The AFC North is typically one of the most hotly contested divisions in the NFL. Last season, the Steelers went on a 7-win streak to end the season and secure the division crown. As Pittsburgh gears up to defend its title, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and even Cleveland are stocking up on weapons to challenge them.
Although Defense is often the name of the game with teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, let’s take a look at the newest offensive weapons the AFC North picked up in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns
(DeShone Kizer-Pick 2.20)
Cleveland missed on all the big names in the first round, but found themselves a nice project with Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. He may not be the instant impact player they were hoping to land with Mitchell Trubisky, but Kizer is an enticing prospect with upside. His arm strength is his biggest weapon. He has the ability to make all the throws on the field, but has a lot of room for improvement in his vision, mechanics, and performance in high pressure situations. Cody Kessler will likely be the week one starter, giving Kizer the time he needs to develop his game. I’m not confident he’ll ever be able to be a successful passer at the NFL level. He’s really only rosterable in SuperFlex or 2QB leagues right now.
- Running Back
(Matt Dayes-Pick 7.34)
Cleveland might as well have thrown this pick in the garbage. Dayes is an unexciting prospect in almost every regard. He’s a very weak athlete (4th percentile SPARQ-x score on playerprofiler.com), and would be a large downgrade over Duke Johnson or Isaiah Crowell. His only redeeming quality is his ability as a receiver, but, once again, Duke Johnson is a far superior weapon. Matt Dayes isn’t worth a dynasty rookie draft pick.
- Tight End
(David Njoku-Pick 1.29)
The Browns traded back into round one in order to select Njoku after already selecting Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers with their first two picks in round one. They moved one spot ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were also in need of tight end help, to draft one of the best tight ends in the class. David Njoku will instantly be given an opportunity to start after the Browns decided to cut veteran Gary Barnidge. Njoku is a physical specimen with a rare combination of speed, agility, burst, and size. Plus he is only 20 years old. He may not be an impact player year one (Tight Ends rarely are) but Njoku is almost certainly a round 1 selection in Dynasty Rookie drafts.
The Cincinnati Bengals
- Running Backs
(Joe Mixon-Pick 2.16) (Brandon Wilson-Pick 6.23)
The Bengals got the steal of the draft. Joe Mixon is the best running back in the 2017 draft class, and would have been a top 5 pick if not for his character concerns. Mixon is a running back who excels in all facets of the game. He is an extremely patient runner, powerful, agile, and an amazing receiver out of the backfield. The Bengals want their own LeVeon Bell, and they got him by selecting Joe Mixon. Expect Mixon to seeing playing time over Hill and Bernard sooner rather than later. Brandon Wilson is another intriguing prospect. He played mostly defense at Houston, but stepped in and played running back when injuries deemed it necessary. He showed flashes of brilliance in those opportunities, and was an incredible return man. A great athlete with a 4.36 forty yard dash time, Brandon Wilson is definitely a player you want to stash at the end of your draft. He could become a true weapon after some time to grow in the NFL
- Wide Receivers
(John Ross-Pick 1.09) (Josh Malone-Pick 4.22)
The Bengals appear to have come into this draft looking to acquire speed, and they got it. John Ross is obviously the 40 yard dash record holder with a time of 4.22, and Josh Malone is fast in his own right with a time of 4.40. Clearly, the Bengals are looking for pieces that can stretch the field besides AJ Green. John Ross should see immediate playing time based solely on his draft position, but I think he’ll have a rough going in 2017. His game-breaking speed certainly makes for a big boom factor, but his rough route-running, struggles against physical coverage, and hefty injury concerns certainly add to the bust factor. John Ross could be a top 7 pick in dynasty rookie drafts, but I’m not buying. Malone will be significantly cheaper, going undrafted in many rookie drafts, and has the potential to fill the same role as Ross if he goes down (as he is known to do). Regardless, it’s evident that the Bengals would like to have more of a vertical attack in 2017.
- Tight End
(Mason Schreck-Pick 7.33)
Schreck is just a depth/special team player. The only reason for him to possibly be drafted onto a dynasty team is if you just want to say “This is My Swamp”.
The Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens added absolutely no rookies in the offensive skill positions, choosing instead to shore up their defensive backcourt. This keeps the difficult to interpret backfield situation in Baltimore from getting any muddier. By the end of the 2017 season, Dixon, West, or Woodhead could be the top fantasy back for the Ravens. Breshad Perriman is going to be given every chance to be Baltimore’s top target, so perhaps trading a rookie pick to acquire him would be a smart move.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
(Joshua Dobbs-Pick 4.29)
The Ben Roethlisberger era will soon be coming to an end in Pittsburgh, but it’s tough to imagine the black and gold without the man who’s been their leader over the past 14 years. Landry Jones has proven to be nothing more than a career backup, a notion supported by the beyond low interest he received on the open market, so the Steelers decided to draft quarterback Josh Dobbs out of Tennessee. Dobbs is definitely a developmental prospect, but he boasts some great abilities such as his exceptional running ability, and astounding deep ball accuracy. He’ll need to improve his accuracy as a whole, decision making and footwork, but Dobbs is a very intelligent prospect who has a chance to sit on Ben’s throne when he hangs up his cleats. He’s not worth anything more than a deep taxi squad stash though. Likely won’t be draft in any dynasty rookie drafts.
- Running Back
(James Conner-Pick 3.41)
James Conner makes the big move from Pittsburgh to Pittsburgh. The Cancer Survivor and Former ACC Player of the Year enters Steelers camp as the early favorite to backup star running back LeVeon Bell. Bell has struggled mightily with injuries in the past, so this is a role that Conner could use to become any early fantasy impact player. Even with Bell healthy, Conner could find himself in a short-yardage/goal-line role right off the bat. Conner will start to creep into the back end of the 2nd round in dynasty rookie drafts, and this dynamic, powerful, explosive back is a rookie that I’m looking to snag. Bell is only guaranteed to be in Pittsburgh for one more season.
- Wide Receiver
(JuJu Smith Shuster-Pick 2.30)
JuJu Smith-Shuster was in the conversation as the top prospect of the 2017 class following his impressive 2015 season. He gets knocked down for lacking speed and separation, but he plays a very physical game with his powerful hands and ability to win 50/50 balls. He has good route running ability, works back to the ball, and has tremendous body control when he’s in the air. He’d be well served to get faster into and out of his cuts, and doesn’t always create a nice throwing window for his quarterback. On the other hand, JuJu Smith-Shuster is a superior wide receiver prospect who is going to fit well with this Steelers team. They’ll give him time to develop his game, and get to learn with the game’s greatest wideout, Antonio Brown. I’d consider taking JuJu Smith-Shuster as early as 1.07, and would consider it criminal if I was able to steal him in the late first-early second.
Yee Haw! Be sure to lookout for the rest of my Rookie Rodeo series on DynastyNerds.com. You can also find me on twitter @DynastyNutt, and check out my podcast @JetSetDynasty available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and also at jetsetdynasty.com
Thanks for reading! Giddyup.