NFL Draft: AFC North 2018 first round redo

With hindsight in our corner, we take a look at the 2018 first-round selections of the AFC North, including what worked and what could have been done differently.

It is difficult to assign a grade to a team’s entire draft class after just one season. However, you can get a sense of what worked and what didn’t with the first rounders. With the 2018 season in the books and the NFL Draft approaching, let’s take a look back at each team’s first round selection and how they have worked out so far.

Baltimore Ravens

Selections: Tight end Hayden Hurst (25), Quarterback Lamar Jackson (32)

Longtime Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome went out in style. The Ravens held the sixteenth pick in the first round, but Newsome traded down twice. First, he sent the Ravens’ first and fifth-rounders to Buffalo for the 22nd overall and the first pick in the third round. Next, he traded the 22nd pick and a sixth-round pick to Tennessee for the 25th pick and a fourth-rounder. Finally landing at the 25th pick, the team selected a receiving TE in Hurst.

Hurst’s season was basically wiped out due to a stress fracture in his foot suffered in August. He missed the first four games and never got going when he returned. In 12 games he brought in just 13 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. What was perhaps more painful than the foot injury was watching third-round TE Mark Andrews haul in 34 receptions for 552 yards and three TDs. Andrews led all rookie TEs in receiving yards.

In typical Ozzie fashion, the team wasn’t done. With dynamic QB Lamar Jackson still available at the end of the first round, the Ravens traded back into the first round to get their QB of the future. They sent their 2018 second and fourth-round picks and a 2019 second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 32nd overall and a fourth-round pick.

What they should have done:

The Ravens should have added help at the wide receiver position. Trading up for Jackson was a savvy move on Newsome’s part. When you break down the deal, they essentially gave up a 2019 second-rounder to move up and get a game-changing QB. Jackson will force defenses to play to the Ravens offense, rather than the other way around. His legs are the strongest part of his game right now, but if he finds a rhythm as a passer, the Ravens offense could be deadly. When is the last time anyone has made that kind of statement about the Ravens offense?

There were other players available at twenty-five that would have better served the Ravens in place of Hurst. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley was taken with the very next pick by the Atlanta Falcons. He finished with 64 receptions for 821 yards and 10 TDs. That tops all Ravens in every receiving statistical category. With a rushing QB like Jackson, a deep threat like Ridley would keep safeties out of the box much better than Hurst ever will. In hindsight, Ridley should have been the pick for the Ravens at twenty-five, especially when considering the redundant Andrews pick in the third round.

Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Steelers

Selection: Safety Terrell Edmunds (28)

Given the franchise’s success through the years, they know how to find talent late in the first round. 2018 was no different. Edmunds started 15 games, finished second on the team in tackles with 78 and had a sack, interception and fumble recovery. He was awarded the Joe Green Great Performance Award, given to the team’s top rookie, as voted by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. Edmunds looks to be locked in as the team’s starting strong safety through 2023.

What they should have done:

Exactly what they did. Cornerback seems like a never-ending need for the team, and Mike Hughes was still on the board when the Steelers made their selection. With former first-rounder Artie Burns just two years into his career, the Steelers wanted to give him one more season to prove himself before moving on. The team is now doing so, signing free agent CB Steven Nelson. There are also in a good position to get a CB early in the 2019 draft. Edmunds was the right pick, and it’s paid off already.

Grade: A

Cleveland Browns

Selections: Quarterback Baker Mayfield (1), Cornerback Denzel Ward (4)

Everyone knew the Browns would take a QB in round one heading into the draft, the question was when? The Mayfield pick came as a surprise to many, but it has panned out just the way they drew it up. Mayfield has been a key cog in their phenomenal franchise turnaround. Ward was equally a surprise as most expected the Browns to take pass rusher Bradley Chubb with the fourth pick.

Chubb had a better rookie season (going one pick later to Denver), starting all 16 games and racking up 12 sacks. Ward, however, filled a major need at the position and had a pretty good rookie campaign himself. He started 12 games (missing three games due to concussions) with 3 interceptions, 11 passes defended and 53 total tackles. Ward was also rated as the top-rated AFC North CB by Pro Football Focus:

What they should have done:

Exactly what they did. Mayfield brought a brash winning attitude the team desperately needed. To understand the Ward pick, you must examine how he played masterfully into their grand plan. The Browns invested the 1st overall pick in the 2017 draft on defensive end Myles Garrett, so it didn’t make a ton of sense to do it again a year later.

They also drafted guard Austin Corbett in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft. His rapid development led to the team feeling comfortable trading starting OG Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants for DE Oliver Vernon. The move provides a complementary piece to Garrett on the other side of the defensive line. All things considered, both picks have worked out great for the most talked about team in the AFC North.

Grade: A

Cincinnati Bengals

Selection: Center Billy Price (21)

The Bengals desperately needed a starting center heading into 2018. The team finally moved on from human sieve Russell Bodine and chose to use the draft rather than a free agent to find his replacement. Price was a solid prospect but was coming off a serious torn pectoral muscle. He had an up and down rookie season in ten starts. Price recovered from the torn pec to begin the season as the Bengals starting center but injured his foot in week two. He returned in time to potentially end QB Andy Dalton’s season, taking the blame for his season-ending injury:

What they should have done:

Traded down. The Bengals missed an opportunity to trade down and pick up extra draft capital and still get a starting center, perhaps even Price, given the medical concerns. It was the right pick and Price looks like he’ll go on to have a solid-if-not-spectacular career, but it shows the antiquated nature of a front office unwilling to make draft day moves that could benefit the team.

Grade: B

Report Card

It was a great first round for the entire division in the 2018 NFL Draft with all A’s and B’s on the scorecard. The Browns and Steelers are at the head of the class while the Ravens and Bengals still have some studying to do. The AFC North appears to be a two-man race between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, with Baltimore in a transition year and Cincinnati starting over with a new head coach.

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