bengals’ success with the zippy Bernard in the backfield, while the AJ McCarron pick in Round 5 shouldn’t give Andy Dalton night sweats… yet.

Cleveland Browns
All eyes are fixed squarely on ‘Johnny Football’ and with good reason, but to sing his praises for the next three months would be to ignore an excellent draft by the Browns.

Only time will tell whether Johnny Manziel will beat out both Brian Hoyer and Tyler Thigpen for the starting spot, and even then, throwing him to a re-energised Steelers defence in Week 1 may not bode well for the talented thrower.

Elsewhere, Cleveland picked up Justin Gilbert, the second of the three consensus premier corners in the draft (two of whom landed inside the division), and promising forth-rounder Pierre Desir. The tandem should bolster a secondary still reeling from the loss of TJ Ward, leaving wide receiver as the only hole that needs patching – pending Josh Gordon’s possible year-long suspension for wacky tobacco.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Freakishly athletic linebacker Ryan Shazier should fit right in with a defensive front suddenly boasting youth, size and potential. Second rounder, defensive tackle Stephen Tuitt, provides excellent value – hmm, starting to sound more like Baltimore’s strategy? – while Big Ben may have finally gotten his wish for a big-bodied receiver in Clemson’s Martavis Bryant.

The Steelers will be hoping pint-sized firecracker Dri Archer will act as a newer, better Chris Rainey – minus, you know, the whole domestic violence thing.

Monstrous defensive end Daniel McCullers may see time at nose tackle in an attempt to swallow up bodies, giving fringe rushers like Shazier and Jones ample time to devour guys like Manziel for Sunday lunch.

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