The AFC North is one of the most intriguing divisions in football and this year’s NFL Draft did nothing to dampen that theory. All four teams drafted at least one impact defensive player. Cleveland may have drafted a whole gaggle of them.
Let’s examine the winners and losers on the defensive side of the AFC North.
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Winners — Eric Weddle, S. Baltimore didn’t draft a safety this season. Weddle is no spring chicken, but there isn’t much behind him on the roster. A younger body might have provided some depth and perhaps pushed Weddle as starter. Weddle is firmly entrenched as the starting SS.
Losers — Terrell Suggs, OLB. Let’s be honest. T-Sizzle ain’t getting any younger. You know it. He knows it. The Ravens know it and they did something about it. Baltimore selected Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams in the second and third rounds respectively. Both fit that Suggs mold, but neither are the dynamic player Suggs is. One will end up being the heir apparent. Bowser will get the first shot as Suggs’ backup. Bowser plays better out of the two-point stance and has good feet.
Winners — Adam Jones, CB. The Bengals didn’t draft a single corner this year, a rarity in the NFL anymore, and seemingly refuse to not play Jones despite his off-field troubles. They have drafted three first-round corners in the past six years, but don’t seem to have any interest in using them to replace Jones.
You can also throw Geno Atkins into the winner’s circle. Cincinnati beefed up its defensive line by drafting Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, and Ryan Glasgow. Willis and Lawson should be able to push the pocket from the outside while Glasgow is a steady run defender. All that means Atkins should see more single blockers which should lead to more production.
Losers — There isn’t a glaringly obvious choice for the Bengals here, but Vincent Rey is probably near the top of the list with the additions of Willis and Lawson. Both are capable of playing both DE and OLB and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both of them on the field at the same time during obvious pass rush situations.
Winners — Uh, the whole defense? I can’t remember another time any team invested this much draft capital into its defense. Myles Garrett shores up the front seven while Jabrill Peppers beefs up the secondary. The Browns also got bargains in Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley.
All that should make ILB Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey’s jobs easier. With Garrett and company dealing with rushing the passer, Collins and Kirksey will be free to vacuum up tackles all day long.
Losers — If there is a loser in this whole equation, it might be Carl Nassib. He’ll lose his starting spot to Garrett. Nassib is a high motor kind of guy, but he’s not exactly an IDP cog you’re going to build around
Winners — The secondary. The Steelers drafted four defensive players, but the first two should have an impact. OLB TJ Watt will help the pass rush while CB Cam Sutton is an aggressive defender with good ball skills. I could see him taking over the nickel role by season’s end and maybe even steal a spot either Artie Burns or Ross Cockrell.
Losers — James Harrison, OLB. He has to retire at some point, right? I mean he’s already talking about coming back next season, but eventually something has to give. They say Father Time is undefeated for a reason. In drafting Watt Pittsburgh found Harrison’s obvious replacement. Watt is more athletic that I gave him credit for from just watching his tape and he is a QB hunter. Whenever Harrison or the Steelers decide his time is over, Watt will be there to take his reps.
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