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Saturday, April 30, 2011
AFC North draft analysis

By James Walker

NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The 2011 NFL draft has reached its conclusion, and this is the time of year when every coach and general manager feels great about their selections.

The AFC North is annually one of the toughest divisions in football, with two powerhouse teams in the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are trying to close the gap by acquiring good talent in this draft.

With that in mind, here is a look at the draft decisions made within the division:

BEST MOVE

The biggest draft trade this week was made by the Browns, who gained five draft picks from the Atlanta Falcons for the No. 6 overall pick. The trade eliminated the chance the Browns would make a huge splash in the first round but sets the team up well to add talent gradually to a thin roster.

Atlanta took Alabama receiver Julio Jones with the sixth pick, while the Browns added Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor in the first round after a trade back up to No. 21 with the Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland also drafted North Carolina receiver Greg Little with Atlanta's second-round pick and Stanford fullback Owen Marecic with the Falcons' fourth-round pick.

Next year Cleveland will have two additional picks from the Falcons -- including their first-rounder -- and nine draft picks total. That should help the Browns continue to build a solid foundation.

"Because of how the draft fell, we did absolutely the right thing," Browns president Mike Holmgren said of the trade.

Ironically, the Falcons made a similar offer to the Bengals, who passed because they didn't believe equal value was there at No. 4. So the Bengals took Georgia receiver A.J. Green, and Cleveland was more than happy to trade with Atlanta at No. 6.

RISKIEST MOVE

Jimmy Smith
The Ravens decided to take a risk on Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round.
The Ravens went all in with a player many teams refused to touch.

Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, one of the most talented players in the draft, was taken by Baltimore with the No. 27 overall pick. Smith has a lengthy track record of off-the-field issues, which reportedly include three failed drug tests, two alcohol-related violations and an arrest for third-degree assault.

But the Ravens went through a lengthy research and interview process with Smith to dig into his background and personality. They felt comfortable with the selection.

"Every pick, there is some bit of a gamble in it," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But we trust our process. We trust the people that got the opportunity to spend time with him, and there was a number of people that had that opportunity to spend some time with him."

There is no questioning Smith's ability. Baltimore's pass defense has been inconsistent the past few seasons, and the team believes Smith has the potential to be a shutdown corner.

Some around the league have compared Smith to Nnamdi Asomugha in terms of pure talent. That is very high praise. But the Ravens have to make sure they keep Smith on the field to reach his potential.

"This guy, he's a special player," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "He's exactly the type of corner that we're looking for. He fits our defense just the way we need him to fit our defense."

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

The most surprising move in the AFC North could be considered a non-move early in the draft by the Steelers. The team didn't address its biggest need -- cornerback -- until the middle rounds.

The Steelers are known for drafting developmental players at that position. But because the Steelers were so thin there this year, they were expected to go against that trend and get one of the top prospects in the first two rounds.

Instead, the Steelers stayed true to form by drafting Texas corner Curtis Brown in the third round and Cortez Allen from the Citadel in the fourth round. Perhaps these players can make an immediate impact, but it's rare that third- and fourth-round picks become starting corners for a playoff team as rookies.

No. 1 corner Ike Taylor and top reserve William Gay are both free agents, and there's no guarantee either player will return. The Green Bay Packers' passing game torched the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Pittsburgh didn't do enough in the draft to ease those concerns.

FILE IT AWAY

Second-round pick Andy Dalton became the ninth quarterback the Cincinnati Bengals have drafted in the past 20 years. Cincinnati has very high hopes for Dalton, but its track record hasn't been good.

Since 1991, the Bengals have had a series of misses that include David Klingler, Akili Smith and Donald Hollas. The one hit was Carson Palmer, which wasn't difficult to scout because he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2003. Some would even argue that Palmer was a bust -- at least relative to the expectations that came with his lofty draft status.

Because Palmer is expected to be traded or retire, the Bengals hope Dalton can buck their trend of quarterback misses and develop into a quality starter.