Steelers, Ravens Represent AFC North With Best Picks In Two First-Round Draft Slots Per PFF

T.J. Watt celebrates

To remain the class of the AFC North for the last decade plus, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have had to hit on a number of draft picks more often than not.

That isn’t shocking, I know, but the two franchises quietly go about their business ahead of each draft, grab players they like that fit their scheme (public opinion be damned), develop them at a high level, and reap the rewards in the win column.

The fact that both franchises can do that consistently while picking later on in the first round each season is quite remarkable.

Pro Football Focus seems to agree, tabbing the recent selections of outside linebacker T.J. Watt and quarterback Lamar Jackson as the best No. 30 and No. 32 overall selections in the first round dating back to 2006.

The 2017 selection of Watt at No. 30 overall doesn’t have much competition for the best since 2006, with names like Joseph Addai, Kenny Britt, Muhammed Wilkerson, Alec Ogletree, Jimmie Ward and Damarius Randall as his direct competition in that draft slot. Watt is currently on a Hall of Fame trajectory, which is much more than any of those names can attest to, which makes Watt the easiest selection for best draft pick at No. 30 overall in the PFF era.

While Watt isn’t quite on his brother’s career path, he’s not too far off. His 163 pressures over the past two seasons are the third-most of any player in the NFL, PFF’s Mike Renner writes. 

As for Jackson at No. 32 overall, he already has an NFL MVP to his name, has led the Ravens to the playoffs every year he’s been a starter, and has seemingly changed the position for the better with his rushing and passing abilities, posting impressive QB ratings and QBRs in back to back seasons.

At No. 32 overall, Jackson’s competition in the PFF era includes Saints’ right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, journeyman QB Teddy Bridgewater, former Giants pass rusher Mathias Kiwanuka, and veteran defensive back Patrick Robinson, to name a few.

“Jackson took the league by storm en route to an MVP campaign in 2019. While he took a step back as a passer in 2020, he is still the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Vick as a runner at the position in the modern NFL,” Renner writes. 

Watt and Jackson have surely changed the trajectory for both franchises in the few seasons since joining the NFL, providing the Steelers and Ravens with key building blocks on either side of the ball, ultimately matching up with each other twice a year with the division crown on the line.

Watt and the Steelers’ defense has had Jackson’s number though in career matchups, holding Jackson to below a 60% completion percentage, 381 passing yards, a 3 TD/5 INT split, nine sacks and five fumbles while splitting the four matchups.

Aside from Watt and Jackson representing the AFC North for the Steelers and Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns — despite consistently picking in the upper echelon of the first round year after year since 2006, do not appear at all on the best-of draft slot. That could be why the Browns are just now coming around to relevance after years of futility, and the Bengals seemingly couldn’t get over the hump during their run of strong play.

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