Thursday night was an active one for the AFC North, which added five new members to its fraternity via the five selections made in the first round by the four teams within the division.
While the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs and every team won at least seven games a year ago, the only playoff victory came against a fellow division opponent. Certainly every team in the division has its share of warts.
Each team followed a different path during the offseason leading up to the draft, but as they say, all roads lead to Rome, or in this case, Chicago, Illinois, where the 2015 NFL Draft was held. No matter how they got there, all four teams in the AFC North helped better themselves in the first round on Thursday, so let’s recap how the day went down for each team.
Selection(s): 12th, 19th
The Browns came into the draft with some obvious needs, with many of them receiving patchwork repair jobs via free agency. I’m thinking in particular about wide receiver and tight end. But their run defense was a major issue last season, and they made the right decision in taking nose tackle Danny Shelton when he was available with the 12th overall draft pick.
Cleveland has faced some turnover along the defensive line since last season, and Shelton figures to be a plug and play starter. He also has the added benefit of bringing a bit of a pass rush for a nose tackle. He may quickly become the biggest headache in the division for opposing centers.
The Browns stuck with the trenched with the 19th overall pick as they looked to improve their offensive line, taking Cameron Erving in a bit to hedge their bets against future calamity. Erving has the ability to play center, guard, and tackle. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is in the final year of his contract, while center Alex Mack has an opt-out clause in his contract after the year. In the meantime, he figures to be inserted into the starting lineup at guard.
The Bengals, like the Browns, chose to improve in the trenches, as they added offensive tackle Cedric Obguehi with the 21st overall pick. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is 34, and right tackle Andre Smith is in the final year of his contract. One of these two spots figures to be available soon. Whitworth can also kick inside and play at a high level.
With the Steelers’ two biggest needs being at outside linebacker and cornerback, it figured to come down to one or the other. But with the top choices at cornerback coming off the board in the late teens, it was pass rusher Bud Dupree who slid and became available for Pittsburgh at a position of great need. While unpolished, he has tremendous upside at a critical and needed position.
Nobody had a rougher offseason than the Ravens, whose financial binds forced them to lose out on a lot of their talent that helped them get to and win a postseason game. One of those losses was wide receiver Torrey Smith. Despite protestations that they were happy with their wide receivers, the Ravens replaced Smith with Breshad Perriman, who is a very talented receiver who can mimic Smith’s role as a deep threat and more—provided that he works on his drops.