AFC North: Johnathan Cyprien

The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals had the most successful drafts in the NFL. This isn't me saying it. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave three teams an 'A', and two of them were last season's playoff teams from this division. Take a bow, Ravens and Bengals.

You'll need a subscription to read all about Kiper's 2013 draft grades Insider, but I'll give you a portion of what Kiper had to say about the Ravens, Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, along with my take on each one:


Kiper Jr.'s grade: A-minus

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "The Ravens had another excellent draft because they needed starters at some key spots and pulled it off. That's not easy to do when you're slotted in at No. 32."

Jamison Hensley's take: What stands out about the Ravens' draft is they might have found three immediate starters despite selecting at the bottom of the round for two of them. The player I like the most is Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown. The Ravens aggressively traded up for him, and he should supplant Rolando McClain. Matt Elam should replace James Ihedigbo at safety, although his size is a concern. Missouri Southern State's Brandon Williams has a chance to beat out underachieving Terrence Cody at nose tackle. I would give the Ravens a grade slightly lower, because they were unable to address wide receiver and offensive tackle earlier. By just a few picks, Baltimore saw West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey get taken before them in the third round and watched Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton go in the fourth. Excellent draft for defense, a below-average one on offense.


Kiper Jr.'s grade: A-minus

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "The Bengals somehow didn't address a pretty big need early (and they don't have many) and still really impressed me. The Bengals seem to be a groove with the draft, the only downside being the picks that came via the Carson Palmer deal are now spent. It was fun while it lasted."

Hensley's take: The Bengals raised expectations because of productive drafts the past couple of years, and they might have surpassed them with this group of players. Using the 21st overall pick on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, a player some draft experts had going as high as No. 6, is one of the best values in the first round even though this position wasn't a need for Cincinnati. It's true North Carolina's Giovani Bernard wasn't the top-rated running back of this draft, but his ability to break big plays and catch the ball is exactly what the Bengals coveted. Plus, it's a bonus pick from the Palmer trade. Southern Methodist defensive end Margus Hunt, an athletic freak, intrigues me more than any other pick in this division. The biggest knock is the Bengals didn't address their biggest need (safety) until the third round. Georgia's Shawn Williams isn't on the same level as an Elam or Johnathan Cyprien, both of whom were available in the first round, but he'll get a chance to start.


Kiper Jr.'s grade: B

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "The Steelers got a little bit of their bite back. I love the selection of Jarvis Jones in Round 1. I just thought Le'Veon Bell was a bit of a reach. I'll say this for him, however: Bell played behind some pretty awful blocking last year and still managed to be productive."

Hensley's take: If you read my post-draft analysis, you already know that I think taking Jones was the best move when looking at the drafts for every AFC North team. The Steelers needed a pass-rusher after cutting James Harrison, and they got the best one coming out of college this year at No. 17. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the pick I'm most skeptical about is the Michigan State running back Bell. He's a finesse back who could turn out to be another Rashard Mendenhall in terms of running style. I'm not enamored by Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton or Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne, but it's hard to criticize given the Steelers' history with wide receivers in the third round and cornerbacks in the middle of the draft. The second-best player in Pittsburgh's draft class could turn out to be Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas, a fourth-round selection.


Kiper Jr.'s grade: C-plus

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "I don't know if it's a good thing, per se, but the guy who will impact the Browns most in 2013 might not be the player they took at No. 6 overall. The hope is (LSU linebacker Barkevious) Mingo becomes a star, and (San Diego State cornerback Leon) McFadden can perform early. The good news is, both could happen."

Hensley's take: When looking at the players the Browns drafted over these three days, I would give the Browns a C-minus. When you look at the big picture, the Browns deserve a solid B. I like the fact that the Browns took a pass-rusher with the upside of Mingo in the first round over Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. I like how the Browns traded two picks in the middle rounds of this mediocre draft for higher ones next year. And, even though it was a move made by the old regime, I like the decision to draft wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of last year's supplemental draft even more when looking at the wide receivers that were available in the second round Friday night. You also have to add veteran wide receiver Davone Bess to this class after the Browns picked him up for basically nothing during this draft. My biggest criticism, and I brought it up in the post-draft analysis, was failing to sign a veteran cornerback in free agency. That would have strengthened the reason to pass on Milliner in the first round and would have taken pressure off McFadden, the 11th cornerback taken in the draft, to start right away.
The AFC North blog is wrapping up team draft needs with safety, the one position that is a need for every team in the division. There are scenarios in which the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers take one as early as the first round.

