AFC North draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
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The AFC North continued its momentum from last season, when it was the only division to send three teams to the playoffs. Each team made significant upgrades by sticking to a plan. Of course, some executed better than others.

The Cleveland Browns used their first three picks on an offense that ranked 30th in scoring last season. The Cincinnati Bengals took three defensive players in the first three rounds. The Baltimore Ravens addressed their two biggest needs by using three of their first four picks on outside linebacker and offensive line. And the Steelers grabbed two starters on the offensive line with their first two picks.

Let's break down the draft decisions made within the division over the past three days:

BEST MOVE

Few teams manipulate the draft like the Baltimore Ravens. You have to applaud how the Ravens got a first-round talent in Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw when they were the only team in division not to draft in the first round. It wasn't just the best move in the AFC North. It was among the biggest steals of the draft.

Baltimore traded the 29th overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings for an additional pick in the fourth round (which was used on Delaware's Gino Gradkowski, their center of the future) and still got its targeted player -- Upshaw -- despite dropping back six spots.

Upshaw was once considered a top-10 pick, but he slid down draft boards after struggling at the Senior Bowl and sitting out NFL combine drills because of tendinitis in his knee. His high motor and bulldog mentality make him a perfect fit in Baltimore's traditionally tough defense.

"When you talk about Courtney, there still is a game we call football and Courtney is a football player," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I'm sure if you would have asked us back in October, November if Courtney would make it to the third pick in the second round, everybody would have said, 'Probably not.' "

Upshaw's impact will be felt in two areas. He should take over the thankless job of setting the edge against the run that has long been handled by Jarret Johnson, who signed with San Diego in free agency. In passing situations, Upshaw will team with Terrell Suggs to give the Ravens their best edge rushers since they had Suggs and Peter Boulware.

RISKIEST MOVE

The Browns removed all the risk early in the first round, when they traded three picks to guarantee they would get running back Trent Richardson. Then, Cleveland turned around and took a major gamble later in the first round, selecting Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick.

This isn't the riskiest move that the Browns could have made at quarterback in this draft. Cleveland did pass on Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill in the top five. But taking a 28-year-old rookie quarterback ignited a lot of second-guessing. Cleveland had the chance to take Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff or Stanford guard David DeCastro at No. 22, or could have traded back into the second round to get Weeden. He has the physical tools and maturity to become a starter in the NFL. But taking him that high in the draft was a reach.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBrandon Weeden would already be the second-oldest starter in the AFC North.
The one certainty is that Weeden upgrades the Browns' quarterback position. He has a much stronger arm than Colt McCoy and is far more accurate. But there's more pressure when you take a quarterback in the first round, and the clock is already ticking considering Weeden would already be the second-oldest starter in the division.

Cleveland played it safe for the rest of the draft, taking three players who were four-year starters (offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, linebacker James-Michael Johnson and guard Ryan Miller).

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

It was no surprise that the Steelers had the best draft in the AFC North. There was one move, however, that inspired a double take -- drafting Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round.

The Steelers don't usually take players with character issues and have little patience with behavioral problems on the team (see: Santonio Holmes). General manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged that Adams was off Pittsburgh's board after he failed a drug test at the NFL combine and the reportedly lied to the team. The Steelers only considered him again after Adams met some stipulations, which included counseling.

Although Adams has the look of a prototypical left tackle, his issues caused him to slip to the 56th overall pick. He is the biggest question mark in a strong draft for the Steelers. Pittsburgh landed the best guard in the draft (David DeCastro), a future starting nose tackle (Alameda Ta'Amu) and an electric playmaking running back (Chris Rainey). Perhaps that's the reason why the Steelers thought they could take such a chance on Adams.

FILE IT AWAY

The only position of need the Cincinnati Bengals ignored in free agency was wide receiver. And the Bengals passed on taking a wide receiver early despite three picks in the first two rounds.

Cincinnati let two of its top three receivers leave in free agency (Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell). Now that the draft is over, it still has not answered the question of who will be its No. 2 wide receiver. It's uncertain whether the two wide receivers drafted by the Bengals -- Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu in the third round and California's Marvin Jones in the fifth round -- will contribute immediately. Sanu is more known for being the player that got a prank call about getting picked by the Bengals in the first round before getting drafted by Cincinnati a day later.

The Bengals had been linked to Baylor's Kendall Wright and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill, but they chose cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round instead. Cincinnati has one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL in A.J. Green and a productive tight end in Jermaine Gresham. At this point, even Andy Dalton has to wonder who the third option in the passing game will be.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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