For both this week and the next, we'll be here and over at Epic Carnival reviewing the divisional draft classes. Today, OPTIMIST/PESSIMIST takes a look at the AFC North.
The Ravens pulled the jack move of the draft when they convinced Jacksonville to give up three additional picks in order to trade up to the 8th spot on the board, and in doing so managed to inject a lot of much needed youth into their roster. While many thought that he would stay on the board into the second round, the Ravens made the prudent need based call by picking up QB Joe Flacco at 18. Even more important is the team’s decision to pick up RB Ray Rice in the second round. Rice, though undersized, shows toughness between the tackles, yet has the speed to elude defenders around the edges. Essentially, he’s a younger, smaller version of current RB Willis McGahee, and adding him to the mix should allow the team to keep a fresh set of legs in the backfield, daring defenses to keep up with a rush game that won’t slow down. Throw in athletic talents Tavares Gooden and Tom Zbikowski, who will have the chance to learn from experts at their positions, and it’s hard not to be happy with the Ravens’ haul.
I’m a Troy Smith fan, so I’m a little biased, but blaming the quarterbacks for the Ravens’ struggles last year is like blaming the waiter when your food sucks; they didn’t have anything to do with putting that unpalatable mess together. So while it’s hard to be angry at the team for taking physical freak Joe Flacco in the first round, you have to wonder whether or not the decision to pass on any of the elite receiving prospects was a good move by a team with the least exciting receiving corps in the league. You don’t go from mediocre to great by forcing an FCS quarterback to be immediately pro ready and throw to the boy band “Todd Heap plus three.”
Any time the Bengals come out of the first round with a linebacker that Marvin Lewis can coach without a tazer, they have to be happy. Besides being a character player, however, LB Keith Rivers is the most polished prospect at his position, and has the physical gifts to become a special player in the middle of the field. The same can be said about Pat Sims, who could turn out to be a second day steal for a squad in desperate need of tacklers. The team made an equally smart decision in stocking up on wide receivers, taking three athletic pass catchers, in order to insure themselves against the possibility of a Chad Johnson holdout.
It may seem harsh to criticize a team for what happened to draft picks they didn’t have, but here’s what I have to say about the Bengals: If they haven’t traded Chad yet, they’d better not trade him at all. After passing on two first rounders from Washington, and a first rounder plus a Pro Bowl corner from Philly, it doesn’t seem likely that the Bengals will get a better offer for Ocho Cinco. On a team with as many glaring defensive holes, a quarterback who might have the arm to make any physically gifted receiver a star, and a ground game full of question marks, I’m not sure the first priority should be sending a message to NFL players that they can’t dictate the decisions of their teams. The Cincinnati Bengals as the moral compass of then NFL…sometimes I say things that are silly…
Well, they certainly didn’t make any mistakes on the first day, but that’s not hard to do when you have absolutely no picks on day one. Still, it’s hard to be angry at a team for going out of their way to fill the most obvious hole on their team, which is exactly what the Browns did by converting their remaining first day pick (as well as a third rounder) into two big bodies on the defensive line. If they can keep Shaun Rogers focused, Cleveland may have jump started their defensive overhaul.
So you’ve used your first three picks in a draft flush with defenders to obtain a quarterback that won’t play, a tackle that won’t stop eating, and another tackle who takes plays off…yep, we’re all set for a return to normalcy in Cleveland in a couple of years!
I’m not a big fan of the “value” concept, but the Steelers first day was such a steal that you can’t help but think they made the right calls going for offensive skill positions in the first two rounds. Rashard Mendenhall makes a great complement to the speed of Willie Parker, and should be a much better change-of-pace back than Najeh Davenport. Furthermore, filling Big Ben’s “tall receiver” request with Limas Sweed in the second round could give this team the most dynamic offensive unit in the league.
Quick question: Which one of the Steelers’ draft picks knows first aid? If the team is going to take an offensive line that was pretty much a screen door to the Steelers backfield, drop the only lineman that seemed interested in not watching Big Ben’s insides get turned to paste, and then fail to pick up a single worthwhile blocker, they should at least have someone who will be able to help with Roethlisberger’s inevitable internal bleeding. But hey, at least when he gets hurt, we’ll all get to watch Dennis Dixon’s surgically repaired knee get ripped off of his body by opposing pass rushers, so we won’t be too worried about Ben for that long.