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AFC North Rookie Ceiling Grades

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NFL Scouting


The 2017 NFL rookie class is now complete.  Both the draft and undrafted free agency are over.  Join me as we look at the AFC North rookie classes through the lens of analytics.  While you may not believe in the numbers, I have explained why they are important to me here.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Nominees

Arizona CardinalsDT Calais Campbell
Atlanta FalconsFB Patrick DiMarco
Baltimore RavensG Marshall Yanda
Buffalo BillsDT Kyle Williams
Carolina PanthersTE Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsLB Sam Ancho
Cincinnati BengalsWR A.J. Green
Cleveland BrownsT Joe Thomas
Dallas CowboysCB Brandon Carr
Denver BroncosLB DeMarcus Ware
Detroit LionsS Glover Quinn
Green Bay PackersLB Julius Peppers
Houston TexansLB Brian Cushing
Indianapolis ColtsRB Frank Gore
Jacksonville JaguarsLB Paul Posluszny
Kansas City ChiefsLB Derrick Johnson
Los Angeles RamsDE Robert Quinn
Miami DolphinsT Branden Albert
Minnesota VikingsCB Terrance Newman
New England PatriotsS Devin McCourty
New Orleans SaintsT Zach Strief
New York GiantsWR Victor Cruz
New York JetsWR Brandon Marshall
Oakland RaidersQB Derek Carr
Philadelphia EaglesRB Darren Sproles
Pittsburgh SteelersLB Arthur Moats
San Diego ChargersQB Phillip RIvers
San Francisco 49ersT Joe Staley
Seattle SeahawksWR Tyler Lockett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersDT Gerald McCoy
Tennessee TitansQB Marcus Mariota
Washington RedskinsQB Kirk Cousins

With a grade of 4.34, the Baltimore Ravens had the weakest draft class in the AFC North.  While this might sound bad, the Ravens actually did very well.  Drafting five players with starting potential in any draft class is great, but when two of them grade out significantly above 5.00, my eyes open up a bit wider. Offensive guard Nico Siragusa and defensive tackle Chris Wormley both graded out as potentially very good starters. Despite not grading out as high, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and linebacker Tyus Bowser look to be great picks.  Both players are instant upgrades at their respective positions and look good for the future.

On top of their solid draft, the Ravens brought in the best UDFA class in the division with an overall grade of 3.47.  Their top two undrafted rookies were offensive guard Pat Ricard from Maine and wide receiver CJ Board from Chattanooga.   Ricard’s 5.24 makes him one of the best UDFA’s available post-draft and Board can become a solid contributor with his 4.09.

Cincinnati Bengals

Aaron Rodgers Since Week 7

IntQB RatingQBR
(317.3 pg)

The Cincinnati Bengals had the next lowest draft class grade in the division.  They still walked away with three potentially very good starters.  In Joe Mixon, they get a true three-down running back.  Edge rusher Jordan Willis is a great boost to their pass rush and linebacker Jordan Evans can be a good coverage specialist on third down.  They also got three starters with high ceiling as role players in Glasgow, Ross, and Malone.  Carl Lawson, while not as athletic as other guys in this edge class, has a high motor and high floor.

Note: I excluded JJ Dielman from the final class grade because he did not test.

The Bengals undrafted free agent class is rather weak.  They picked up zero players who graded above a 4.00 in my system.  The only player of note is fullback Darrin Lafausa from Texas – El Paso.  It seems like Lafausa (3.78) might make the roster, as he is the only fullback currently on the team.  He is, however, undersized and not strong enough to be a traditional NFL fullback.

Cleveland Browns

Arizona CardinalsLarry Fitzgerald
Atlanta FalconsMatt Ryan
Baltimore RavensSteve Smith Sr.
Buffalo BillsEric Wood
Carolina PanthersGreg Olsen
Chicago BearsSam Acho
Cincinnati BengalsAndy Dalton
Cleveland BrownsJoe Thomas
Dallas CowboysSean Lee
Denver BroncosVirgil Green
Detroit LionsDon Carey
Green Bay PackersJayrone Elliott
Houston TexansBrian Cushing
Indianapolis ColtsJoe Reitz
Jacksonville JaguarsJulius Thomas
Kansas City ChiefsAlex Smith
Los Angeles RamsJohnny Hekker
Miami DolphinsMike Pouncey
Minnesota VikingsChad Greenway
New England PatriotsRob Gronkowski
New Orleans SaintsRoman Harper
New York GiantsEli Manning
New York JetsBrandon Marshall
Oakland RaidersDan Williams
Philadelphia EaglesJon Dorenbos
Pittsburgh SteelersArthur Moats
San Diego ChargersJeremiah Attaochu
San Francisco 49ersTorrey Smith
Seattle SeahawksCliff Avril
Tampa Bay BucaneersVincent Jackson
Tennessee TitansJurrell Casey
Washington RedskinsPierre Garçon

The Cleveland Browns, like the aforementioned Bengals, got three players who graded above a 5.00 in my system.   Interestingly enough, those three players were their three first round picks.  Myles Garrett graded at a 5.81 despite me inserting average agility numbers for his athletic profile.  Garrett may have surpassed 6.00 had he tested.  Peppers and Njoku are both going to be very good at their respective positions.  The other two players who graded out highly for me were quarterback Deshone Kizer and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi.  Both can be starting-caliber NFL players.

The Browns took waivers on a significant number of UDFAs.  As a result, they had a very good class with an overall grade of 3.26.  In addition to their great draft class, the Browns added 4 UDFAs who graded at or around 4.00 in my system. Linebacker BJ Bello (4.68) was the best of the bunch and safety Kai Nacua (4.37) is someone Cleveland can be excited about.  Offensive guard Josh Boutte (3.96) from LSU is a mauler and could provide depth on one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.  Cornerback Najee Murray from Kent State has the measurables of an NFL slot cornerback.

Pittsburgh Steelers

 Win/LossPass YardsPass TDINT4th Quarter
Aaron Rodgers87-4535,599288711014
Brett Favre85-4732,6732451471317

The Pittsburgh Steelers blew the draft away with four very high ceiling players.  T.J. Watt, their first round pick, graded out as a very good starter along with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Josh Dobbs.  Perhaps their most interesting pick was 5th round cornerback Brian Allen.  Grading out at 5.88, Allen has elite size and explosion.  His 34″ arms are enormous for the position and he also had very good agility numbers.  Allen is a high-ceiling low-floor prospect with the potential to be a very good NFL starter.

The Steelers UDFA class was the weakest of the bunch.  Only Georgia Tech defensive end Francis Kallon looks to have any real potential in the NFL and even he looks to be a backup.  Nick Schuessler from Clemson was an interesting pickup.  Schuessler has a small frame and no starting experience so I’m wondering who the Steelers were doing a favor by signing him.

Overall, the AFC North looks to be very interesting.  The rookie classes of all four teams look to have quite a few high ceiling players.  It will be intriguing to watch this year’s camp battles.