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NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

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In the previous post, we graded the selection of Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith by the Baltimore Ravens. We gave Baltimore a grade of "B" for the Smith selection, so now let's take a look around the AFC North to grade our division rivals'first round picks.

The Cincinnati Bengals turned down a chance to drop back in the first round and get a slew of picks in return. Instead, they got the guy they had their eyes on for quite a while in Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. Green is a big, fast receiver, easily the best in the draft along with Alabama's Julio Jones. The big question will be who is going to be throwing the ball to Green? Will it be veteran QB Carson Palmer, his little brother, Jordan, or a soon-to-be-drafted rookie QB? This pick may also be meaning the end of the Chad Ochocinco-era in Cincinnati, as the rumors of that relationship souring have risen lately. Either way, Green is a great pick who should step in and contribute immediately, and for that, there is no reason not to give the Bengals an "A" for the pick.

The Cleveland Browns made the first and biggest trade in the draft andto most people, they looked great in what they got. Cleveland traded their 6th overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons so the Falcons could grab Alabama WRJulio Jones to pair him with Roddy White and QB Matt Ryan. The Browns dropped back 21 spots but picked up that 27th selection, the Falcons' 2nd and 4th round picks in 2011 and Atlanta's 1st and 4th round picks in 2012. That seems way too high of a price to pay for a wide receiver, regardless of how good Jones ends up being.

Cleveland then traded up six slots to select huge Baylor DT Phil Taylor, who will replace the recently-departed NT Shaun Rogers in the middle of their defensive line. The pick might be graded an "B" but when you throw in what they accumulated for not only this year but 2012 as well, you cannot avoid giving them an "A" for their efforts.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had the 31st pick in the first round. Most people expected them to take either an offensive lineman or corneback with that pick. Their offensive line was in shambles in 2010, resulting in QB Ben Roethlisberger running around and manufacturing plays. Their secondary was exposed badly in their Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers. However, the Steelers bypassed those two positions and instead selected Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.

While that might have confused many mock draft experts, can you imagine a pass rush withthose Pittsburgh linebackers rushing around and between the pass rushing Heyward next season and beyond? As if the Steelers need more of a pass rush is not the question, although what they do to fill those other holes will determine the final grade that the pick of a defensive end grades out as in the future. For now, we give the Steelers a"B" for this pick.

The AFC North just got a lot better in the first roundof the 2011 NFL Draft. There is a lot of draft left over the next two days, as well as free agency supposedly beginning next week. Some team (Cleveland, Cincinnati) have along way to grow and rebuild while others (Baltimore, Pittsburgh) are basically reloading for another playoff run. Final full draft grades to come once the seven rounds are complete.