Mel Kiper Jr's top five safeties in this draft class are: Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, Florida International's John Cyprien, Florida's Matt Elam, Syracuse's Shamarko Thomas and Georgia Southern's J.J. Wilcox.

Here are the rankings (the greater the need, the higher the ranking):

1. Cincinnati Bengals: Considering the handful of good safeties in this draft, it would be a disappointment if the Bengals failed to land a starter with three picks in the first two rounds. There's no excuse to rely on Chris Crocker, Taylor Mays or Jeromy Miles. The Bengals had a private workout Monday with Cyprien, who could be one of the top options for Cincinnati at No. 21.

2. Cleveland Browns: The Browns released Usama Young, last year's starting free safety, earlier this month. Tashaun Gipson and Eric Hagg would compete for the spot if the Browns don't address it in the draft. In other words, the Browns would like to address safety in the draft. The problem is, the Browns have just one of the first 67 picks in the draft and they have multiple needs. Even though it's a need, Cleveland might not be able to land a starter in this draft.

3. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens parted ways with both starting safeties from the Super Bowl. Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans in free agency, and Bernard Pollard signed with the Tennessee Titans after being cut. The Ravens addressed one starting spot by signing Michael Huff and added a stopgap by keeping James Ihedigbo. But Baltimore would prefer to upgrade from Ihedigbo, a one-year starter for the Patriots who started three games for the Ravens last season. The Ravens have been linked to the likes of Elam, Cyprien and LSU's Eric Reid.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are likely the only team who will start the same two safeties from a year ago. But that doesn't mean the Steelers will ignore the safety position in the draft. Troy Polamalu, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, is 32 and has only played one full season in the past four years. Ryan Clark turns 34 during the season and is entering the final year of his contract. Plus, the Steelers lost their two top backups, Will Allen and Ryan Mundy, in free agency. The Steelers will have to consider Vaccaro if he somehow falls to them at No. 17.
The Cincinnati Bengals are probably hoping either Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro or Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker falls to them at No. 21.

The chances of that happening are not great, especially with Vaccaro. So it didn't come as a surprise that the St. Louis Rams selected Vaccaro at No. 16 and the Dallas Cowboys took Fluker at No. 18 in our #bloggermock.

The biggest needs for the Bengals are at strong safety and right tackle (only if Cincinnati fails to re-sign Andre Smith before the draft). With Vaccaro and Fluker gone, my decision was to go with either the second-best safety (either Florida International's John Cyprien or Florida's Matt Elam), a top-five safety (Bengals like Houston's D.J. Hayden, I hear) or the fifth-best offensive tackle (Florida State's Menelik Watson).

I would be lying if I said the Bengals' private workout with Cyprien on Monday didn't factor into my decision. He's everything you want from a strong safety: athletic, physical and powerful. The Bengals will have to work on his instincts, but he'd be a great pairing with Reggie Nelson.

Next pick for the AFC North blog is the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 32 and last pick of the first round.
The Cincinnati Bengals need a starter at strong safety, and there's a good chance that they will take one early with three of the first 53 picks in the draft. One prospect who is apparently on their radar is Johnathan Cyprien.

Considered one of the top three safeties in the draft, Cyprien is having a private workout Monday at Florida International with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Bengals were unable to find a safety to pair with Reggie Nelson last season and ended up re-signing Chris Crocker.

Texas' Kenny Vaccaro is generally rated as the top safety in this class, but he isn't expected to last past the Rams (No. 16) or Cowboys (No. 18). At No. 21, the Bengals could have their choice of Cyprien or Florida's Matt Elam.

Cincinnati also has two picks in the second round, 37th and 53rd overall.